After years of promoting concierges who will unpack luggage and arrange pet massages, some of the nation's biggest chains are trimming costs by renting out concierge desks at more of their hotels. Increasingly, employees of ticket vendors and hospitality groups, rather than hotel workers, are stationed in the lobby to steer guests to restaurants, shows and car services.

These third-party concierges may have an agenda beyond making guests happy -- namely, selling enough tickets to turn a profit for their employers.

Such outsourcing is becoming more common. Online travel agent Expedia acquired 38 concierge desks in North America last year, almost all located in hotels. It now operates a total of 76 desks -- double its total from the beginning of 2005. Ticket vendor, which currently runs the show in six hotels, says it has agreements to set up shop in at least 24 more this year. One-year-old Tour Links LLC operates in five San Francisco hotels, including the Argent and the Hyatt at Fisherman' Wharf, and says it will be in two more next month. Chains including Hyatt, Marriott, Starwood and Kimpton confirm they've signed up for the services at some properties.

Little of this is immediately apparent to guests: In many cases, these concierges dress in hotel uniforms and are instructed not to identify their employer. "We have an agreement with the hotels, and we don't promote that we're separate. We fit in, we wear the name tags," says John Williams, president of New York Guest. The five-year-old service staffs the concierge desk at 15 hotels in Manhattan, up from five last year.

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