By Alison Bailin Batz
Photos by Claudia Johnstone
The role of a concierge is to provide vacationers (and staycationers) with suggestions on where to go and what to do while making someone’s resort stay as memorable as possible. But beyond dishing out tips and tricks, concierges have unique stories of their own – and it’s through these experiences that they have become experts in serving both people and places. Go behind the concierge desk and get to know eight of them here.
Concierge Team Lead and Assistant Front Office Manager, The Scott Resort & Spa
Thank goodness for homework.
“I was studying business at Mesa Community College with aspirations to be an entrepreneur when I was ‘saddled’ with a class project that would change my life,” says Valley native Tyler Staten.
The project required Staten to design, staff and open a fictional hotel from scratch.
“Every second of what was supposed to be a taxing assignment – from deciding how many pieces of furniture to put in each room to developing the hotel’s signature guest experiences – was pure bliss,” recalls Staten, who got into the hotel industry after the project, taking a job at the Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass in 2015.
In 2016, he moved over to Firesky Resort (now The Scott Resort & Spa) as a front desk supervisor, eventually also taking on the concierge role.
“The hotel had just been acquired by Classic Hotels, and plans were put into motion soon after on an $18 million renovation and its ultimate transformation into The Scott,” Staten says. “Being at the forefront of the transformation was like watching that school project come to life.”
Over the past 2 1/2 years, Staten has been watching each phase of the renovation come together firsthand, setting up surprise birthday celebrations, proposals and excursions daily along the way.
“One of my best memories was helping a regular guest, whose family visited this hotel in all of its iterations for decades, to locate a special blanket,” Staten says. “That might sound odd, but her family loved the older blankets the hotel used to have in the rooms, so I scoured every nook and cranny and found her one for posterity.”
Today, the evolution of the resort has reached its impressive completion, and Staten serves as both the concierge team lead and assistant front office manager. He is also beginning an evolution of his own.
“I am currently enrolled in Northern Arizona University’s School of Hotel and Restaurant Management, focused on furthering my education and bringing everything I learn back here to The Scott,” says Staten, who is slated to graduate in 2020.
Concierge, Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Bungalows
Jennifer Hecker’s road to the hotel industry is a “whale” of a tale.
“I worked at SeaWorld in San Diego at 16,” Hecker says.
She initially dreamt of becoming a veterinarian before seeing firsthand the profession involved far more than playing with animals.
At SeaWorld, however, Hecker found that beyond the animals, she loved helping people plan their visits to the park.
“In hindsight, it was perfect training for a career in hospitality,” Hecker says
After five years at SeaWorld, she moved to the Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines in 1990 and spent the next 10 years working her way up to a concierge supervisor at the hotel.
“When I moved on, it wasn’t to another hotel, per se,” says Hecker, who joined a San Diego real estate development company as its in-house concierge for residents at a luxury housing community. “Think of it as a concierge, but for guests who never actually leave.”
While there, she earned her bachelor’s degree from National University in La Jolla, just in time for the real estate boom to bust.
“By 2010, developers downsized, so I moved to Arizona for a new adventure,” she says. In the Valley, Hecker worked in marketing and events for local colleges while earning a master’s degree in hospitality and tourism management, graduating in 2014.
She then ventured back into real estate concierge services, this time for Toscana in Desert Ridge in 2014 before joining Andaz Scottsdale in 2018.
“I was drawn to Andaz, in great part to its commitment to the local culture and artisans,” explains Hecker, whose role is partially focused on creating unique relationships with the local art community so she can curate unique experiences for guests.
One of her favorite artsy offerings is Andaz's private tours of Cattle Track Arts Compound, which recognizes and celebrates Scottsdale’s cultural heritage by providing opportunities – and actual spaces – for artists, craftsmen and students to learn, grow and showcase their works.
Concierge, Arizona Biltmore, A Waldorf Astoria Resort
Phoenix native Julie Baxter always knew what she would be when she grew up.
“It sounds old-fashioned now, but my mother was a homemaker, so I planned on getting married, having kids and taking care of our home, like her,” Baxter says.
But, as the saying goes, the best-laid plans often go awry.
“After college, I found myself unmarried and in need of a career, so I got into real estate,” she says. “Then it gets interesting.”
At 31, Baxter ran off with her boyfriend to the U.S. Virgin Islands, where they started a powerboat business. By 33, she moved to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and started a parasailing business.
“Americans would often come to me for advice on what to do while in Cabo. I became an unofficial concierge of sorts, offering sailing customers tips on the best attractions the city had to offer,” Baxter says.
