Concierges guide La Jolla visitors toward a perfect stay

La Valencia concierge Kali McDonald was able to track down a hard-to-find champagne for one guest. "It really made their stay special," she said.
La Valencia concierge Kali McDonald was able to track down a hard-to-find champagne for one guest. "It really made their stay special," she said.

By Pat Sherman

For today’s tech-savvy traveler, a wealth of information about his or her travel destination is just an iPhone app or web search away.

Yet, concierge desks at La Jolla hotels aren’t exactly collecting dust, with many guest-planning professionals busier than ever.

“People still rely on concierges a lot,” said Ben Redfield, a front desk supervisor at the Empress Hotel, who’s tasked with everything from helping guests make dinner reservations to planning whale watching excursions.

“Even though the Internet has Travelocity and Yelp, guests still want (recommendations) right from the horse’s mouth,” Redfield said. “They will go online and get the information, but they’ll ask for your opinion anyway.”

Gaby Delgado, a concierge at Estancia La Jolla Hotel and Spa, who also serves as president of the San Diego Concierge Association, said technology compliments today’s concierge services.

“I feel that it’s an enhancement of what we do, versus a hindrance or replacing us in any way,” said Delgado, who is also a member of the elite Les Clefs d'Or USA professional concierge association.

Most guests still prefer a “human touch” in their decision-making, versus blindly relying on the Internet, she said.

“People still ask for the names of restaurants, but then they’ll go back to their room and survey (the choices) on their iPad to see what the world is saying,” Delgado said.

Lynelle Mar, a front office supervisor at the Grande Colonial Hotel, said it helps when guests have researched the area and their options before coming to her for assistance — especially if they can’t get a reservation at the restaurant they desired.

“We’re able to take what they wanted and make some suggestions they didn’t even think of when they were reading the reviews,” she said.

With so much information at guests’ fingertips, concierges must be on top of their game, having a vast knowledge of the hospitality options in their vicinity. Concierges say guests are asking for information about an increasingly wide array of areas and attractions, which helps them sharpen research skills and increase their knowledge.

“It’s kind of given us more of a challenge, but it’s a fun challenge,” Mar said. “You learn a lot in this job.”

Concierges fill guests’ itineraries with everything from an afternoon kayaking the La Jolla Caves to Segway tours, golf and hang gliding at the Torrey Pines glider port.

Kali McDonald, a concierge at La Valencia Hotel, arranged for a recent guest to go skydiving.

“He went three days in a row he loved it so much,” McDonald said.

One of McDonald’s more challenging assignments was to assist a family from Saudi Arabia who were bent on going apple picking, though the fruit wasn’t in season.

“One of their friends had told them they had gone to an orchard and it was so much fun,” McDonald said. “They wanted to go so bad. … I ended up printing out (information about) all the orchards in California, highlighting the ones in Julian.”

“I didn’t hear whether they made it there,” she said. “They definitely tried.”

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