Ryan van Zyl, Head Concierge, The Table Bay
It was Michael J. Fox’s reprisal of Doug the Concierge in the 1993 film “For Love or Money” that influenced the young Ryan van Zyl’s career path.
“Ever since I saw the film, all I wanted to do was be a Concierge in a five-star hotel,” said van Zyl, who, as Head Concierge at Sun International’s The Table Bay hotel in Cape Town, has achieved his childhood dream.
A Concierge’s daily tasks cover everything from restaurants and flight reservations to recommendations on activities, shopping, tours and many other requests.
“I eat, breathe and sleep being a Concierge. You do what you have to when you want to excel, and I have always been totally focused on that aspect. I cannot think of any other job I’d rather be doing.”
After school, van Zyl completed an in-house training programme at a hotel in Zimbabwe, working through every department. “Eventually once you understand each level, you can start to specialise.” Back in South Africa, working at one of the five star hotels in Cape Town, van Zyl started his dedicated Concierge training. Sixteen years later, he has worked at five of the Mother City’s leading hotels, and it’s safe to say there isn’t much about Cape Town that he doesn’t know. “Our knowledge is broad and can transform your trip.”
“Before Covid-19, I spent most of my day at the Concierge desk, located in the hotel’s lobby. The job is all about guest contact and making yourself indispensable – doing the things people aren’t able to, or cannot be bothered to – to ensure guests have a memorable holiday or stay.
A Concierge operates by first asking a guest several questions to understand their needs. “Are they looking to shop, eat, drink or play, and what type of food or ambience are they looking for, how far are they willing to travel. Van Zyl said regular visitors to Cape Town had seen all the usual places, and were usually looking for something out of the ordinary.
Van Zyl has, over the course of his career, been part of the teams who have hosted Barack Obama and his family, Michael Jackson, Morgan Freeman, Nelson Mandela, various supermodels, Hollywood actors, royalty, Emirates princes and sheiks.
In 2009, he was awarded his Golden Keys from Les Clefs d’Or, a professional association of hotel Concierges, after being in the industry for just a decade. “You need to be able to speak certain languages, and be proposed by two current members in two different countries.”
As a result, he has reached the pinnacle of Concierge, in terms of position. “I’d like to learn more languages, definitely, perhaps Japanese or Arabic. I’m always reading and learning. I speak German and conversational Spanish, so perhaps one day I will work in countries where those languages are spoken.”
In his spare time, van Zyl enjoys travelling, seeing friends and family, and visiting wine estates, markets, museums – or sometimes, nothing at all. “When you have a full hotel of 800 guests that you’re receiving, talking to each one of them, sometimes recharging is about spending time on my own.