The smile behind the desk: the Bristol Palace concierge
Mon, 05/23/2022 - 09:00
The Hall of Bristol Palace
Gabriele Colangelo is the clients’ guardian angel, a constant presence at the Bristol Palace in Genoa. His role is to welcome visitors and make sure that their stay – at the hotel but also in the city itself – is as enjoyable as possible.
Can you remember your first day as the concierge?
More than seven years have gone by, it was February 4 2015. I was 24 and I was taking over from the previous concierge, who guided me in the right direction from the start. The first step was to get to know the hotel but also to find out a lot of information about the city in order to be able to give clients the best recommendations. I had already done a similar job, but on a cruise ship as a guest service operator. Now I was boarding Genoa’s “flagship”.
What is a typical day in the life of the concierge?
We work on a shift basis and it’s my job to cover the central hours of the day, from mid-morning to evening, or else to do the subsequent shift from the afternoon until the arrival of the night porter at eleven o’clock. I work in close contact with reception, noting guests’ needs in my file and following reception’s instructions to organise my day, contacting restaurants and arranging guided tours and transport to and from the hotel. Summer’s approaching and I already know that we’ll be receiving more and more requests for excursions and boat trips. After which, of course, I interface with clients, a vital part of my job.
The concierge is the hotel’s “ambassador” and “visiting card”. What are the values you wish to convey to your guests and how do you look after them?
I believe that it’s fundamental, first and foremost, to understand the type of person you’re talking to. If you do, you can anticipate their requests and rely on the experience you have accumulated in the hotel. The ability to listen is also an indispensable skill. Clients have to feel important, to know that their requests have been taken on board and we are dedicating maximum attention to them. Three answers in particular are taboo: “No”, “Impossible” and “I don’t know”. In some circumstances there’s obviously no way of meeting a given request. In these cases, you have to deliver the message with the utmost kindness and tact: if they see that we’ve done everything possible and bent over backwards to help, clients are often sympathetic. This is precisely what the front office par excellence does: it put itself in the place of others.
Can you remember an “impossible” or very special request which you were able to meet with kindness and creativity?
In one occasion some foreign clients – I don’t remember where they were from – wanted a large quantity of the fine handmade fabrics that are produced solely in Zoagli, near Rapallo. They were true connoisseurs. With a few telephone calls back and forth, we were able to purchase the fabrics and have them shipped to their country – much to their satisfaction.
In a hotel with an international clientele like the Bristol Palace, you come into contact with people from all over the world. How do you attune yourself to different cultures?
In general, I don’t notice a great deal of difference among Europeans. Their behaviour is similar, though maybe I can detect variations between clients from the northern countries and those from the southern. A little more skill is required with people from Asia. You need to have at least a rough knowledge of their cultural norms and to modulate your tone of voice and your way of gesticulating differently. Knowing more than one language helps a lot of course, both to understand clients and to make them feel they are being listened to. This is something that they appreciate a lot.
What do guests appreciate most about the Bristol Palace?
I don’t need to think long about this question. The answer is clear and obvious for anyone who has set foot in the hotel. It’s the staircase. Its visual impact on arrival takes the breath away. More in general, guests are impressed by the hotel’s atmosphere and art-nouveau style. Secondly – but only because it takes longer to notice – clients appreciate our service, which always caters for their every whim. Visitors also love the second-floor terrace with its exclusive view over the city and, obviously, the Ristorante Giotto where they can sit in the frescoed dining room where major Italian and foreign personages sat before them. The Bristol has always been a reference point for the city of Genoa: to give you an example, just a few days ago Albert, Prince of Monaco, stayed here.
What are the most frequent requests you receive from guests? And which tours and experiences do you most recommend?
Guests often ask us to book tables in Genoa’s typical restaurants, the sort of down-to-earth places where tourists don’t normally go, where they can enjoy authentic local specialities. I like helping them to discover what’s to be had off the beaten track and they always come back very satisfied. They also appreciate a lot our tours of the lanes in the old centre and, in the summer season, boat excursions, especially the ones to the Cinque Terre, Portofino, Santa Margherita Ligure and along the Eastern Riviera, in general. Foreigners generally show a desire to explore the area round the city, whereas Italians tend to organise themselves independently and are more interested in the city and its attractions, such as the Aquarium.