In his role as chef concierge at Vancouver’s Shangri-La Hotel, Jarren MacDougall leads a very busy life. But on top of that, he is a member of an organization called Les Clefs d’Or (the golden keys), which encompasses the very finest concierges in the world. The organization exists to facilitate growth and development for concierge professionals, from entry level all the way to the most seasoned practitioner. As MacDougall puts it, “we are all part of a wonderful network of concierges, so we can ensure each guest has the best possible experience, in our own hotel, but also anywhere in the world.”
This is not symbolic—MacDougall means it literally. “For example, since we make it a point to be a friend to each guest (so we can understand and even anticipate their needs), we can connect them with another concierge, in London, or Beijing, or Istanbul, and know they will be taken care of properly at those properties also.” This obviously takes some delicacy, tact, an ability to “read” each individual guest. “There is plenty of psychology in this job,” says MacDougall. “But a lot of it is simply knowing the right questions to ask. If a guest wishes to dine out, do they want something within walking distance? Do they want the hottest new place in town? Formal? Casual? It is all part of a good discussion, and getting them into a great experience suited to their needs—their mood, even.” And then, a good concierge may just have some influence on getting seats in a busy establishment—perhaps even those that do not take reservations. “It is about having good relationships with restaurants, the managers, the owners, the sommeliers,” MacDougall explains. “We do our best to make a guest’s experience special.”
Les Clefs d’Or began somewhat haltingly in early 1900s France, almost disintegrating at the advent of World War I, and stumbling again during the second. But by the 1960s, the organization had worldwide reach, and now exists in 44 countries, with just over 3,700 members. This network makes MacDougall’s job possible, at the highest levels, and of course he and his Vancouver associates always reciprocate. That is how it works: “We love having new guests coming from another country, having us help them make their stay memorable, based on a recommendation by one of our associates almost anywhere in the world.”
MacDougall recently finished up his two-year role as Les Clefs d’Or’s British Columbia secretary—a job that included such things as booking venues and taking minutes for monthly meetings; organizing concierge events throughout the city, as a way of building and sustaining relationships with vendors, restaurants, and other businesses; and communicating with members, aspiring members, and honourary members. On top of that are Les Clefs d’Or events throughout the year, such as a boat cruise, a showcase, and a gala. All in all a full slate, but it reflects the realities of being a professional concierge.
Bottom line: a great experience in a great hotel has little to do with happenstance and chance. It has much more to do with highly motivated professionals applying their skills, dedicated to providing unique, memorable visits. You can identify them by the stylized golden keys pinned on their coat lapels.
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