Making s’mores on the beach or finding fishing gear, concierges are in high demand
I want. I need. Get me.
Galveston concierges hear these words frequently. And they oblige with a smile.
The job of a concierge in Galveston is to make vacationers’ trips to the beaches as memorable and uncomplicated as possible. Tasks include such mundane chores as grocery shopping before guests arrive at a short-term rental or helping plan a surprise engagement or birthday party.
The list of tasks they agree to perform is lengthy — and growing.
“We now have 83 services we offer visitors,” said Shawna Keeling, executive director for Gulf Coast Concierge. “We just want to make everything easier for the guests so they are able to really be on vacation.”
Concierge is a French word and a contraction of the 19th century comte des cierges — the keeper of the candles, which was the servant responsible for maintaining the lighting and cleanliness of medieval palaces. In time, that job has evolved into party planner, personal assistant, reservation maker and hot ticket getter, among other things. The role of the modern concierge traditionally had been at hotels. But in Galveston, none of the major hotels has a concierge. Instead, those tasks are being handled by front-desk hotel personnel after COVID-19 caused many cutbacks. Sometimes, hotels seek the services of independent concierges.
And lately, these independent concierges have been busy, offering services to mostly to short-term rentals or day-trippers to Galveston.
Often, the concierge partners with local service providers for tickets to museums, theaters and events. They work with pleasure boat captains, experienced fishing experts and surfing instructors. They help secure golf tee times, spa appointments and exotic car rentals. And they can arrange for personal chefs, catered meals, barbecue or dinners-to-go, as well as make reservations at local restaurants.
Sea La Vie Galveston concierge has been growing since it started in 2018 from a bonfire on the beach idea with s’mores, to a full-service business, co-owner Miranda Belansky said. When Belansky and partner Ralph Maines initially approached several small businesses to affiliate with, they didn’t get the response they had hoped for, she said.
“It was a mixed bag,” Belansky said. “Some smaller companies didn’t really understand what we were trying to do and were hesitant to work with us. I think they were worried we were a scam. Larger, more established companies were excited and saw the benefits that our services provide their guests.
Belansky and Maines both grew up on the Gulf Coast, partying, camping and surfing along Galveston beaches. Maines went to college at Texas A&M University at Galveston and stayed after graduation. The couple began their business as a part-time job by offering West End island guests fires on the beach with s’mores. Shortly after, they began receiving requests for other services and decided to test the waters, she said.
“We had zero money to start, so we offered services without actually having any inventory,” Belansky said. “When we got our first booking, we borrowed money to purchase the equipment needed. After a while, we got more and more requests and we expanded accordingly. If we can do it, we’ll make it happen. The more people used us, the more they requested.”
Some of the requests aren’t so easy fill, but the mission is to get the job done.
One client insisted on getting swordfish, which isn’t common in the Western Gulf of Mexico, Keeling said. But Keeling was able to assist this request with the help of Katie’s Seafood Market in Galveston. Belansky laughed as she recalled a request for a power boat to travel from the Galveston Yacht Basin on the island’s East End to pick up clients at their West End home.
Sometimes, guests need pool nets to collect lost items in the dunes. And some requests are unusual, Belansky said.
“Quite often, I find myself running to tell Ralph about really odd requests and immediately start scrambling to make it happen,” Belansky said. “Without fail, the most random requests always have the shortest timelines. We just break the requests down into steps and reach out to our networks in order to make it happen.”
Concierges charge different rates for each service they provide. They can plan a party, decorate for the theme, order the supplies, food and beverages and then show up afterward to clean and tidy the house. They can gather beach gear, fishing gear, swimming or snorkeling gear or secure exotic cars, golf carts, scooters or bikes for clients. They cater to large groups, smaller families, extravagant spenders as well as those on a modest budget.
“We never say no,” Keeling said. “It never gets boring. I really like people, party planning and getting things organized. Now, I get to do it for a living.”
Being a concierge really is fun, Belansky said.
“Not only do we get to spend our days on the beach watching the sunrise and sunset, we get to do something new that isn’t common in Galveston or Texas,” Belansky said. “Being able to help other small businesses market and expand is something we enjoy.”