(CNN) — When a Qatari sheikh asked a concierge at the Raffles Dubai hotel to deliver a present to his wife, the concierge nodded. “Of course, sir. What gift?”
A Rolls Royce Ghost, the latest model, the sheikh replied. To be delivered to Qatar by the following evening.
The year was 2012. Harold Abonitalla, now chief concierge of Habtoor Palace, considers this his most challenging request in his 14 years as a concierge.
“I was in hot water,” he recalls. It was a Thursday evening, and with Friday being holy day in Dubai, most shops and services would be closed.

Harold Abonitalla, chief concierge of Habtoor Palace

Courtesy Habtoor Palace

He raced to the Rolls Royce showroom, and by 8pm he had collected the Ghost. But how would he transport the $300,000 vehicle 400 miles by sunset the following day? Through his network of contacts he found a fellow concierge with an uncle who worked in cargo. The uncle helped him to secure a plane that could carry the car — at a price.

“It’ll cost 350,000 dirhams (approximately $95,000),” Abonitalla told the guest. “Don’t give me rates, just do it,” said the sheikh.

The golden keys

Going above and beyond to fulfill a guest request is a key quality of any member of Les Clefs d’Or, an international association of elite concierges.

Recognizable by a pair of golden keys pinned to their lapels, the network spans 80 countries and has approximately 4,000 members. They pride themselves on making the impossible possible.

Ela Lanzanas, chief concierge of five-star Fairmont Dubai and member of Les Clefs d’Or, once had to locate a Lebanese hair stylist, persuade him to drop his appointments, and charter a boat to take him out to a guest on a three-day cruise.

“She said she would not have time to go to the salon after their cruise for the fancy dinner in the evening,” Lanzanas recalls.

The Clefs d’Or network made it possible. “The most important thing to me is to fulfill a last-minute request and make the guest happy,” says Lanzanas. “The lady was very pleased with the way her hair was done.”

Providing “pure luxury”

Famous for its luxury hotels, Dubai has no shortage of rooftop pools like this one at Renaissance Downtown Hotel

Famous for its luxury hotels, Dubai has no shortage of rooftop pools like this one at Renaissance Downtown Hotel

Hakan Akdemir/Renaissance Downtown Dubai

“Concierges will accommodate every request so long as it is morally, legally and humanly possible,” reads the group’s LinkedIn page.
Dubai attracts 15.8 million overnight visitors yearly, thanks in large to business travelers and its reputation as a tourist hotspot. Expectations run high.

“Luxury is in the blood of Dubai,” says Abey Sam, president of Les Clefs d’Or UAE. “And as a Les Clefs d’Or concierge, it’s about (providing) pure luxury.”

Guests once handed Sam an unlabeled and almost empty perfume bottle. They had bought it in Dubai some years ago but couldn’t remember where exactly where.

According to Sam, Dubai has more than 200 perfume shops — none of them claimed it. So he took the dregs to a manufacturer, who took the chemical readings and recreated the perfume.

“When I gave it to the couple, they were blown away — they had spent four days looking for it,” says Sam. “These are the challenges that come to you; and if you are a good concierge you can do it for them.”

Concierge vs. technology

“If money pops, everyone listens,” says Abonitalla, contemplating how guests’ wildest requests are fulfilled. It’s guests on a tighter budget that can be more challenging, he says.

These are the guests who use Instagram and plan out their visit before they arrive. “They know what they’re talking about,” says Abonitalla. “They’ve researched the place, they know what to expect and they try to squeeze (the) concierge for all their contacts, so they can get discounts for this and that.”

The growth of technology has made the role of concierge more competitive. They’re up against Google and Instagram, so they need to keep on top of the latest restaurant openings, exhibitions, and the most “‘grammable” spots in the city.

However, Sam believes that this is raising the standards. “You need to be more knowledgeable than the guest,” he says. “That makes us more competitive and more energetic and more passionate to make sure that we have full knowledge of what we’re talking about.”

At the Renaissance Downtown Hotel in Dubai, concierges are known as “navigators.” They’re sold as “local experts” who can tell you what the guidebooks can’t.

Cleatus George, the hotel’s chief navigator, says this is a response to the changing trends and the demand to offer hidden gems rather than the usual tourist trail.

Aged 28, concierge Cleatus George is one of the youngest members of Les Clefs d'Or UAE

Aged 28, concierge Cleatus George is one of the youngest members of Les Clefs d’Or UAE

Courtesy Jimmy De Paris

“Guests still seek the opinion of the concierge and want recommendations, but they expect a personal service and — especially when they see the golden keys — they expect to be delivered something that is exceptional,” he says.

One of George’s oddest achievements was when he managed to source Gyokuro Genmaicha, a rare Japanese brown rice green tea that costs around $16 per 100g, for a guest. “She was wowed,” he says, “she told me she had been looking for this item for the last 4-5 months and couldn’t find it anywhere.”

Exclusive membership

Becoming a member of Les Clefs d’Or is not an easy feat. You need at least five years hospitality experience and go through a comprehensive testing and interview process.

“We look at their knowledge, skills and attitude,” says Sam. “It’s how passionate he or she is, how patient, and how willing to take on challenges and requests from guests.”

But once you get there, the rewards are worthwhile. You gain access to the international network of concierges — providing you with an endless supply of contacts to help fulfill guest requests.

And you earn the utmost respect. Sam remembers getting his own keys in 2010. “The first thing people look at is your keys, and the guest gives you this additional respect,” he says.

“You become their best friend, their best testimony, you are everything for them when they stay in a hotel.”

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