Hotel concierges have cultivated years of knowledge about their city – including the best tips and inside advice for the busy business traveller. They're the closest things anyone can get to a living, breathing destination guide. Carly Eiseman, from Starwood's TheLobby.com, shares a selection of questions that can really take advantage of a concierge expertise.
How much lead-time would you prefer in order to book the best restaurants or secure the impossible theater or sporting ticket?
If you're traveling on a logistically complicated trip, it's perhaps best to contact the concierge and introduce yourself via phone or email as soon as you've booked your room. This way, you can pose important plan options in advance of your stay - and be able to maneuver your schedule around when they are accommodated sooner rather than later. Sure, a concierge can get you a last-minute reservation, but this is not always ideal. It's always worth to plan ahead. Some concierges don't want to know too far ahead, but others prefer planning months in advance. Just ask.
What time do most locals dine and where do they like to eat?
One of the first things I like to find out when I arrive in a new town or city is to find out if it's an early-to-bed or late-night kind of place. "What time do most locals dine" and then, "Where do they like to eat?" is a two-part question I always like to pose. Finding out the correct answer will prove to be helpful, especially in places like Spain, where they abide by afternoon siestas, and restaurants are still empty at 8 p.m. There's nothing more travel buzz-killing than being forced to eat in a chain restaurant with a bunch of noisy tourists.
Can you recommend a private guide?
If you have extra time on your trip, don't speak the language, and feel that you're not really getting the cultural experience you've desired, I'd suggest requesting a private guide for a day. There's nothing like experiencing a destination with a local holding your hand and sharing in his or her favorite places. Often if you're an independent traveler, you may not need more than a day, but this type of one-on-one service will teach you the lay of the land and also could provide insight into subtle cultural moirés. Most concierges have a Rolodex of trusted guides and you'll be able to negotiate hourly or day rate through them, so you'll have some accountability.
What's the best way to hail a cab?
While it's always easy to catch a cab from the hotel, when you're out in the city, it's not always such a cinch. This is where it also may be good to ask if there are any hand gestures you should avoid. Some of my favorite cab hailing, finger-pointing techniques are considered obscene in certain countries and are especially unhelpful in the rain. Also, concierges can help point you in the direct of hiring a private car and driver if your logistics are complicated, or even securing a private rental car if you're prepared to test the road yourself.
How safe is walking around the surrounding area alone at night?
As a woman that often travels alone and is accustomed to walking around at night by herself in certain cities, I always find this an invaluable question. What is safe in one city is not in another and I duly trust a concierge's advice.
Where's the most authentic place to go shopping for a local specialty, especially artisanal handicrafts or jewelry?
Years ago, I received a simple, but charming garnet necklace from my friends. They had bought it from a Prague jeweler they had found via a suggestion from their concierge. The jeweler was not listed in guidebooks and still to this day does not have a website. It remains one of my all-time favorite travel presents, a beautiful memento of their Eastern European trip. If it's hard to navigate a shopping trip alone, ask for the guidance of a personal shopper.
Are there any hidden treasures you'd recommend?
Whether it's a small museum, a fantastic art gallery, a charming local park or my favorite, a great espresso place, every destination possesses local treasures. These gems usually don't wind up in guidebooks, eager to cover the biggest attractions, but often provide the most memorable excursions.
How much time do you need to get to the airport?
This answer varies depending on the time of day as well as weekday versus weekend traffic. Add in various sporting events, which always seem to be nearby airports, and this equation is usually complicated. While the front desk should be of help with this, often they're not; when in doubt, ask the concierge.
9. Do you know where I can borrow or buy a phone charger?
It's a daily occurrence everywhere people travel: the plight of the missing phone charger. Don't be ashamed and try to suffer through a trip with a phone dwindling in charge. Everyone loses their phone charger when they travel. Chances are your concierge will have your model handy to borrow, and if not, surely will be able to help point you in the right direction so you can truly look like everyone else out on the street: walking around their city using their phone as GPS.
About David Flynn
David Flynn is the editor of Australian Business Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.