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"The variety, spontaneity and creativity of the role was something that appealed to me very early on." Interview with Colin Toomey Shangri-La Sydney

In our Hospitality ON issue (No 308-309), we interviewed professionnals of the hospitality industry around the world. We present here Colin Toomey's point of view and thoughts on his job, Chief concierge for Shangri-La Sydney

Could you tell us about yourself and your background?

I am a Concierge who has been working in the hospitality industry since the mid 1980’s. For the last 26 years I’ve been fortunate enough to hold the role of Chief Concierge at Shangri-La Sydney. Along that journey I have been heavily involved in promoting and representing Les Clefs d’Or, firstly as Australian President in the early 2000’s and more recently as the International President. As a past International President I now sit on our advisory council the Comité des Sages. Having been born and bred in Sydney I’ve had the pleasure of watching the city evolve into a truly unique travel destination over the past 50 years.

Why did you choose this specific career?

I had been working in retail banking which I quite enjoyed, but from a service perspective I thought that the hospitality industry might offer more. With the tourism boom just starting in Australia and a number of luxury hotels opening up I sensed an opportunity. Like most Concierge I started working on the Bell desk but soon realised that Concierge was the role for me. The variety, spontaneity and creativity of the role was something that appealed to me very early on.

What exactly are you doing daily?

I head up a team of thirty Concierge and Bell staff so making sure that everyone is briefed and fully prepared for the day ahead is critically important. Apart from our in-house guests we can have numerous functions, restaurant patrons and visitors coming through the doors so controlling movement around the lobby can be quite challenging. At the Concierge desk we receive a lot of inquiries and requests early in the morning as guests are planning their activities for the day. After prioritising these tasks we set about putting the arrangements in place using our network of contacts.

My team and I will also check and reconfirm any bookings made through our external suppliers; limousines, tours, rental cars, etc. Alerting the team to any VIP arrivals and ensuring they receive a warm welcome is also very important in setting the tone for a successful stay. Most days I’ll meet with a couple of our preferred suppliers who play an integral role in supporting our Concierge network.

What skills/human qualities are necessary for this position?

There are a number of personal qualities a professional Concierge needs to possess. Patience, empathy, creativity, resourcefulness and perseverance to name a few. You also need to be able to work well under pressure, meet deadlines, communicate succinctly, multi-task and support your team members. With so much going on at once it is a must that you be well organized and efficient. Maintaining a sense of humour certainly helps as well.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of your work?

There are definitely a lot of advantages in this role. Firstly you get to meet a lot of interesting people from a variety of different cultures and backgrounds. All of our guests are unique and they all have their own story to tell. I’m fascinated by the cultural nuances you can observe in a luxury hotel. Also in order to promote a particular activity we sometimes receive invitations to experience it ourselves.

Whether it’s a new tour, a relaunched restaurant or previewing a show, having a first-hand perspective can help in making recommendations. Working in a tight knit Concierge team with all the drama, theatrics and excitement that entails is also a lot of fun.

There are very few disadvantages but maintaining a healthy work/life balance during the busiest periods of the year can be quite challenging.

Do you have any funny stories or anecdotes that you’re willing to share about your working experience?

We once had an Indian bridal party arrive on our driveway, resplendent in traditional costumes, all perched on top of these beautiful white horses. Around 300 of their invited guests descended from the Ballroom welcoming them in with music, dancing and singing. For the staff and any guests nearby, it was a spectacle to witness all of the pageantry, an absolute highlight.

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