Few Queenstown hotel staff are as passionate about looking after guests and selling the resort as Hilton chief concierge Nathan Wise. He discusses his career with Philip Chandler, ahead of taking on a new challenge.
Queenstown this month loses its ultimate ‘meeter and greeter’ – and one of its best salespeople.
Big-smiling Aussie Nathan Wise finishes as chief concierge at Hilton hotel this coming Friday to become branch manager for equipment hire firm, Stella Hire.
It caps a stellar 13-and-a-half year career in the local hotel industry.
After four years in Australian and Canadian hotels, Wise started at Parkroyal Queenstown in 2004 as a breakfast supervisor, before joining the porters’ department four or five months later.
He was leisure concierge by the time the hotel rebranded as Crowne Plaza in 2006 – “that was massive”.
In a dream come true, he then joined Hilton as chief concierge when the five-star hotel opened seven years ago.
“I have been at the right spot, right time.”
In his role, the 37-year-old says “you’re the face of the hotel”.
“Your department – the porters, the concierges – are the first people guests deal with, when they arrive, and the last people when they leave.
“And usually you get the pre-arrival bits and pieces too – like the emails asking what to do.”
Wise reckons he’s dealt with about 50,000 guests during his Queenstown hotel career.
“We have 800 at once if we’re at full capacity [at the Hilton], and you could talk to 200 to 300 people per day.”
He says a perk of the job is he’s done hundreds of local activities or ‘famils’ to help him give recommendations to guests.
“I’ve lost count – every jetboat company, flights to Milford Sound, helicopters, a few bungys.
“The only ones I won’t do are the Nevis bungy and skydiving – I’m scared of heights.”
Wise says there’s nothing like a happy guest coming back from doing something he recommended.
“They come and give you a hug and a kiss and a handshake to say, ‘mate, that was the best thing I’ve ever done’.
“I like to custom-make activities.
“I’ve arranged countless wedding proposals, that can be from helicopters to down here on the jetty.”
His vast contacts among local operators mean almost anything is possible.
“You can usually find a table in a restaurant even if it’s full – we converted a bar [Sundeck] into a 30-seat restaurant, once, for a guest.”
He relishes challenges like sourcing alternative accommodation for someone who arrived on New Year’s Eve a year early because their travel agent stuffed up.
Then there are guests who lose rings, phones and cameras off the hotel jetty.
“People still want the memory card so we’ve organised scuba divers to come down.”
He’s dealt with TV stars like Rick Hoffman (Suits) and Tom Welling (Smallville), and says he’s greeted three New Zealand Prime Ministers, two Australian PMs, two NZ governors-general and an Aussie one.
With VIPs, he says, “you never ask for signatures or photos unless they offer”.
“Rick Hoffman did offer quite a few staff a few videos.”
For almost 10 years, Wise has also belonged to the international concierge society, Les Clefs d’Or, whose members wear golden crossed-key lapel pins.
In 2011, he represented NZ at the world congress in Toronto, Canada, where he’d been nominated for the ‘young concierge of the year’ award.
“That was one of the greatest experiences of my life.”
In 2013, he and former local Sofitel chief concierge Bryan Wilkinson hosted Les Clefs d’Or’s annual world congress in Queenstown, attended by 300-plus delegates.
Wise says it’s been helpful knowing concierges around the world, especially when his Hilton guests go on to their hotels.
He admits he was a career concierge who never wanted to move higher in the hotel world.
A family man with two young daughters, he says many of his regular guests can’t believe he’s leaving.
“Everyone said, ‘you are going to be there for life’, which I thought, too, till about a month ago.
“It’s just that I had a job offer I couldn’t say ‘no’ to.”