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Extreme hotel concierge services
These days, hotels can -- and will -- do almost anything to get your patronage.
July 14, 2005: 5:22 PM EDT
By Les Christie, CNN/Money staff writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - In an age of heated competition for guests, posh hotels often offer more than just a nice place for pampered travelers to lay down their weary bones.

It goes way beyond chocolates and warmed nuts.

Consider, for example, the tanning butler. His mission is to wander about the pool deck during peak weekend tanning hours at the oceanfront Ritz-Carlton South Beach, armed with oils.

"He offers complimentary sunscreen and, better yet, offers to apply it to hard-to-reach areas," says Ritz spokeswoman Michelle Payer.

Vivian Deuschl, vice president of corporate communications for Ritz-Carlton says the trend toward innovative new hotel services got off the ground five or six years ago, when the chain's Singapore branch created a "technology butler," an IT worker available 24/7 to solve the tech problems of business travelers.

The service proved so popular that the Ritz now offers it in most of its locations. The idea also spawned a host of copycat concierge services.

They take dead aim at affluent travelers who lack the desire to sweat vacation details themselves. For the most part, hotels don't charge for the concierges. Of course, any services they arrange cost extra.

Service with a smile

At Ritz-Carlton's Jamaica location at Montego Bay, a guest recently wanted to pop the question in a special way. Enter the "romance concierge."

He arranged for Frank Sinatra songs to be played whenever the intended bride ventured out onto the balcony. At the restaurant, she was handed a special menu with "Will you marry me" as one of its options. The hotel even set up a tent on the beach, where a band played for the couple's private dance. The results were a proposal that neither will forget.

Then there's the "wildlife concierge" at the Ritz in Bachelor Gulch, Colo. This animal expert takes guests to the best places at the best times to see bears, elk, and foxes in their natural habitat, and explains much about the animals' natural history.

The same hotel has a "ski concierge" during the winter sports season, who will obtain your lift tickets and arrange for rentals and lessons.

"The trend has gotten a little over the top," Deuschl admits. Some hotels have what she calls "bow-wow butlers," (see When Fido hits the road) that take care of your pets. The New York Ritz employs a water sommelier in its dining room who will discuss the various virtues of bottled waters and recommend the one that best suits your palate.

These unusual services are not confined to the Ritz. The restaurant at La Posada hotel in Santa Fe has a cheese concierge to help you pick from a tray arrayed with more than up to 20 artisanal cheeses daily.

Slumber service

In San Antonio, staffers at La Mansion del Rio place handcrafted "worry dolls" in rooms every night. According to Yanaguana Indian folklore, if you transfer a worry to each tiny doll before bedtime and place them under the pillow, those anxieties evaporate by dawn. Knowing that should ease your passage into the arms of Morpheus.

The Benjamin, in New York, guarantees a restful night; "You sleep as well as you do at home or you get a free night's stay," reports Robin Levy, a spokeswoman for the hotel.

The hotel improves its odds with lavender-scented bath amenities (said to be relaxation aids) and double-glazed, argon-filled the windows to cut down street noise.

But the main reason for its slumber success is Eileen McGill, the hotel's "sleep concierge." She helps guests choose from a selection of 11 different types of pillows – upper body, buckwheat, satin, hypo-allergenic, water-filled, Swedish memory, magnetic therapy, a jelly neckroll, a five-foot body cushion, and a special anti-snore pillow.

In addition, McGill will loan guests a white-noise machine or send up warm milk and cookies to the room. No wonder, as Levy reports, only four or five visitors in five years have taken the hotel up on its guarantee.

For those more interested in partying than sleep, the Hotel Triton in San Francisco can help. Their "So hip it hurts" package includes a calendar of hip events, plus the means to make a fashion statement at one: a $65 credit toward either a tattoo or body piercing at Mom's Body Shop in the Haight district. The hotel will even escort you to the tattoo parlor and administer smelling salts should you require them.  Top of page

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