Hotels are using kid concierges to meet tough teen demands

Next time your family checks into a Four Seasons, Omni, Ritz-Carlton or a Marriott, and you think someone is stalking your teen, relax.

What you’re witnessing is the newest phenomenon in the great race to build brand loyalty among Millennials and younger teens. Teen concierges are at the disposal of teen travelers, a service not unlike the one grown-ups take for granted.

Too young to travel on their own, too old for the kiddie pool, teens are often the family members most overlooked by travel destinations, yet experts say they are the next market with plenty of purchasing power.  Teen concierges are here to harness that power.

Insiders say it was 35-year veteran concierge, John Wicke at the Ritz-Carlton Chicago, who is behind the new phenomenon of teenage concierges showing up at posh properties.

“It wasn’t enough to just offer them bicycle rentals, but connecting them with someone their own age could make a huge difference to teen travelers,” Wicke says.

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Just how much power do teens wield when it comes to holiday decisions?

"Teenagers have the power to pull the plug on the entire family vacation if they are not engaged, they will press their parents to leave early,” says Jason Dorsey, the Gen Y Guy and an expert on the buying power of teens and younger Millenials.

Dorsey also points out that teens could have enormous influence on a hotel's image. “Teens can be an asset. They will post photos their experiences far and wide with photos of themselves at the property in cyberspace."

At New York City’s Omni Berkshire, David Strebel, an expert on long-boarding, where films are being shot and off-beat music hot spots, is available to teen-age guests through Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, or text, making the delivery of service immediate.

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Twenty-year old Tatum Denton, the formally-uniformed Teen Concierge at the posh Ritz-Carlton Chicago, says her aim is to help teen guests figure out the quickest way to a hipper experience “as long as it’s legal.”

“I had just as much fun guiding a teen guest to the food truck that was featured on Guy Fieri’s "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" program on the Food Network as I did trying such places out,” she adds.

Hotels try not only to engage with teen customers through activities, but by the way the concierges talk, act and dress. Assistant manager, Christen Parsons brushed the dust off the traditional Palm Beach experience at The Ritz-Carlton when she started building a team of teen concierges aged 19 to 25 dressed in uniforms with graffiti on them.

Ashley Bennett has her own angel looking over her shoulder as she learns the ropes at the Omni-Chicago property, where her dad, Bill, is in charge of sales and marketing.

He says Omni has always advocated a strong focus on children and prepares gift bags for them. The teen concierge position, he says, is a proactive way to transform reticent teen travelers who have often been coaxed and dragged into yet another family vacation, into future guests.

What would Ashley recommend for my bored 18-year-old niece?  As a music lover, a trip to a downtown blues bar--where parents can also safely go--and try and score tickets to the Lollapalooza music fest playing at Chicago's Grant Park Aug. 3-5. For food, since she's a vegetarian, Billy Goat Tavern or Debevic’s, plus the mile-long food feast, Taste of Chicago.

Rebecca Orner at the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago was once a catering intern at the Elysian, now a Waldorf Astoria property, “but this is the first time I’ll be in the front of house.” And she loves it.

Big-city properties realize teens still need to travel around town with their parents, but resort activities tend to be on-site.

Demarco Mims, teen concierge at the Omni in Orlando loves entertaining and hosting people, so heading up Camp Omni --where kids can escape to eat kid-friendly meals, watch movies and play video and board games--was ideal for him.

“What teens want most is freedom,” he says, “and we have a ton of things on the resort grounds including golf courses, Lazy River, an 850-foot long sluice that wraps around an island and canyon for inner tubing.”

Mims is not a teenager, in fact, he is a recent graduate with a degree in hospitality. “I also recommend activities off property like indoor sky diving arena or indoor surfing.”

Some amenities come with price tags. Pricing for Surf Camp at the Ritz-Carlton starts at $150 for one day, or $275 for three days, while Tech Camp starts at $350 for three days of audio/visual exploration in the world of DJing, film and photography in coordination with local professional DJs.

So the next time you're planning a trip with a teen, look around.  Most hotels are increasingly catering to teens with age-specific concierges or services. For example, the Four Seasons Resort Vail hosts a "teen apres" and lends out "go-pros" -- small video cameras that can be mounted on one's helmet -- to teens for their day of skiing.

And smart travel companies are not missing a beat.


IF YOU GO: Here are some other resort that feature teen-friendly activities:

The Kiawah Island Golf Resort near Charleston, S.C. has a list of activities, including archery, glass fusing, and junior golf clinics just for teens.

The JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort & Spa in Tucson, Ariz. debuted the Blur Teen Lounge.

Antigua’s Jolly Beach Resort & Spa’ Jolly Teenz Club offers kayaking and cricket lessons.

Island Routes Caribbean Adventure tours reserves its luxury ‘Kitty Katt’ catamaran for teens and tweens and for snorkeling cruises in Turks & Caicos.

Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas unveiled an $11 million cutting-edge Teen Club “Crush” for teens age 13-17.

Core Zone Teens Club is available at Mexico's Now Resorts & Spas and Dreams Resorts & Spas.

Expert Africa lists safaris specifically designed for teenagers, including a “Young Explorers” program in Botswana.

Cheli Peacock offers travelers the chance to arrive in Kenya and be a Warrior for a Week.

The Renaissance Boston Waterfront employs a concert-ierge who guides teens to  small, local clubs and to the R Life LIVE, a concert series that brings indie groups and up-and-coming talent to the Capiz Lounge.