CONCIERGE IS HERE TO STAY And Local Knowledge Will Win The Day By Rosemary P

Posted Nov. 12, 2016, 1:58 p.m.

CONCIERGE IS HERE TO STAY    (This complete editorial can be found at: Edition 30)


And Local Knowledge Will Win The Day


By Rosemary Pavlatou


Concierge services seem to be a favourite catch-phrase and not just in yachting, for many and varied kinds of services. What people mean and what they offer with the term concierge is different from place to place and establishment to establishment. The term first came into general use describing in-house services in good hotels, which arranged on demand services and assisted guests providing local knowledge and local contacts which facilitated the guest's enjoyment, thus enabling them to make the most of their stay. The concierge was someone with myriad local contacts which were put at the disposal of guests. This quite basic form of concierge is frequently offered, but as wealth in general has grown the number of millionaires and even billionaires has increased the need for ever-more exclusive services. With the rapid and unprecedented increase in wealth seen in recent years, such support systems were rare, if in place at all as people began to find that they needed and wanted help and support to get the most out of their increasingly complicated lives. Hence the rise of concierge services offering a life style covering all needs of the client, from day to day collection of cleaning or sourcing domestic help to the exotic and unusual such as securing tickets for exclusive shows and events or organising travel and private parties. In general amongst the incredibly wealthy citizens of wealthy countries there is an increasing awareness of experiences and their value rather than the purchase of more and more 'things'. Concierge services are there to support both.


Yachting concierge services are emerging and are somewhat different and very specialised although based on the same premise as general concierge services; a clients' need for support.


The huge changes to yachting in general over the past few years occurred with the rapid increase in the average size of yachts. When we started in the early 70’s there were very few yachts larger than 130ft with modest requirements to suit their size. The term Superyacht was coined and defined as any yacht over 24m in the early 90’s and since then all things Superyacht have just grown to an extent unimaginable 30 years ago.


With the global escalation of wealth came the rapid growth of the yachting industry and with it a new generation of guests, who were more demanding on their larger, more sophisticated vessels, which has meant that the service providers found it difficult to keep up with the increasing high level of service and specialisation demanded today. Increasingly complicated requests for services were part and parcel for years from yachts and were dealt with by yacht agents. Then there came a point at which they were too complicated or too specialised to efficiently be carried out by those whose main focus was always the practicalities of the yachts physical and legal safety after its arrival and during the yacht’s stay in the country. There is not always enough time and space to think creatively about the increasingly complex needs of the guests in this very pressured environment. 


For example we have been called upon to organise a Circus, elegant parties, exclusive Greek nights in a taverna booked for just the one party, beach Olympic Games, three day events, costume parties with transformational decorations onboard yachts. Parties in unusual and exclusive venues from historical locations in castles and theatres to exclusive beach parties on private beaches. Weddings and baptisms in wonderfully romantic and unusual venues. Provision of local or international bands and singers from a part-time local musician to household names who can entertain or dine and mingle with guests. We have had to fly in a grand piano, other instruments and even an entire orchestra.


These are all examples of requests that we have received in the past few years and have all been successfully organised but lead us to understand that we needed a dedicated concierge team for our clients.


Itineraries need to be created between the two disciplines, agency and concierge. Only by combining these sets of knowledge and the teams working very closely together can the objective of providing the very best outcome for the yacht be achieved. Practicalities to be taken into account include the berth, available shore facilities, predicted weather conditions and prevailing winds, with an alternative to the venue should things change. Input from the agency combined with the insight of the concierge team as to where to go and what to do and taking into account the guests ages, interests and wishes leads to a satisfactory outcome. Trying to do this without the two sides working together does not work well.


The aim is to support the crew in offering the clients the most professional service possible. Travelling, often to unknown areas, yacht crew are presented with serial demands for services which may or may not be easy to provide, or available at all. It is impossible for them to have the intimate knowledge necessary of every area they may visit in one season. Even if they have visited before things change and restaurants decline in quality and so on and in most cases they have neither the time nor the resources to find what is needed in each new area. This is essential and marks out the difference between land concierge and dedicated yacht concierge teams, of which there are yet very few.


To ensure that the best possible information is on hand it is necessary to ensure that as many restaurants, bars, hotels and other service providers are interviewed and their level of service is continually monitored. Here is where a good ISO management system comes into its own, enforcing a requirement to continually asses providers to ensure service is kept to the required standards.


We have been taken by surprise in the past when a restaurant which had been a favourite with clients for over 30 years suddenly stopped offering the kind of service our clients enjoyed. This was a fall-back restaurant for years, a place returning crew and guests enquire about. With huge sadness it had to be removed from the list of suggested restaurants.


Some things go right and some just don't and sometimes the job is just to manage expectations.


I was called once by crew on a large yacht asking for arrangements to be made for luxury transport, luxury accommodation and local entertainment for six weeks on an island so small I had to look it up myself. There were just two small roads so luxury transport was to go where?

There was no luxury accommodation, something it took some time to get across. No it is not that I can't book it just that there is no five star accommodation on the island. And as to local events to be held during high summer, in such small places with so few inhabitants going to church and observing feast days would be about all on offer. Not quite the sparkling social whirl obviously anticipated.


