Where to go without the crowds has taken on extra importance this year – but when travelling, we don’t necessarily know where is best for minimal contact with others. Enter the A&O hotels and hostels group, which is offering a ‘social distancing specialists’ concierge service.
The specialists are essentially members of the front-of-house team who equip themselves with the knowledge on, for example, the best secluded picnic spot or the best secret cycling route. “We wanted to launch an initiative that would enhance the guest experience and empower our staff members by inviting them to share invaluable insights from each city that travellers would not have access to if they were staying at another property,” said a spokesperson for the group.
“Understandably, the concept of exploring a city may seem overwhelming following recent months so we have appointed specialists to reassure guests that they can travel safely by exploring off-the-beaten track experiences in each city to avoid the crowds.”
A&O has properties in cities including Berlin, among others in Germany, as well as Prague, Vienna, Amsterdam and Salzburg.
Jacqueline Rieger, general manager of A&O Cologne, reports that the feedback from guests has been positive so far.
“We are located in the ‘party’ section of Cologne, so [there are more crowds], but staff tell guests where they can go to avoid them,” she said. “Our guests vary in age range, so needs differ. For example, if an older couple wants to see live music, we might say there’s this jazz club instead of advising them to go to a techno gig. But of course if they want to go see some techno, that option is open.”
At the moment, Rieger would advise Gloria for a concert because seating capacity has been reduced by more than a third, with a maximum of 250 guests, and the air in the air conditioning system is replaced approximately every 10 minutes. In terms of must-see historical monuments, she recommends going to Cologne Cathedral between Monday to Thursday before 11.30am.
But with things changing constantly, how do they stay on top of what is not crowded at which time?
“We’ve a large team of about 40 people, the majority of whom are students so they have a little more time to suss out new places. If they see something we think we should add to our list of spots without the crowds, they will make a note. We meet once a month, and talk about what’s new. We also feed back what guests said about what was good, what was not so good," she said.