Even with the most advanced technology, there's still one role no good luxury or upscale hotel can do without: its concierge.
Sure, technology can help make service faster and more targeted. But will an app dive into a dumpster, witness your wedding or help you pick out a four-legged friend?
Those are just a few of the tasks Donald Crossley has fulfilled in his 26 years serving hotel guests, both as concierge at the Chicago-based Hyatt Hotels' flagship Hyatt Regency in downtown Chicago and in his current role as concierge at one of its newer boutique properties, the Hyatt Centric The Loop Chicago.
As Hyatt celebrates its 60th anniversary as a company with a variety of upscale and luxury brands, Crossley -- who was dubbed "the Mayor" by his general manager for his connections and influence in the Windy City -- reflected on the changing role of the concierge in the digital age. He said that while technology reduces the amount of time a concierge needs to focus on simple tasks like restaurant recommendations, reservation and directions, he has more time to focus on the personal and the unusual.
"Those are the ones I love," he said, the people who walk up "with that look on their face."
For instance, he said, he recently made his first foray into a recycling bin after a guest asked him if he could find a copy of USA Today that contained an article about a family member.
"I had known they had just recently been put in the bin," he said of the newspapers. "So I found a bin that was empty and clean, with a few USA Todays. I stacked together a couple of crates and climbed up. I fell in. I didn't get hurt, and I was able to retrieve it. He wanted it really bad."
Another first was heading to the local animal shelter to help some guests, whose dog had recently died, select a puppy.
"They had just recently moved here from Denmark," Crossley said. "They didn't know the ins and outs of what you do."
After putting them in touch with the shelter, Crossley said the couple asked if he would go with them. So he took a lunch break and helped them pick out a dog, a German Shepherd.
"I started to get one for myself; then I thought, no, this is for them," he said.
Like any good concierge, Crossley is able to sometimes make the impossible possible thanks to the connections that earned him the nickname "the Mayor."
"There was one that was really difficult, when 'Hamilton' came to Chicago and nobody could get tickets." A guest wanted to take his daughter and a friend of hers, Crossley recounted. "He wanted to spend a little less than $100, and they were going for $300. I made a couple of calls, worked out a deal and got all three tickets for $150. I threw my name out there. I don't usually drop the name, but sometimes you have to."
After 26 years, he says there are many more stories he can tell, and many he can't. But those that he can, like tracking down exceptionally large shoes for a professional basketball player and helping another propose, are a good reminder that while a concierge's role may be changing, the services they provide are more personal, and more important, than ever.
Likewise, a concierge's talent is usually natural, not acquired.
So how did Crossley find his calling? "I was working in a hospital, and one of the physicians was talking to me about how he thought I would be good in hospitality," Crossley said. "He made a call and I came to Hyatt Regency Chicago.
"At that time, I didn't even know what a concierge was. But I figured I could probably do it."