Given parasailing instruction wasn’t a career option in Phoenix, Baxter opened the newspaper and surveyed the “help wanted” ads when she made her way back to the Valley in the mid-1990s.
“There was an ad for a concierge position at the Arizona Biltmore, which required expertise in helping people navigate activities and attractions at the resort and across Phoenix,” she says. “It married my unofficial position in Cabo with my lifetime of knowledge of the Valley, so I applied.”
That was 23 years ago. Since then, Baxter has become an icon within the concierge community as an active member of the Valley of the Sun Concierge Network for 20 years and a certified Biltmore Resort Historian for 10 years.
“And whenever I think I’ve seen and done it all, something comes up,” says Baxter, who fondly remembers one of her biggest challenges – planning a woman’s leap year-themed birthday party, which had to dazzle the well-heeled guests in attendance, including Diana Ross.
This year brings perhaps the biggest challenge of her career to date: Celebrating the Biltmore’s 90th birthday all year long with monthly events, culinary programs and plenty of other festivities.
Guest Loyalty Relations, Fairmont Scottsdale Princess
Remember the Nintendo Power Pad?
“I loved that thing,” Darvá Fields recalls. “It got me into gaming in such a major way.”
So major that he studied computer science at Northern Arizona University in the early 2000s with an eye to becoming a professional game designer.
“Except, I was into the art of designing more than the math and science, especially the complex algorithms and binary codes,” says Fields, who transferred to the University of Advancing Technology (UAT) in Tempe in 2002, where they had design-specific classes.
Upon transferring, Fields’ parents told him his days as a full-time student were over: It was time to get a job.
“I needed something that allowed me to attend classes by day, so I took a night position at a Fairfield Inn in Chandler,” Fields explains.
After just a few months, he was offered an assistant manager position and a salary. Once he graduated UAT in 2006, he couldn’t bring himself to leave hospitality.
“I loved hospitality even more than that Power Pad,” Fields says.
He joined Hotel Valley Ho in 2007 to hone his skills, where he met his mentor, Ronen Aviram. When Aviram moved over to the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess in 2009, Fields went with him.
But, it wasn’t until he gained experience in all levels of service from 2012 to 2018 – including as general manager of Kai Restaurant at the Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass, general manager of restaurants at L’Auberge de Sedona, and general manager of Fat Ox – that he was truly ready for his concierge role at the award-wining resort.
“I came back in 2018 to lead our concierge team as head of guest loyalty relations, where we do it all from transforming our lagoon into a fishin’ hole for kids to putting on full-scale, multimonth events such as Christmas at the Princess and Summer at the Princess,” Fields says.
And he does it all while he and his wife raise their young daughter and son, who is an avid gamer, coincidentally enough.
Concierge, The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa
Initially, Catherine Linamen, a native of Washington, attended Central Washington University to study business. That is, until she and one of her sisters – they are two of nine kids in the family – visited the historic Inn at Death Valley in California for a vacation.
“We vowed to come back to the hotel a year later and get jobs there – and we actually did it,” says Linamen, who would venture with her sister to the Grand Canyon a few years later, similarly vowing to get jobs there.
Linamen got a sales job at the Grand Canyon National Park Lodges in the early 1980s, eventually serving as their sales manager before heading to the Bay Area to take a position with the Hyatt brand.
“And then I took a 25-year break to raise a family,” Linamen says.
By the 1990s, she had made Scottsdale home. And in 2009, once the youngest of her four kids was in college, Linamen got an itch to get back into the hotel industry, but only if it was at The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa nearby.
“Not only was it our neighborhood resort, but I was in constant awe of their seemingly endless list of activities and attractions for families, couples and travelers alike,” Linamen says.
She got her foot in the door as a barista in the coffee shop before her decades of experience – not to mention sheer knowledge of the resort itself – quickly attracted attention resort-wide. Within a year, she transitioned into her current role as concierge and eventually also took on the title of vacation services coordinator.
“For nearly nine years since, I’ve curated princess-themed picnics, arranged for animals to visit us from the Phoenix Zoo, and helped people celebrate the biggest milestones in their lives,” Linamen says. “We see lots of proposals and weddings, but my favorite experience was helping several families come together to celebrate their mother, who was a recent cancer survivor.”
Lead Navigator, Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel
Irma Rosario grew up in New Jersey, where most of her family owned small businesses.
“After high school, it was natural for me to study business management, assuming I would eventually open a small business, too,” Rosario says.
But then, she fell in love … with Phoenix.
“I vacationed here in April of 2006,” Rosario says. “I went back to Jersey, packed my bags, and moved here the same year.”
