Hotel concierges across the world hold the golden key to guest satisfaction. A fairly unknown profession in India, they play an important role in customer retention, encouraging tourism and often, revenue generation By Sudipta Dev
A little known profession in India a decade back, a hotel concierge has risen in importance and esteem in the hospitality industry over the years. Today all new luxury hotels in the country seek a concierge who has the coveted Golden Keys, which is easily recognised by an international traveller. The hotel management, the general managers are now aware of the important role that the concierge plays in ensuring guest satisfaction and retention. He is also the medium between the guest and the general manager. In many instances, it is the personal rapport that a concierge establishes with a regular guest over the years that plays an important role ensuring guest loyalty.
The fact cannot be denied that in Indian hospitality industry, it is the persistent efforts of the first generation of concierges in the country that has made a significant contribution – from elevating the profile of a concierge in the eyes of the hotel management to grooming the next generation of concierges in the country to establishing India as an important chapter in the world of concierges. Not surprisingly, many of these first generation of concierges have come from either the Taj Group or the Oberoi Hotels. The concept of a concierge started in Mumbai with the opening of The Oberoi Hotel. Concierge Association of India came up in 1998 with regional chapters.
It was as recent as 2011 that India became an independent chapter – Les Clefs d’Or India – Society for Golden Key Concierges is a free and individual society affiliated with Union Internationale des Concierges d’Hotels (UICH). Currently there are 109 Golden Key members in India. “In 2006 we applied for independent chapter, and got that in 2011 in Toronto. At that time Golden Keys was not well known in India, we had to go to many cities and conduct workshops about concierges, Golden Keys, UICH,” says Edwin Saldanha, head concierge, The Oberoi, Mumbai and zone director Asia – Les Clefs d’Or International. Till recently, he was the president of Les Clefs d’Or India for four years.
Worldwide UICH has six zones. There are 11 Les Clefs d’Or countries in Asia, like Japan, China, Korea, etc. “Countries like Indonesia, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam and recently Sri Lanka are interested to become Les Clefs d’Or countries. I do training workshops for them. I also do work in Nairobi,” says Saldanha.
Expanding reach in other Indian cities is one of the primary aims of the association in India. “We have strong teams in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Chennai. Now we are going into other cities. In Rajasthan every big hotel has a concierge. We were not successful in Goa because people move fast there,” states Saldanha. Agra, Mysore, Udaipur, Ahmedabad, are the emerging destinations.
With the Golden Key coming in, international travellers are more assured of the service that they get in the hotel. “That’s why we are strict to give the keys. In India there are four regions so that upcoming concierges can become members and learn from senior concierges. We have 15 minute training programmes in the meetings for all concierges. To get the keys they have to be part of hotel industry for five years and three years as a concierge, then they can apply for membership for Golden Keys. There are exams and a personal interview. The keys do not come easy so we have to make sure that those who apply for it are genuine and know their city, country, specially about tourism, etc,” mentions Saldanha. These keys travel with the concierges till they work in the hotel industry. It is only for the hotel industry.
The motto of the association is ‘In Service Through Friendship’. This motto binds all the hotel concierges to help each other and assist to achieve the impossible keeping hotel guest as the centre of service. The regional chapters of Les Clefs d’Or India have meetings every month where they share about what is happening in their hotels, new restaurants opening up, the shopping places. “We have our own concierge map which most of the hotels today use. The first map was published in 2007. That map gaining importance, most hotels started using it and also brought in funding which was used for training, meetings and also attending congresses,” says Albert Amanna, head concierge of the InterContinental Marine Drive and honorary president, Concierge Association of India Western Region. Pointing out that the international concierge association was started in 1852 and conceptualised in 1929, and is the oldest association in the world (leaving the masonary), Amanna informs, “We were passionately driven. We realised that those who joined the industry did not know what a concierge did, so we decided to touch base with all hotel management institutions. IHM Mumbai was the first to invite us.”
While the job of a concierge was initiated in 19th century in Europe, in Indian hospitality it is a recent phenomenon. Albert John, manager concierge, The Imperial Hotel, New Delhi and honorary president, Les Clefs dOr India says, “In India, concierge services have yet to gain the kind of recognition they enjoy internationally. Though it is gaining momentum, Indian travellers are still new to the concept and unaware of the role of a hotel concierge. A certain section of frequent travellers understands and regards the concierge with recognition and seeks their help on various requirements.”
