We're talking day trip destinations, hidden gems, the Baltimore Area Hospitality Association and more with concierge experts Marama Nengel, of Four Seasons Baltimore, and Jonathan Knox, of Royal Sonesta Harbor Court.
Tell us about yourself. How did you get started as a concierge, and what attracted you to the industry?
Marama: The Concierge at the Four Season Vegas encouraged me to apply. They were always making the magic happen for our guests and creating 'wow' experiences during their stay. Within the first week of being a concierge, I immediately knew I found my career passion. And here I am 10 years later.
Jonathan: I was at a hotel in Dubai and was so impressed with the level of service there that I was inspired to post my resume on various hospitality job search engines. I was recruited by Royal Sonesta Harbor Court, and here I am today. I love having the opportunity to create special memories for my guests.
There are so many different hospitality organizations throughout the D.C. area. Because you’re both located in Baltimore, tell us more about the Baltimore Area Hospitality Association (BAHA) and what members can expect from the organization.
Marama: I am a co-founder of BAHA, and our vision is to raise the service quality within Baltimore and educate everyone on what Baltimore has to offer. Our events are always held at the newest hotspot and are focused on networking. Our guest speakers are motivational and have included the CEO of Visit Baltimore and the founder of In Living Classrooms.
Jonathan: I’m fortunate to sit on the board of BAHA. Our organization strives to unite all factions of the service industry to promote Baltimore and its many restaurants and attractions. We also provide educational opportunities for our members by having various leaders of the industry speak about service excellence.
What do you consider to be excellent service, and what do you enjoy most about being a concierge?
Marama: Excellent service to me is going above and beyond to 'wow' guests. My favorite thing about being a concierge is having a guest tell me that all of my recommendations made their stay memorable. A goodbye hug gives me goosebumps.
Jonathan: I consider excellent service to be anticipating the needs of my guests and providing them with a 'wow' experience. I love when I’ve recommended an activity or restaurant to a guest, and they return to tell me it was the perfect place. That’s a great feeling of accomplishment for me.
On the other end of the spectrum, what do you think is the most challenging aspect?
Marama: Some people can be hard to read. I like the challenge of digging in and figuring out what will make them happy.
Jonathan: The jaded guest who has been everywhere and has done everything is always a challenge. I’m thrilled when I find something unique for them to do in Baltimore.
What do you think makes Baltimore stand out from other cities?
Marama: Baltimore is a diamond in the rough and full of the most amazing history. You would be surprised at how many people have no idea that the lyrics to the “Star-Spangled Banner” were written here.
Jonathan: Baltimore is a wonderful mix of grit and glam. You can experience the glamorous side of the city at the Baltimore Museum of Art where The Cone Collection is housed, one of the most important modern art collections of the early-to-mid 20th century. You can also experience the gritty side at the Baltimore Tattoo Museum. There truly is something here for everyone.
What’s your favorite hidden gem in Charm City?
Marama: The B&O Railroad Museum—which features anything and everything about trains and the railroad—originated here in Baltimore, and the Washington Monument, which is actually the first [before D.C.’s].
Jonathan: I enjoy Pierce’s Park. It’s unexpected in the inner city to find a place with a musical fence, a living willow tunnel, original sculptures, native plants and the famous horn sculpture.
Where should every visitor go at least once while visiting Baltimore?
Marama: Definitely Fort McHenry. It’s where the War of 1812 was fought and where Francis Scott Key was inspired to write the lyrics to our national anthem.
Jonathan: My choice would be the American Visionary Art Museum. It showcases the works of self-trained artists. There’s a fabulous mirrored mosaic wall and a mirrored mosaic school bus!
Where should a visitor looking for a fun day trip from Baltimore go?
Marama: D.C.! It’s only a quick hour away on the MARC, and because we are affiliated with WACA, we have so many concierges and vendors we can reach out to for tickets and more.
Jonathan: Philadelphia is just two hours by car from Baltimore. Go see the Liberty Bell, and try one of Philly’s famous cheesesteaks. I’d be happy to call my colleague at our sister hotel in the city, who has her pulse on the best activities and trendiest restaurants.
What’s one of your proudest hospitality or concierge memories?
Marama: The day that I received my acceptance letter into the prestigious Les Clefs d’Or. It was two years ago, and I still feel like I’m dreaming.
Jonathan: In 2017 I won Best Concierge of the Year from Where Baltimore magazine. It was a very exciting time.
What’s the best advice you’ve received while working in the industry?
Marama: Pretend that your desk is your stage and work your magic like a magician.
Jonathan: “Every guest deserves your best.”
What advice would you give to someone looking to break into the hospitality industry?
Marama: Find your passion, and don’t be afraid to move around in the industry until you find what moves you.
Jonathan: Have an abundance of patience, a winning smile and a desire to make people happy.
When you’re not working to ensure your guests are enjoying their stay, where can we find you?
Marama: Out exploring the town and other cities! I love walking around and finding things I never noticed before, like a mural or a quirky window decoration. And I love good food, so I’m always trying a different restaurant.
Jonathan: I love shopping at local stores like The Zone, a vintage store in historic Mt. Vernon, and Angel Park Boutique. We have a booming music scene here in Baltimore, so I really enjoy live music and dancing. As always, going out to eat is also a favorite pastime.