During the first several years here, she threw herself into the fundraising and event planning industries while soaking in everything from Phoenix’s Roosevelt Row Arts District to the Downtown Phoenix Walking Ghost Tour.
“My pet peeve is when people say there is nothing to do here outside of golf and spas,” Rosario says. “From the museums and art installations to restaurants and bars, there are about 100 things happening at any given time downtown.”
Eager to share “her Phoenix” with others, Rosario set her sights on becoming a concierge, or navigator, at the Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel in 2014.
“The navigator role at the Renaissance is unique in that it features all of the traditional responsibilities of a concierge, but it also focuses on building community connections,” she says, explaining that navigators take a lead role in bringing in local artists, musicians and other vendors to the hotel as well as helping guests navigate their actual stays.
In 2014, however, all of the navigator roles were filled. Undeterred, Rosario took a front desk position until a spot became available two years later.
“Since then, I’ve not only taken on the role of navigator – and now lead navigator – but helped reimagine the position into an all-encompassing role as an ambassador to this city for our guests,” Rosario says.
This includes overseeing the hotel’s participation in Renaissance Hotels’ Global Day of Discovery, which takes place annually at the brand’s 160 hotels around the world and focuses on helping guests and locals alike discover the hidden gems that give neighborhoods their soul, from underground art scenes to exotic local cuisines.
Lead Concierge, Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch
In the life of Tami Henry, necessity has been the mother of invention, or, more accurately, reinvention.
Born in Kansas in the 1960s and raised in New Mexico in the 1970s, Henry got into banking after high school, which eventually took her to Colorado in the early 1980s.
“While engaged, my fiance was transferred to Arizona,” says Henry, who moved to the Valley sight-unseen in 1987. “I distinctly remember interviewing for a banking job in Gainey Ranch and having to ask for directions home afterward, given we’d only been here a week.”
Though she stayed in the industry a few more years, banking never fed her soul, so in the late 1980s she enrolled in a travel school, which trained people on how to handle all areas of travel for individuals and families.
“This led me to working in the rental car industry, assessing transportation needs,” Henry says.
She stayed in the Valley until 2004, when her brother passed away. Once that happened, Henry dropped everything and moved back to New Mexico to reconnect with her mom.
“While there, I noticed a new hotel had gone up called Hyatt Regency Tamaya and applied for a position so I could stay with my mom,” she says.
Henry was hired in the housekeeping department. There, she paid her dues for nearly a year before earning her first concierge position in 2005. She excelled.
“But in 2007 my father – who lived in Arizona – developed a brain tumor. I knew I had to come back and be with him,” Henry says.
Her team helped get her transferred to the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch.
Being a part of the resort since 2007, Henry finally feels like she’s found her forever home. Today, she serves as the resort’s lead concierge.
“From arranging gondola boat rides to helping guests charter private jets, this is what I was put on this earth to do, and I was meant to do it here,” Henry says.
Chef Concierge, Hotel Valley Ho; Member of Les Clefs d’Or USA
Like so many others, golf brought Judy Kabler to Arizona.
“I grew up in New Jersey and worked as a flight attendant in Chicago before getting married to a golf pro who was hired at a country club in Wisconsin in the 1970s,” Kabler says. “While he served as director of golf, I ran the pro shop and served as a buyer for the club.”
But golf is not a year-round business in Wisconsin, so Kabler and her husband began dividing their time between Wisconsin and Arizona in the early 1980s.
By 1984, Kabler used her golf prowess to earn a position at the original Mountain Shadows Resort as a concierge. Though she would still move between Arizona and Wisconsin for several more years, Kabler quickly made a name for herself, eventually moving to The Scottsdale Plaza Resort in 1989.
By 2004, the same year Arizona became her full-time home, Kabler was ready for a new challenge.
“Hotel Valley Ho was undergoing its multiyear, $80 million makeover,” says Kabler, who joined the hotel as its chef – the term for “head” in French – concierge in 2005.
Kabler went on to build the concierge program from scratch, developing an open line of communication between her team and guests that starts the moment they make their reservation and ensures their every need is met – and then some.
“No request is impossible. I love finding ways to surprise and delight our guests,” says Kabler, who is one of just 15 Arizona concierge professionals that’s a member of the Les Clefs d’Or USA, the only national organization of hotel lobby concierges, where membership is by invitation only.
In addition to her busy schedule at Hotel Valley Ho, Kabler will join fellow Arizona members of the Les Clefs d’Or USA this June, as Phoenix was chosen to host the organization’s 2019 Annual Congress, a gathering of 250-plus members worldwide. She is also a three-time winner of the Valley of the Sun Concierge Network’s Silver Plume Award, the local industry’s highest honor.