There’s a secret society in the Philippine hospitality industry that caters to its patrons’ increasing demands for personalized attention. The group, called Les Clefs d’Or Philippines, is at the customers’ beck and call, whether it’s for something as simple as restaurant reservations or more stress-inducing, major production demands such as the grand staging of a surprise engagement. No matter how absurd the request, these guys make it happen.
As such, you may be quick to think that they serve the guest, when in fact they hold much more power than we know.
Tell us about Les Clefs d’Or and what the organization does.
Carlo Fornier (CF): It’s the original society of concierges. Not to boast, but we are the elite group of concierges compared to what you would find in, let’s say, hospitals or malls; they are concierges as well. Concierge is now more of an adjective rather than a description of what we do.
Rey Moraga (RM): It originated in Europe back when they didn’t have hotel managers or front desks. It would really be the concierge or keeper of keys. We keep the keys to the grand hotels—that’s really the purpose of the concierge. Now, in modern times, we’re just value-added service to luxury hotels.
CF: But most auditing bodies like Forbes require at least one Les Clefs d’Or member at the front desk because that’s actually international standard.
That’s standard for a five-star hotel?
Rob Porter (RP): Yes. Very much so.
CF: We’re a separate entity from hotels. We come from competing hotels and our sales teams serve their own functions but in our society, we help each other out. I’m going to need help from this guy who I’m sure knows more than I do. We call each other, we give information. We have colleagues from other parts of the country like Tagaytay, Boracay, and Cebu.
RM: I can say, ‘Oh, I have a guest flying to Boracay, can you help with airport transfers, block a nice room, make sure they get flowers?’
Do you meet with each other regularly? Any group activities?
CF: Every two months, we do a grand meeting and we have our annual general assembly that happens every August. That’s when members from all over the country fly in because we need to submit our report to the international Les Clefs d’Or committee.
RM: And in between, we go out to dinners, try out new places. If there’s a new restaurant, they would usually invite the group.
What does Les Clefs d’Or mean?
RM: It means The Society of the Golden Keys, which are on these pins that we wear on our lapels. If you’ve seen the movie “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” the character of the concierge there is a member. Or the character of Michael J. Fox in “For Love or Money.” That’s what our jobs are like.
How do you become part of the group? Is there a test or qualification?
RM: Different countries have different procedures. Locally, we have our own. It used to be a three-year process, which was brought down to two, am I correct? [looks at peers]
CF: One year to become a local member, to be able to wear our dress pins. You would have to go through an interview with the executive committee, which Rey, Rob, and I are part of. Other than that, throughout your career as a local member, people will be testing you. They will make random calls and ask for your assistance to see how active people are and how you can commit to the society. Later on, that’s when they get their golden pins.
So it’s really a two- to three-year process?
RM: In Europe, it’s four years. Four years to get the job of concierge then you have to apply, and in France they have a school.
RP: In Dubai, they have a written exam.
Dustin Posadas (DP): In other countries, you have to know more about the history of the city or the country before they let you in.
How many members do you have right now?
CF: We have around 30 full members and around 50 participants with pending memberships.
RP: They join the activities to observe.
Do you think you’re underappreciated?
RM: For us to do the impossible is fulfillment enough. There are some things that seem impossible and there’s a lot of coordination involved, so to be able to pull that off is enough.
RP: Online reviews like on TripAdvisor are a big thing for us. We also get letters of appreciation.
RM: Letters are a big thing for the hospitality industry; it’s direct feedback.
CF: Yes, because we aim for guest satisfaction and being validated for that means we are doing our main job.
Originally published in F&B Report Vol. 13 No. 2