Wednesday, November 2, 2016

As Long as It Legally, Morally and Humanly Possible

For the ultra-rich, they have “staff” that can get it done. For the well-heeled who always reside in four and five star “full-service” hotels around the world, they know who can get it done on the road. I’m sure you’ve seen them, if not availed yourself of their expertise. They are called “concierges,” but the best-of-the-best of them are members of an exclusive club, globally numbering about 4,000 specially-knowledgeable individuals, known as members of the society of the Golden Keys (Les Clefs d’Or).
Founded in 1929 in Paris, internationalized in 1952, the society uses the simple motto, “Service through Friendship.” They are impeccably groomed and uniformed, wear their golden key lapel symbol (above) with great pride, and generally are among the best-compensated staff in any hotel they call home. Gratuities can be most generous. Money talks. Sometimes, it screams.
For those of you out there who have wondered who they are and where they come from, I thought this little side blog (for lack of a better term) might just help explain this coterie of elite experts. They can book that impossible-to-get restaurant reservation, secure that sold-out concert ticket, or find that absolute necessity in the dead of night. It may not be cheap, but more likely than not, they will prevail. They wield profound local power. Unless it is illegal or wildly immoral, “no” is generally not an option for them. When such a request is made, a top-flight concierge will simply suggest an alternative. Who are these dedicated men and women, scattered in the best hotels all over the world?
First, just getting membership in that elite group is not so easy. To qualify, an applicant has to have been a full-time concierge or on the front desk for at least three years. Then comes the test, the exploration of the applicant’s network of contacts and local expertise plus that sweat-inducing in-person interview. It’s all about that quiet professionalism, that confident “can do” look followed by being above actually to deliver the goods.
Once you are a member of the Golden Keys, you also have an obligation, when asked, to assist fellow members in their quest to fulfill client requests. Loyalty to the Golden Keys is exceptionally important. It is no coincidence, by the way, that the same upscale clients often travel to the same major metropolises around the world. Those special, shared connections usually work seamlessly. A movie star in New York, craves a one-of-a-kind spicy sauce available only at one restaurant in New Orleans. No problem. The interconnected network “can do.”
There are a number of lesser-known realities about how hotels and these concierges interact, as the October 26th explains: “Many in the elite society have signed non-disclosure agreements with their employers in part because celebrities and politicians are frequent guests at the world’s five-star hotels. Some hotels give their concierges a budget of several thousand dollars a day to help accommodate their guests’ wishes — all at no extra cost to the well-heeled clients.
But Airbnb, apps, online services and even those newly-employed robots that have begun to populate the hotel ether (in Japan, the Henn-na – meaning “strange” – Hotel is expected to be 90% “manned” by robots) are rising in competition… or are they? Not necessarily for the well-heeled who prize luxury and service about all else, but technology has to have an impact, right? Here’s the new playing field:
The robots speak several languages and are programmed to make eye contact and smile politely… Daniel Lesser, the president of LW Hospitality Advisers who has worked in the industry for more than 30 years, believes that artificial intelligence is a way of making hotels run more cost-effectively. Robots are expensive now but are expected to become cheaper with mass production. Even counting maintenance, their costs are much lower than paying an annual salary, or accounting for holidays or sick leave.
“But for now, it's apps like Uber and Yelp that have brought about major changes to the average work day of even elite concierges… William Chen from the Portman Ritz Carlton in Shanghai, one of the world’s largest financial centres, says many guests he assists come to the city to invest their money. So, as apps have taken on some of the more mundane concierge tasks, Chen has learned about the real estate market and the stock exchange, and reads the local business and economy news every day to offer the best insights.
“He stops short of providing financial advice, but he does point his guests in the right direction for information, local rules and regulations and experts. He’ll even go so far as to set up the call or arrange a meeting with an expert or businessperson… ‘There are definitely fewer guests who ask us for help, but that also means that you can spend more time with the individuals who do,’ Chen says.” So the next time you see one of these experts sitting at the concierge desk in your favorite upscale hotel – sorry Holiday Inn fans – you’ll know a little more about who they are and what they do.
I’m Peter Dekom, and I do admit that curiosity got the better of me.

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