John O'Ceallaigh, The Daily Telegraph, August 07, 2013
Gone are the days when guests at luxury hotels could assume guests would be satisfied with a smile from the receptionist and some insider advice from a long-serving concierge. As major brands battle for business, they’re promoting increasingly niche services and employing staff with highly specialised – or peculiar – skills to set their properties apart and create a loyal customer base.
The most impressive positions seem to be the quirky few that are offered by a miniscule number of properties internationally. At the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, ‘duckmaster’ Anthony Petrina is in charge of what is one of the residence’s main attractions: its flock of ducks. The 25-year-old takes responsibility for the overall care and wellbeing of the five North American mallards and is most visible in his role during the twice-daily March of The Peabody Ducks. At 11am each morning, he accompanies the ducks as they march along a red carpet from their rooftop Royal Duck Palace to the marble fountain in the lobby. John Philip Sousa’s King Cotton March plays as the procession takes place. The procedure is repeated at 5pm, when the ducks return to their palace and retire for the evening. It sounds made up, but it happens.
The hotel has employed a duckmaster of sorts since 1940, but recently created animal-related roles take a more conspicuously ecological approach. At the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa in Oman, the hotel's turtle care project employs a dedicated turtle ranger who ensures turtle nests are sheltered from any threats and that guests and local communities are informed of the plight of the species through educational talks and viewings. Similarly, Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort on the island of Vanua Levu in Fiji employs a full-time resident marine biologist, Johnny Singh, who educates guests about local ecosystems and also undertakes research projects and local outreach programmes to ensure the resort is as environmentally sustainable as possible. At more than 20 Fairmount hotels around the world, meanwhile, beekeepers are employed to maintain apiaries that pollinate local plants and provide local honey for onsite restaurants and bars. It’s a win-win initiative for the chain, with the brand seen to support the local environment and the locally sourced honey also meeting a growing demand from luxury consumers for hyper-local food .
Of course, caring for animals is all well and good but many guests have chosen to visit a luxury hotel because they want to take care of themselves. At the Akaryn Samui hotel in Thailand, a female ‘sunbed supervisor’ is on hand to ensure residents don’t get sunburned. Those who avail of her services will firstly be prepped and buffed in the hotel spa – exfoliation and application of signature suncare brands are meant to aid the development of an even, rich tan – before they take to their lounger. The sunbed supervisor will then time guests’ sun exposure, adjust their shade level and reapply suncream after swimming, or whenever needed, to ensure they tan to a satisfactory level.
Those with an aversion to sunbathing may instead prefer cosying up in a room in the Taj Boston . During the colder months, a ‘fireplace butler’ is available to ensure guests make the most of their suites’ fireplaces. Described, grandly, by the hotel as ‘wood sommeliers’ these butlers can suggest what type of woods are best from the hotel’s dedicated wood menu, and will of course light the fire if required. The chain is expanding the role and fireplace butlers are now available to assist guests at the Taj Palace Marrakech, although presumably there’s less call for the service there.
Guests at the Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain in Tucson can warm themselves up via the services of Richard Gutierrez. The property’s official tequila butler, he can often be found by the pool, dispensing free samples of tequilas and tequila-based drinks. His services are something that could well be deployed at some point by Melissa Rosenfeld, Viceroy Anguilla ’s director of vibe and VIP services. Explaining her unique position, she says: "I'm the social director, the party planner, the camp counsellor and the good-time Charlie. I plan all programming and handle all celebrities and VIPs and just manage the 'cool factor' there. The original job description was just like, 'make sure the music and lighting is cool.'"
And when the time comes for guests to take in their surroundings, there are employees who can help with that too. At Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor in Siem Reap, resident historian Mouth Saravann can inform visitors about the hotel’s heritage, the history of nearby Angkor Wat and the distressing past of Cambodia as a whole. Sister property Le Royal Monceau in Paris offers the services of an art concierge, who is qualified to guide guests through the innumerable cultural pursuits on offer in the city. Likely popular with American tourists eager to trace their lineage, the services of ‘tartan butler’ Andy Fraser, an employee of The Balmoral hotel in Edinburgh, have recently been made available to guests. He assists them in tracking down their family tartan from the thousands of traditional recognised tartans using the Scottish Register of Tartans and can arrange for a kilt to be made in Edinburgh’s most established kilt shop, Kinloch Anderson.