Sunday, August 1, 2004

Halekulani concierge Sally Yates throws rose petals on the covers of a guest bed to make it more romantic.

The keys to please

From shipping peacocks
to choosing a dining spot,
Hawaii's hotel concierges
have done it all

The phone rings at the Halekulani concierge desk and Erena Takekawa rushes to answer it while fellow concierge Wendy Wong works to book a guest on a sold-out tour to Doris Duke's private Shangri La.

Going the extra mile

Some instances in which concierges have gone above and beyond the call of duty:

>> Finding a guest's wedding ring in the sand
>> Recovering contact lenses from a swimming pool
>> Sending peacocks to Brunei
>> Shipping coconut birthday cakes to the mainland
>> Serving as witnesses at a wedding
>> Helping guests "pop the question"
>> Setting the stage for romance by drawing a bubble bath, setting out candles and using rose petals to spell out messages or make a heart on the bed
>> Recovering a lost teddy bear and sending it to Japan, freshly dry-cleaned
>> Purchasing anniversary gifts
>> Making home-baked goodies for guests and sending them to the mainland on request

How to get what you want

Tips on dealing with businesses, from those who make requests every day:

>> State your request politely, providing details as to why it should be honored and using any connections that you may have.
>> Before the person has a chance to say no, ask, "Is there any reason why you couldn't help me?"
>> If the request is denied, give the person another chance to say "yes" by changing the parameters of the request.
>> Don't be afraid to ask for exceptions, most businesses make them every day.
>> If someone is particularly helpful, thank him or her so you can build a future relationship with this provider.

Source: Concierges at the Halekulani and Kahala Mandarin Oriental hotels

There's a music to the desk as the two answer hundreds of calls (all by the second ring), open and close brochure drawers, and scramble to handle last-minute personal details for guests, from finding missing luggage to planning weddings and funerals.

The pace is nonstop, but their steps are choreographed to ensure that the customer always leads. Knowing how to ship peacocks to Brunei, fix a valuable niihau shell necklace, mix up a homeopathic anti-itching cream using fresh-picked pomelo leaves or craft the most romantic proposal ever is all in a day's work for members of the state's exclusive, but growing concierge industry.

Supported by a surging economy that places a premium on customer satisfaction, leisure lifestyle and perks, concierge services in Hawaii are hot and the most-skilled talents, who can keep their cool under pressure, are in demand.

According to the most recent available industry data compiled by RealTime Hotel Reports LLC for the American Hotel & Motel Association Lodging Survey, more than 60 percent of luxury hotels and close to 30 percent of upscale hotels employ concierges, and numbers are rising.

The trend is evidenced by a growing number of kamaaina hotels such as the Four Seasons Wailea, the Kahala Mandarin Oriental, the Hilton Hawaiian Village, the Royal Hawaiian Hotel and the Halekulani that employ Les Clefs d'Or (pronounced "lay clay door") certified concierges, said Sally Yates, a member of the organization's membership board and a Halekulani concierge for 11 years.

"The Halekulani is a hotel made out of brick and mortar, but what is unique is the level of service that our guests enjoy here," said Gerald Glennon, executive assistant manager of the hotel.

The concierge desk plays a major role in that strategy.

Halekulani guests are provided with amenities including umbrellas and sunscreen, Hawaiian CDs and CD players, as well as complementary tickets to the Honolulu Symphony, the Honolulu Academy of the Arts, the Bishop Museum, the Contemporary Museum and Iolani Palace, Glennon said.

But it is at the hotel's concierge desk where the guest relations slogan, "For You, Everything," really comes into play, he said.

"The concierge desk is our most critical component. They have the authority to go across all department lines to accomplish something for a guest," he said, adding the hotel is most proud of its four Les Clefs d'Or members who are the memory makers for many guests.

Les Clefs d'Or, French for "keys of gold," an emblem adopted by a Paris-based group of concierges in 1929, is a worldwide organization open only to hotel lobby concierges who are able to pass a rigorous certification process.

The Les Clefs d'Or (pronounced "lay clay door) pin worn by concierges who have achieved the Golden Key.

"There's a growing demand for properties to have Les Clefs d'Ors on staff," said Marion Sato, a Les Clefs d'Or member at the Kahala Mandarin Oriental, who was recognized this year by the Hawaii Hotel & Lodging Association and also was also named Oahu's Best Concierge during the 2003 Aloha Spirit Awards.

"It's getting more and more competitive," she said. "It's becoming a necessity for five-diamond properties if they want to keep that status and seasoned travelers are starting to expect them."

There are about 500 Les Clefs d'Or members in the United States, Yates said, adding that members' salaries usually range from $20,000 to $40,000, although some might be higher if they work at hotels that pay commissions. Few concierges get tips, she said.

Clefs d'Or concierges can be recognized by the keys they display on the lapels of their uniforms.

Yates said she and fellow Halekulani Clefs d'ors Susan Koki, Wong and Takekawa use the organization to help network in other cities and countries.

That is an opportunity Hawaii's first Les Clefs d'or, Gloriann Akau, said she wished had been available in the 1980s when she worked at the Hotel Intercontinental and the state's concierge industry was first coming into its own.

"In this business, it's often who you know," she said. "It would have been helpful if more hotels had concierge desks, but I'm glad that it has grown to where it is today."

Concierges face pressure to get things done by yesterday, said Keith Rivera, Halekulani security director, who served as a concierge in the 1980s.

"It's a job that really sharpens your people skills," Rivera said. "Concierges have to deal with vendors as much as guests and they never want to burn any bridges. I haven't seen anyone beg, but it could happen yet."

Halekulani has four concierges who have earned the "Golden Key" award that is the top honor of their profession. These are, left to right, Sally Yates, Erena Takekawa, Susan Koki and Wendy Wong.

It takes lots of aplomb to multi-task with Aloha and a smile, Rivera said.

Concierges split their time between mundane tasks like confirming airline reservations and helping guests find tickets to a sold-out event or nabbing reservations at Hawaii's most popular restaurants.

"We also take calls from local residents who are looking for information about everything from where to get their hair done to where to eat," Takekawa said.

But they're equally adapt at helping guests make their stay more romantic -- doing everything from drawing baths and setting up candles to putting rose petals on beds and hiding engagement rings.

"It's about making it happen for the guests," said Wong, who has been a Halekulani concierge for 17 years. "If a guest comes in and they've lost their luggage and missed their plane, we have the power to help improve their experience."

Romancing guests is about going the extra mile, Sato said.

A guest entrusted Sato to purchase a special Hawaiian pendant and have it delivered to the resort when they arrived. It was to be his surprise anniversary gift for her. Sato had the jeweler engrave the pendant with the wife's initials, Hawaiian name and the date.

"It's fun to share the Aloha spirit with guests," Sato said, adding she enjoys welcoming all guests, whether they're celebrities, members of royalty, politicians, foreign dignitaries or ordinary tourists.


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