The Telegraph
Thursday , September 6 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999
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(Fourth from left) Edwin Saldanha, president, Les Clefs dOr, India, flanked by five general managers (L-R) Manish Gupta of The Gateway Hotel slated to open later this year, George Kuruvilla of The Oberoi Grand, K. Mohanchandran of Taj Bengal, Marco Saxer of Swissotel and Zubin Songadwala of ITC Sonar Calcutta.
Pictures by Rashbehari Das

What is the Les Clefs d’Or?

The Les Clefs d’Or (pronounced lay clay door, meaning The Society of The Golden Keys, in French) is an international network of concierges expected to make the “impossible” requests of a guest possible, no matter how strange. They have “expertise sources of inside information, intelligence and communication”. In short, great contacts and a will to serve!

How do you recognise one?

A member of the Les Clefs d’Or wears the Golden Keys (crossed gold keys) on the lapels of his/her uniform. When a guest spots the key, he knows this is the man who can get roses delivered to a village in the middle of nowhere or dish out a letter by Mahatma Gandhi (both are true stories!).

How many of them are in Calcutta and India?

The full or adherent members in Calcutta are five — David Aaron and Sanjiv Ghosh (Taj Bengal), Amitava Sarkar (The Oberoi Grand), Biki Shaw (Hyatt Regency) and Urbish Dutta (ITC Sonar Calcutta). New members include Soumava Majumdar and Prabal Ghosh (Swissotel). “In India, we have 38 full members and 85 adherent members. It usually takes two years for an adherent member to get the keys, that too, after the recommendation of the hotel’s general manager,” says Edwin Saldanha, president, Les Clefs d’Or, India.

Are all guests entitled to their services?

Yes, all the special requests of guests staying in the hotel reach the member of the Les Clefs d’Or.

How old is the organisation?

It was formed in France in October 1929. The first hotel in India to have a member of the Les Clefs d’Or was The Oberoi, Mumbai, in 1986.

What does the Calcutta chapter of Les Clefs d’Or mean for Calcutta?

“For the city, it is great branding. For the traveller, it is access to a network of hotel professionals who can provide assistance, local insider information, and a range of services from routine local errands to international delivery of prized packages. For the members of the Les Clefs d’Or in Calcutta, it acknowledges their specialised niche in hoteliering,” says K. Mohanchandran, the GM of Taj Bengal, who hosted the national executive meet.

The National Executive meet of the Les Clefs d’Or, India, was held at Taj Bengal on Saturday. Over wine and dinner, the concierges let t2 in on some of the most unusual requests fielded by them and the solutions they conjured!

Express delivery!

When Albert Amanna joined InterContinental, Mumbai, in 2003, there were more than 700 guests in the hotel. “There was a party and the GM’s fiancee broke the heel of her shoe. The butler tried to fix it but to no avail. So the GM said, ‘Albert, come here, I have some work for you on your first day’. It was 2.30am and there I was, fairy godmother to Cinderella, wondering how the hell to get shoes at that hour! So I went to Fashion Street and I knew the shops would be closed but I also knew that the owners slept outside their shops. I woke up one guy who thought I was a ghost in my long tailcoat! He took 15 minutes to recover and then gave me four pairs of shoes and told me to bring the money the next day!”

Love story 2011

In 2011, a platinum cardholder of American Express in Mexico requested for 12 red roses to be delivered to his ladylove Laura Cantu in an ashram near Haridwar. “The request is from a man very much in love with this woman who has travelled to India to find peace...” was the request that Albert got from manager Marco Milanez via email. “We tracked her down and found out she was at the Santosh Puri ashram, a good 12km from Haridwar. The road to the ashram was closed because of the local festival Kaanwad. So we organised a courier on foot who trekked 12km to deliver that bouquet just in time for her birthday. She was so astonished!” said Albert, now the first vice-president of the Les Clefs d’Or, India. The story made it to news agencies around the world!

Leaving on a Jet plane

Ever forgotten your passport in the hotel safe? Well, many guests do! “Especially those who take a morning flight,” says Amitava Sarkar, assistant manager, airport and concierge, The Oberoi Grand, Calcutta. “So once a gentleman realised that he had left his passport in the safe only after he reached Delhi. He was to take an international flight in a few hours and no courier company would deliver it so soon. So we got in touch with the Jet Airways crew who stay with us we have been seeing them for so many years and we share a good rapport... and handed it to a captain who was taking the next flight to Delhi. It all happened through a circle of trust,” says Sarkar.

Autorickshaw meter: Rs 1,500

“I remember when I was with JW Marriott, a European guest was fascinated by the autorickshaw meter. He said he would pay any price for it so I went to an autorickshaw fellow, who routed me to some factory and there I managed to get hold of a meter for

Rs 1,500!” recalls Michael Fernandes, assistant concierge manager, The Leela Palace, Chennai.

There’s more! “One guest wanted an elephant to be dressed up in the lobby for a party he was hosting for friends. We arranged everything but then the local police station didn’t give us the permission so we dropped the idea. The guest didn’t end up booking the banquet hall but well, we tried our best!” he smiles.

A Rs 2 lakh tip AND Sachin’s missing courier!

“I want to propose to a girl. What can you do for me?” asked a guest to Subramanyam. R, head concierge at Taj Krishna, Hyderabad. “So we arranged a ride in a Jaguar to Hussain Sagar Lake where we had a boat with a table for two and balloons and fireworks that went off after she said yes! The gentleman left us a Rs 2 lakh tip!” said Subramanyam.

But Subbu, as he is better known among friends, has a more recent tale to share. “Sachin Tendulkar stayed at Taj Krishna from August 23-27 for the first Test. A courier was supposed to reach him during his stay with us but the tracking number was incorrect and showed that it had been delivered. We traced the courier and got it for him.” Sachin’s score? “He was very happy!” smiles Subbu.

Delhi to Mumbai for Alphonso mangoes

And all for a bite! “The Prince of UAE wanted Alphonso mangoes during the off season. So we sent someone from Delhi to Mumbai to get the mangoes. And he only had a bite!” says Rajesh Yadav, head concierge of Taj Palace, Delhi.

Riverside story

“We don’t give up,” says David Aaron of Taj Bengal, a Les Clefs d’Or concierge since 2006 and an employee with the Alipore star hotel for 23 years. Proof of that was when a couple from London left behind their bag on a British Airways flight. It had her medication and the lady needed it before she left for a river cruise down the Brahmaputra. “British Airways had daily flights to Delhi so I managed to speak to the airlines who rushed the luggage from Mumbai to Delhi to Calcutta. We then travelled 150km by car from Taj Bengal, upstream along the river and delivered it to the lady on a country boat!” said David.

A letter by MK Gandhi

A special guest was a collector of artefacts. During his India stay at The Oberoi Delhi, he got in touch with the staff asking for a letter by MK Gandhi. “I told them, ‘Don’t bother me on my off-day, I’ll see tomorrow’. The next day, I got in touch with a guy I knew and managed to get a letter by Mahatma Gandhi. Imagine that! It’s easy getting belts and visas but this... the skills of a concierge lie in his contacts,” says Stephen Fernandez, head concierge at The Oberoi, Delhi, and past president of the Concierge Association of India.

Karo Christine Kumar