Pointing Savannah’s millions of tourists in the right direction for the best food, tours and entertainment can be a challenge, but that’s the everyday task at hand for dozens of tourism concierges in the hostess city.
Since the Tourism Leadership Council introduced the Coastal Concierge Association in 2013, numerous concierges have undergone months of training to gain the skills necessary to provide the city’s 7 million annual overnight guests with the most authentic experience available.
“Over a series of meetings and months we came up with the idea that the Coastal Concierge Association is really about education and taking our level of service to that next level...,” Molly Swagler, vice president of TLC said of the training program, which is offered free of charge.
“Through that we realized if we’re going to take it to the next level we’ve got to think even bigger,” she said.
The organization looked to other cities with concierge programs, but they knew the local program had to be uniquely Savannah.
“We did a lot of research in Chicago, San Francisco and New Orleans, but Savannah is Savannah and we wanted something that really fits and works for us and our guests,” said Daniel Gleason, concierge at the Hyatt Regency on Bay Street.
“What works in Charleston might not work here... The focus is just on the guest experience and ongoing education.”
Gleason, who has worked as a concierge for the last seven years said one thing that makes the group unique is that it brings together a group of competitors who can work together for the common good of Savannah’s tourists.
“What we’ve been able to gleam is all of us had secret little things that we did, lists and ins and outs and those things are so valuable, especially to someone who is just starting out, so we were able to share all of those things,” he said.
In the tourism community, Swagler said, a rising tide raises all boats and she echoes Gleason’s sentiment about importance of the group’s ability to work together.
“The concierges in this city have embraced that and they know they’re competing companies, but they’re going to share information because they know what that does overall for the tourism community is far greater than them winning out one guest over another,” she said.
Mixers hosted by a mix of businesses and restaurants are held during the three-month courses to keep the concierges up to date on what’s happening in the city so they can pass on the information to guests.
“From a business perspective, they want this audience in their place of business. The concierges recommendation is listened to by the guests and those concierges have a say in what they’re recommending,” Swagler said.
“Having these mixers is not only networking, but also seeing something that (the concierges) might not normally see.”
New advisors and certification
In recent months the organization has formed a board of advisors, chaired by Gleason and consisting of five area concierges of varying backgrounds.
“It was important for us to create a diverse board of advisors because the needs of the Hyatt are going to be different than the needs of the Comfort Suites,” Swagler said.
“They’re committed, they’re driven, they’re excited and they have so many ideas of what and how we take it to the next level. The board is stellar.”
The TLC and the board are working together to develop the curriculum for a new Master level of certification. The new course will be available in June and will build on what is taught at the certified and advanced levels, which include communication strategies, professionalism, technology and food and wine pairings.
Swagler said she hopes the new level of certification will put Savannah’s concierges on par with those certified through Les Clefs d’Or, a world-renowned concierge organization based in France.
“(Les Clefs d’Or) is the pinnacle of what it means to be a certified concierge. What we want to do is create a tiered certification class so that we can have the level of service that a Les Clefs d’Or concierge can provide but even better because we have southern hospitality,” she said.
Swagler said the students all have diverse backgrounds with different levels of experience and the program also welcomes valets or other front-end professionals.
“Not every hotel has a concierge, but everyone of the people who are working behind the desk or valets that greet guests are being asked questions, so we want to equip them with customer service skills to provide a guest experience unlike anything else and you do that by training them properly,” Swagler said.
“The guests these days are looking for an authentic, unique experience and what we want to be able to show the concierges what that looks like in Savannah.”
If you’re interested in joining the Coastal Concierge Association, go to www.coastalconciergeassociation.com. If you’re a business owner interested in hosting a mixer, call the Tourism Leadership Council office at 912-232-1223.