Expectations therefore have to be managed. If there really is no infrastructure in place to meet client expectations it is better to make that clear from the outset as a silk purse from a pig’s ear cannot be made. Moving to another venue even a short distance away will mean the difference between happy guests and disappointed guests and that is what happened in this particular instance.


If people listen it really helps. It takes time to create trust however, but once it is created the results can be amazing.


A concierge working for an owner visited us and after a discussion asked us to take over the arrangements for a three day event some two months hence leaving us plenty of time to organise all the necessities. We visited venues together, discussed menus, details of service and amenities etc etc. Considering the time of year the event was planned for, we advised against one venue as it would be very cold at night but were met with insistence that they would love it and were hardy people; a few Cashmere pashminas would solve any problems from a chill in the air.

On the day of the event the lighting and sound installation had just been completed after a solid four hours toil, tables and chairs were placed and set and then the concierge drove by, stopped to say that we were right, it would be too exposed and we needed to find another venue, as good or better, for the event in five hours time. We did, but only just and the sound/lighting man may still not have forgiven us. The client and guests however had  a wonderful time and enjoyed all of the planned events that we had toiled on, unaware of the trouble caused, which was the whole point.


Another event, on a tiny island off the mainland involved the transportation of huge amounts of furniture and lighting. A change to the itinerary of the ferry that was supposed to carry the load at the last moment required the charter of a vessel to transport everything, which it did, only to find that the access road to the venue was too narrow for the transport vehicles. A quick hijack of a local trader and his van onto which everything was reloaded and in several consignments everything was transported to the venue eventually saving the day. Rain did not stop play either and the final result was enjoyed and spoken of for many moons after by the guests. Detailed local knowledge and someone resourceful on the spot is absolutely irreplaceable.


I was sitting at dinner one evening on an island with the crew of a rather beautiful yacht, which was leaving the following morning for its winter berth, when the captain, with not a little glee, asked, at 21.30, if it might be possible to find two cases of a wine for which he had been 

searching for a while. The PR representative of the vineyard in question, based on another island, was called and she managed to secure the wines in Athens. With less than 12 hours to deliver the wines it occurred that the yacht was expecting some guests the following day who were over-nighting in Athens, so the wine was delivered to them at their hotel. Before the yacht left the following morning the wine was safely onboard. The captain did admit to having been sceptical that this would be possible.


Dedicated Yachting concierge is slightly more complicated and there are few who have thought through those issues. Yachting concierge needs an awareness of the needs of the yacht as a vessel, its safety and the ongoing needs for supplies and support, together with the wishes of the guests onboard who want of course those all-important experiences. A good concierge realizes that yachts do not visit a destination just for the port facilities or because there are good spare parts suppliers in the port, the yacht visits so that guests can enjoy an experience. Those companies who supply just the necessaries for the yacht to enter and leave port are essential to the safe running of the vessel, but they are not giving the guests what they possibly need or want.


For a concierge to attempt to work remotely from a distance, we have found to our cost at times, to be ineffective at the very least. Local knowledge is key and irreplaceable as crew who have attempted to organise themselves have found. Suppliers change, phone numbers change, areas develop, new and more interesting things emerge and if one has not ones hand firmly on the tiller, disappointment is all but inevitable and where local knowledge is invaluable.

I received a call one summer from a concierge company supporting a group of guests who were cruising locally. I was asked to book a taverna for lunch for the guests. The taverna in question was a large establishment catering for the many tourists who gather in the area in summer. Locals would not use it and the food and service while adequate for its usual clientele, seemed rather less than would be expected by the guests on this large yacht. I pointed this out and a further call a few moments later requested a second similar establishment. It became clear that the concierge was Googling local restaurants and taking recommendations from tourism sites.

Finally, after some energetic negotiation, the concierge accepted       

my alternative recommendation but not without pointing out that it came low down on the tourist comment site. The guests enjoyed their experience so much they decided to return another time with the yacht just to enjoy another meal at this lovely restaurant. We know from experience just how much yacht guests in particular enjoy this restaurant and so can recommend it knowing satisfaction will be the result.


Concierge is here to stay but there is a real need to understand that yacht concierge is something quite different to general concierge and no one based remotely can effectively manage such services however comforting a relationship that may have developed. There is no substitute for specialist local knowledge to be able to effectively support a client. Without intimate local knowledge it is almost impossible to offer a great service and the presence of a reliable individual on the ground, ready and able to help when things go wrong, is essential. Those with the knowledge however, who have done the ground work and have the necessary support network, can do almost anything a clients imagination can come up with as well as offering suggestions as to what more can be experienced, so that the onus is not just on guests to guess what might be possible. Ideally placed to do so are companies with dedicated staff that have event knowledge and lots of local support points.


Imagination and budget are the only constraints as long as the concierge chosen is given sufficient time for practicalities and conditions that allow for the safety of the vessel. A good yacht concierge can support the crew enormously in their efforts to provide their guests with the best possible experience. As until now, there will no doubt be many and significant changes in concierge services that will meet the ever more demanding expectations of yacht guests and owners and we at least, will watch with interest as yachting concierge develops and becomes more professional as it  rises to each new challenge. 


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