When our family stayed at Four Seasons Hotel Washington, DC last fall, our interaction with Mel Odilao, one of the hotel’s concierge masters, was a highlight of our stay. His warm smile is contagious, his knowledge of D.C. is mind-boggling, and his “can-do” attitude means guest of all sizes feel like city power brokers with special access to the city’s many treasures.
Although Mel has degrees in Political Science and Engineering, empowering guests—Four Seasons-style—is his passion. I love nothing better than an incredible concierge desk, and have encountered amazing resources over the years. But Mel had such a strong impact on me, I wanted to get to know him better. So I asked for an interview. Here’s what he shared:
When did you start at Four Seasons D.C. and how did you get there?
My first day was 32 years ago: on Feb. 2, 1981. I was still a kid! I started as a night bellman in charge of the graveyard shift. Later, I progressed to the doorman, and then I became a concierge. At that time, Four Seasons here was just opening and there was a rush of people from different hotels in town because the company already had a reputation as a brand worth working for—and this was Four Seasons’ first property in the United States.
What attracted you?
I was sold on the philosophy of Isadore Sharp, the company founder: Do unto others as they would do unto you. Over the years, this Golden Rule has clearly worked well for the Four Seasons brand, its guests and employees. Four Seasons is on the Fortune 500 List of one of the best companies in the world to work for. It’s true.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen at the hotel over the years?
Our concierge desk has been taken down and put back up five times over the years. We constantly update and upgrade to meet the needs of our guests. I’ve seen it all: from the telex to the typewriter to the fax machine with the thermal rolls where we had to cut up all the paper; to computers to iPods and now iPads! At the concierge desk, we always try to be up-to-speed on the latest and greatest technology.
People need and expect so many things from a five-star hotel concierge. How do you stay current in a city with so much going on?
We act as ambassadors to Washington, D.C. and stay in tune with the pulse of the city. First, we read the newspaper day in and day out. We have to be on top of every big event in the city. I’ve been here for nine Presidential terms!
I’m out on the town exploring the city on my days off. We also manage a newsletter at the concierge desk that has all the information for a given month including sports, exhibits and entertainment.
How do you help family guests?
My goal is to make memories for kids and their parents, and to help them discover D.C.’s treasures together. Families call or email us with requests; in turn, we ask them to clarify the time they have available and what they want to experience before making recommendations.
We offer activity choices, but we always leave room for free time. This is important, so families don’t feel like they are cramming too many things into their itinerary. A good concierge is intuitive, and knows what will work for a guest based on a their individual needs.
What is your favorite itinerary for a single day in D.C. with kids?
This is the most powerful city in the world. I recommend using time here to educate kids on our country from inside the Capitol, the Supreme Court and Congress. Add in the Smithsonian for a big picture view of the city.
We have contacts to help with security clearances for special tours. Ideally, families reach out to us a month ahead of time, particularly for places that are difficult to access.
Can you share a few insider tips?
*There’s a trolley underneath the capital that takes people from Congress to the Capitol. It’s like a little city underground and many people don’t know about it.
*When the Washington Monument is closed, other high vantage points in the city include the National Cathedral and the Old Post Office Pavilion.
*We have a whole list of secret places to watch the Fourth of July fireworks without masses of people—from rooftop restaurants to boat trips with picnics on the Potomac.
*The Kennedy Center has daily free concerts providing an amazing opportunity to see artists at work (many are well known).
Read more on Washington, D.C. in Four Seasons Magazine.
Read our “Four Seasons Hotel Washington, DC: Within Walking Distance” in Four Seasons Magazine.
Amie O'Shaughnessy manages Ciao Bambino, an award-winning family travel resource, from the San Francisco Bay Area where she lives with her husband and 10-year-old son. The experience of planning her first international trip with a baby inspired Amie to dedicate her career to providing parents with all the essential information they need to explore the world happily with children in tow.
View all posts from Amie
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