When luxury hotels started employing beach butlers and romance concierges, it seemed like overkill on the specialized services front: Did people really need a special attendant to spritz them with cucumber water and recharge their Blackberry while bringing them another margarita? The answer, over time, is “YES, YES, YES.” Specialty staff, whether they’re offering bespoke luxury or professional expertise, are becoming ever-more popular in hotels across the country. And customer needs—as this roundup shows—are becoming more eclectic by the day.
By Lena Katz
Astronomer | Four Seasons Jackson Hole
Stargazing conditions are often ideal at Four Seasons Resort Jackson Hole. This luxury getaway on Wyoming’s most famous summit keeps an astronomer on staff to help guests identify all that they’re seeing in the inky, twinkling sky.
“I had a passion for the subject from a young age, when I first started to memorize the constellations,” says resort astronomer Tenley Thompson. “In such a dramatic and dark sky location, we can have great views of the planets, nebula, star clusters and galaxies.” By day, Thompson leads "wildlife safaris" out to look for bison, moose and bears.
Photo Credit: Four Seasons Jackson Hole
Cook/Troubador | Kessler Canyon
Autograph Collection is swiftly distinguishing itself as the quirky boutique brand within parent company Marriott. At its Kessler Canyon hotel in DeBuque, Colorado, “Chef Lenny” McNab not only cooks private meals and teaches cooking classes, but will even do a full one-man dinner theater routine, breaking out a guitar and serenading guests with cowboy songs and…cowboy poems. It’s one-man dinner theater in a studded jacket.
Photo Credit: Kessler Canyon
Chief Cat Officer | Algonquin
Another Autograph Collection property, the Algonquin in New York had a long and colorful history before being brought under Marriott stewardship, so it’s no surprise that present-day staff continue the tradition. The hotel’s famous resident cat has a Chief Cat Officer tasked with seeing to its feline requirements (fresh seafood, FIJI Water and top-grade cat nip among them, we assume).
Photo Credit: Algonquin
Mechanical Bull Fitness Instructor | Travaasa
The Travaasa all-inclusive resort also offers real bull-riding lessons, but consistent consumer demand is for the mechanical bull fitness courses taught by Jillian Lambert. Her classes focus on core strength, toned inner thighs and CMT-ready flair—all to a country music soundtrack, of course.
Paranomal Investigator | The Stanley
When guests come to a place like The Stanley, a historic Colorado hotel famous for its ghostly heritage, some of them want to explore the supernatural side of things. For that, the hotel keeps paranormal investigator Callea Seck on staff.
“The idea of paranormal activity sparks a high level of curiosity for visitors, and they want to know when and where and why, and if they can see it too! I am here to answer all of those questions, and to help people understand that the unknown doesn’t have to be a scary thing,” says Seck. She leads ghost tours and investigations regularly, but says one of her regular responsibilities is to speak with people who believe they may have had a paranormal encounter at the hotel.
Photo Credit: The Stanley
Art Curator | Jumeirah Hotels
“There isn't a curator anywhere who doesn't want people to come and see their exhibition,” says Katie Gass, in-house art curator for Jumeirah Hotels. Though her home base is Manhattan, Gass is responsible for rolling out the “Culturally Connected” arts program across all Jumeirah properties. It’s quite a task, considering that the Dubai-based brand has hotels in Rome and Shanghai, Abu Dhabi and the Maldives. Iconic properties such as the Pera Palace in Istanbul and the Burj Al Arab in Dubai bring a “large and varied” client base, who are among the most discerning in the world.
“Their primary purpose in being there usually has nothing to do with the art on view,” according to Gass—but nonetheless, many have learned to appreciate the ever-changing exhibits in Jumeirah properties, all of which showcase the local art community in a particular city.
Photo: Katherina Gass with photographer Dirk Karsten and Anthony Phillips on the helipad of the Burj Al Arab
Credit: Jumeirah Hotels
In-Room Bartender | Cavallo Point Lodge
Top-shelf cocktails are here to stay, whether you prefer sleight-of-hand mixology or garden-to-glass or historically attuned classic cocktails. At the Cavallo Point Lodge in Sausalito, in-room bartenders prepare hand-shaken cocktails to guest specifications, or deliver all the ingredients necessary for the guests to make their own.
Photo Credit: Tim Porter
Tequila Goddess | Fairmont Scottsdale Princess
What do you do when you’re a classic resort with a world-class tequila collection and an ever-changing clientele who may not realize it exists? You bring in a Tequila Goddess to razzle-dazzle diners and turn them into a captive audience of drinkers. At La Hacienda in the Fairmont Scottsdale, Tequila Goddess Danielle Griffin educates diners about all 130 varieties of tequila stocked in the bar—and then helps guide them to the one they’ll be drinking all night. She’s eminently qualified, having earned a diploma from the Tequila Regulatory Council in Mexico.
Photo Credit: Fairmont Scottsdale Princess
Beekeeper | Fairmont Waterfront, Vancouver
The Fairmont brand has adopted organic honey as its house-made product of choice, with many of the hotels keeping apiaries. However, the Fairmont Waterfront is probably most engaged in its honey program: beekeeper Graeme Evans leads guests on weekly garden and hive tours in the summer.
Photo Credit: Fairmont Waterfront, Vancouver
Native Chinese | Marriott
Of all the specialized staff in this list, Marriott’s plan to install native Chinese-speaking reception staff at all the luxury properties in the Marriott portfolio—including all Renaissance hotels—is by far the most ambitious and the most business-savvy. They have no entertainment value and will not be interacting with anyone reading this story. But as Chinese begin to come into the West in ever-greater numbers, for business and pleasure, a hotel brand that accommodates them in their own native tongue will have the hospitality edge.