He points out that now it is a must for any luxury, business or even boutique hotels to have a concierge on their payroll. “Concierge is a spirit of luxury who know how to pamper guests like king and queen. This great service has made a new profession in Indian hospitality,” mentions John.
With the growth of the hotel industry in India it was observed that there is no ‘magic man’ in the hotel lobby who caters to all guest needs and requests. “In Europe and United States, hotel concierge played an important role in providing excellent services thereby retaining a guest to come back whenever he visits the city. The Indian hotels felt the same and hence, the role of hotel concierge was started,” says Maxim Mascarenhas, WelcomConcierge, ITC Maratha. The job itself has many challenges. Mascarenhas explains, “Every guest interaction requires urgent attention to respond to the query. A concierge receives numerous calls from in-house guests for various request and also external calls for various information and reservations during their shift.” Consequently, patience is the key prerequisite of this profession as every requests must be attended with warmth and accomplish the same with pride and dignity.
There has been marked change in the role and profile of a concierge in the last 15 years. In the beginning the concierge was looked at as another bell boy as most of the time he operated through the bell desk – baggage, packages, cargo clearance. “But The Oberoi began with a separate desk where a guest could talk comfortably. We started sending minutes of the meeting to the general managers. They started motivating their team to attend the meetings,” says Amanna, who had started his career with The Oberoi in Mumbai. Hotels also realised that Tripadvisor rating made a lot of difference with a guest meeting a concierge. The management realised that one of the revenue earners for the hotel was through the concierge. It was the personal connect with the concierge that brought back many repeat guests. “I personally budget transportation for the hotel. Whatever reservations we make for our restaurants should be monitored, tracked and sent as an email to the boss, ultimately those figures matter,” asserts Amanna. He points out that his company, IHG gives a lot of importance to the concierge. “On our website there is a video of the concierge of every hotel. They also have a one year online training programme. Now many other brands like Starwood, Marriott, and others are doing it.”
Interestingly, technology has made a difference to the role. “We use iPad for our guests, the menus, etc. Sometimes people think that technology will replace a concierge, but that will never be,” asserts Amanna.
The various tasks by concierges include car rental, air line ticketing, tours (experiences) like in The Oberoi there are heritage walks, chefs conducting tours for guests called Spice Trail. While these helps to generate revenues, Saldanha does not believe that hotels look at a concierge for generating revenue. “The focus is to make a guest’s stay a memorable one,” he says.
Working for an iconic property, Glen Menezes, concierge, Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai feels that he is not just the concierge for the hotel but for the city of Mumbai. “There is a sense of belonging, honour and a huge responsibility. Not only do we represent the first ever luxury hotel in the country, with many firsts, but we represent a Tata brand. Our guests come with great expectations and it is imperative that we meet/exceed every need. Every day the bar is raised,” he says with conviction.
Luxury hotels across the country have primarily been in the forefront to provide concierge services to their guests. According to Nitin Srivastava, chief concierge, The Claridges, New Delhi the key attributes of a concierge are – excellence in guest service, commitment to work, always ready to take action, believe in team work, ability to remain calm, integrity, patience, accountability, etc. “The concierge contributes in the hotel’s revenue in each and every department like room reservations of known guests, restaurant bookings, spa bookings, health clubs and majorly transportation.”
Though it might be unknown to most people, concierges across the world make a significant contribution towards the growth of the tourism industry in general and their respective hotels in particular. “It is indeed worthwhile to note that all hotels in India are looking up at the profession and providing due support to the association. In the years to come, we would have a formidable force with representations from all the best hotels in the country,” says Shaunak Vengurlekar, head concierge and guest service manager, Waterstones Hotel & Club, Mumbai and honorary general secretary – Les Clefs d’Or India.
Les Clefs d’Or India now plans to host the 10th Asian Congress in 2017 in Mumbai city which will bring all the Asian countries together for growth of tourism and hospitality in Asia. “It is the best time to showcase India and its tourism to the participating countries of the world. This cannot be possible without the support of the government, the hotel industry and tourism industry as well,” says Vengurlekar.
