The concierge is not a role often seen in Sri Lankan hotels. Several hotels in Colombo city and one hotel on the south employ concierges, however, in most Sri Lankan hotels, the value a concierge can bring to the hotel and its guests it either undervalued, or unsuspected.
As a result, the profession is still in the embryonic stage in Sri Lanka. There are only six concierges who are members of the Society of the Golden Keys or Les Clefs d’Or in Sri Lanka. Being a member of Les Clefs d’Or is a mark that the concierge is among the best of the best. Such concierges wear a lapel pin of two golden keys crossing each other – a symbol of pride earned by the hard work of six to ten years. In comparison, India has nearly one hundred and twenty eight Les Clefs d’Or members.
With these issues in mind, Hospitality Insider spoke with Emmanuel Adikaram, the Chief Concierge of Galle Face Hotel and the Deputy Secretary – Public Relations of the Concierge Association of Sri Lanka. He met us at his desk in the hotel and greeted us with his charming smile, wearing the Les Clefs d’Or golden keys on his lapel.
Adikaram started his career in hospitality as a National Applicant Board trainee at Oberoi Hotel in 1995. In 2000, he left for the Middle East where he worked for Westin Hotels and Resorts in Saudi Arabia and Le Méridien Hotels and Resorts in UAE. It was at Le Méridien that he became aware of the concierge profession. “My general manager at Le Méridien, Fredrick Antadi, was a former chief concierge. I was on a six month probationary period at the hotel. Antadi showed me how close a concierge is to the guests and how he or she can make them happy. Further, Le Méridien was a hotspot for guests of different cultures. I enjoyed it and learnt many things. After my probationary period and training, I was promoted to the chief concierge at Le Méridien.”
Adikaram obtained his keys in 2017
Adikaram came back to Sri Lanka in 2011. He worked at Cinnamon Grand Hotel before moving to his current position at Galle Face Hotel in 2016. He received “the keys” in 2017 and has developed an evangelical passion for the role: “It is a very fulfilling job. I love the challenge of dealing with guests. But I receive greater satisfaction by adding value to my hotel. Sadly, many hotels here don’t realise how valuable a concierge is.”
A key stumbling block is the knowledge gap, both at management level and among the staff, about the benefits of a concierge. “Most general managers in Sri Lankan hotels do not appoint or promote the role of the concierge. They either are not aware of the role or do not think it adds value to the hotel. Admittedly, it is a senior position that draws a large paycheck. But a good concierge justifies that pay.”
There is a clear cost benefit to a knowledgeable and experienced concierge, not only in guest satisfaction, but financially. “Let me give you just one example”, Adikaram says, “Once, I managed to get a guest to extend his stay at the hotel from two days to a week. I simply offered complimentary celebrations on the day of his wedding anniversary.” Concierges have the ability to act as the personal face of the hotel, getting to know the guests on a more intimate level.
They are also part of a wider network, which brings its own benefits to the hotels involved. “There is a lot of trust and connections between concierges – across hotels and country borders. I can help a guest who is going to Singapore from Colombo by calling my colleagues in Singapore.” This, he expressed, is why a concierge’s role goes well outside the walls of the hotel. He says that guests remember the little things and tend to pay in kind.
The challenge of education
Ignorance around the role of the concierge is one of challenges the Concierge Association of Sri Lanka has set out to tackle through education and networking. “Among junior staff, especially if they have had no foreign exposure, there is a lack of awareness about the profession. They do not know that this is a fulfilling and lucrative option for someone in hospitality. On behalf of the Concierge Association of Sri Lanka, I am speaking with lecturers of hotel schools, to promote the profession and create awareness among students.” Hotel managers also must be educated about the benefits the role brings, and why it’s important to allow trainees time away from their normal stations to attend association meetings and learn.
The lobby at Galle Face Hotel, Colombo
Not waiting for hoteliers to the take initiative, Adikaram and the association are encouraging and providing help for Sri Lankan concierges to obtain the coveted keys. It is a significant commitment. “If a concierge wishes to obtain the keys, they must come to the monthly association meetings for six months without missing. Then they must take an examination, pass it, and also be recommended by two concierges who have been awarded the keys.”
Speaking about the future goals of the Concierge Association of Sri Lanka, Adikaram and the association wants to see a concierge in all hotels in Colombo city, down south, and the hill country – the primary tourist destinations. They would also like hotels to assign concierge desks, instead of bell desks and Adikaram is positive about these changes and the potential for the hospitality industry in Sri Lanka.
He is sure that hotels will understand what they are missing out in the time to come, and is hopeful that one day – not too far in the future – there will be a concierge desk in all major hotels.