Making a mark
Women concierges are quite common around the world. In India there are about 10-12 lady concierges who have made a significant mark in their professional sphere. Valencia Albuquerque, chief concierge, Four Seasons Hotel Mumbai believes that women being naturally multi-taskers are excellent for the job. “Moreover we are great at giving shopping tips as we love to shop. Hence whether its high end fashion brands or the small little stall in Bhuleshwar market for inexpensive bangles, we are able to give the best tips. No matter what the request is, being a woman is always an upper hand as we somehow know someone who can assist us in getting a guest request done,” she says. There is also the fact that women concierges bring an added advantage of making the growing segment of female travellers more comfortable. “In India, having a female concierge in the team is almost necessary these days,” points out Albuquerque.
And how can young girls be encouraged to join the profession? While this profession is not very well explained in hotel schools in India, Les Clefs d’Or India has begun training sessions and guest lectures in hotel schools across the country. “In this way we reach out to students while they are still at school to pursue this profession. We reach out to girl students and prove to them that this is not a man’s profession by ensuring women concierges are present during the training. We speak about Les Clefs d’Or internationally and show them the number of women concierges around the globe who have made their mark in the industry. We have seen the rise in numbers of candidates during interviews wanting to pursue their career as a concierge,” says Albuquerque with optimism.
Focus on training
While overseas there are concierge schools, in India there are no formal training for concierges. The association has taken it upon itself to train the next generation of concierges. “We started behavioural trainings, we initiated this in our monthly meetings. Hotels also started realising the efforts we are putting in and the general managers started supporting us. Hotels today want a full member concierge as the guest today recognises these keys,” mentions Amanna.
Reminding that Les Clefs dOr India is a fraternity based on friendship, John informs that social media is an effective tool for educating members on a daily basis. “Any new restaurant, shop, boutique, important information related to travel, tourism and hospitality, we immediately share to educate our concierge’s within fractions of minutes and in turns it is spread all over India. We meet monthly in each city where our members exist and conduct seminars in various institutes of hotel management, conduct excursion trips to vineyard, monuments, museums, art galleries. We plan our annual general meeting in new cities every year to bring learning and enhancing our network.”
International celebrity concierges are also invited from time to time to conduct workshops for enhancing the quality of services in Indian hospitality.
Customer service, local knowledge, communication and computer skills training are necessary for a concierge to excel in his job. While international hotel chains in India have their own training programmes for concierges, in ITC Hotels, every department has a learning coordinator who regularly conducts training during their daily briefing. “Similarly, a concierge too has a learning coordinator who updates his colleagues of the various promotions happening in the hotel and in the city, educate on hotel policies and procedures and conducts training on soft skills,” he says.
The only Golden Key holder in Chandigarh, Manoj Sharma is chief concierge, JW Marriott Chandigarh. “I get requests from other concierges in the city to help them. I had also conducted training at a hotel management institution in Panchkula and will continue to take such initiatives,” says Sharma. Recently he was also invited by a guest who had a hotel in Johannesburg to train the staff there.
As an initiative to drive young management students towards choosing concierge as a profession in their career Les Clefs d’Or Concierge members impart knowledge by conducting various concierge workshops once every quarter. “Institutions like Sophia Polytechnic Hotel Administration & Food Technology, IHMCTAN, DY Patil Institute of Hotel Management – Nerul, IIHM – Jaipur, SRM Institute of Hotel Management – Chennai, Don Bosco College – Hospitality Studies, Anjuman Islam Catering College and Rizvi College of Management Studies are a few to name. Series of slides, presentations, concierge success stories are shared with students,” informs Vengurlekar.
Training is a continuous process and is related to product, process and people. “This includes new applications, software that supports day-to-day work, networking and how to network through social sites, cross exposures to various cities to adopt learn or improve, shadowing celebrated concierges, being local and exploring what our city has to offer, writing, verbal skills, social skills, etiquettes and grace. Armed with these we exude confidence which helps us deliver to guest needs,” says Menezes. He also feels that the profession encourages young people who want to join them. “The feats that we do, the stories that are circulated, the way we carry ourselves in our penguin coats, polished keys and the manner that we conduct ourselves is alluring,” he states with pride.
Not surprisingly, there is never a dull moment on the job for a concierge. It is a profession where every day brings in new challenges and new learnings.