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The Golden Keys: Inside the High-Stakes World of the Luxury Concierge

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Corrado Bogni had less than 24 hours to get the diamond to Hong Kong. He would give up his Christmas Eve to accomplish the mission if need be. Still, could he find a last-minute flight out of London during one of the busiest travel times of the year? 

It was 2006. A desperate hotel guest who frequented the five-star Connaught hotel in Mayfair trusted Bogni more than anyone else in the U.K. capital, because it is the pledge of the luxury hotel concierge to accomplish anything necessary, whenever necessary—no questions asked.

Welcome to the high-stakes world of concierges in the world’s leading luxury hotels. 

“There really are only two rules to serving as a concierge,” Bogni says, recalling his journey to China and back. “We cannot get you drugs or ‘companionship.’ Other than that, we’re paid to get anything done without the guest having to worry about how we do it.”

The familiar Connaught guest would be working out of Hong Kong for the holidays and wanted to get a special cut of a glittering yuletide gift to his beloved in the Far East before Christmas Eve. The diamond needed to be picked up in Belgium and transported to the Connaught in Hong Kong, so the guest could present it under the Mistletoe faster than Santa could drop it down a chimney.

“We (concierges) began relying on each other for ideas on how and where to source anything we need.”


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Bogni explains he took it as an honor that the generous client would entrust him with such a valuable trinket. “He was a well-known guest who asked for help,” Bogni says. “My approach as a high-level concierge is always to say ‘yes’ to a request and then find a way to make it happen via my personal endeavors and with the help of many fellow concierge colleagues around the world.”

Bogni, who has since taken a job at the luxury golf community Les Bordes in France, insists his peers rely on each other with growing frequency in the post-pandemic world. According to Andrew Sturge, head concierge at the London boutique hotel Flemings, Covid-19’s aftermath means supply shortages, business closures, transportation problems, and other snags that often hinder a concierge in sourcing whatever he or she needs.

“We (concierges) began relying on each other for ideas on how and where to source anything we need,” he says from the Flemings’ front desk. “We formed a new, unofficial network of support with our cell phones almost becoming walkie-talkies texting and calling back and forth. All that matters is getting what our guests need as quickly as possible.”

‘Clef d’Or’

Like all of his peers sending their requests across the new network, Sturge wears the Golden Keys, or Les Clef d’Or, on his lapel. Anyone who wears the pin has completed a five-year stint as a concierge before undergoing an application and approval process lasting about five months, according to fellow member Simon Thomas of the elite Lanesborough Hotel near Hyde Park.

With his own Golden Keys on display, Thomas and his Lanesborough colleagues confront a sea of requests on a daily basis. “One of our regular guests was a roller skate champion in the U.S. who wanted to have a space to practice,” Thomas says. “We created a huge roller skate rink in our ballroom.”

Thomas also cites “Parrot Gate”—the quest to acquire an African Grey parrot for a birthday present in less than 24 hours, complete with lessons on how to care and train the bird for the surprised recipient.

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Giuseppe Pesenti, head concierge at Badrutt’s Palace high atop St. Moritz confirmed that the developing concierge network spread over all of Europe, with professionals turning away from rivalry and toward cooperation. 

“We have a very close relationship with all the Golden Keys members as we are all very good friends,” Pesenti says. “Of course, we are in a competition, but it is friendly competition with respect and gratitude.”

Pesenti tells a story of a family hoping to organize a boat excursion to Italy’s Lake Como and a small restaurant on Comacina Island (about 60 miles from Badrutt’s Palace). 

“Unfortunately the restaurant had been closed for two years and then looked abandoned,” Pesenti explains. “My colleague Augusto and I are originally from Lake Como. Since we wanted to surprise the guests, we arranged to clean the terrace outside of the restaurant and sent a driver from St. Moritz with food and a waiter. Once the boat captain approached the island to find the restaurant ‘open,’ our guests called right away to express their happiness.”

Anyone who wears the Golden Keys on his lapel has already completed a five-year stint as a concierge before undergoing an application and approval process lasting about five months


Marten Bjork, Unsplash

‘The Shirt off My Back’

Away from the resources of cities and luxury enclaves, David Rutherford serves as concierge and as a sort of “guest needs ombudsman” at Dundonald Links in Ayrshire, in western Scotland. He says golf guests come to him in desperation when airlines lose their gear and transportation fails them.

“I have very literally given guests the shirt off my back and the shoes off my feet,” Rutherford says. “I’ve let them use my golf clubs to play their rounds and my car to get them back and forth between courses.”

Rutherford insists those in need don’t come to him with a sense of entitlement or impatience. They’re people with problems in a region where resources are limited. 

“My job is to get them what they need when they need it so they can enjoy themselves as much as possible,” he says. 

Back in France, Bogni remembers London flights were booked solid as the hours until Christmas Eve ticked away with the diamond still in his care. Making matters worse was the heaviest December fog the U.K. had seen in years. 

“I traveled by road from London City Airport to Antwerp to pick up the diamond—then back the same evening to catch one of only two flights that left that day out of Heathrow due to fog,” Bogni recalls. “I flew to Hong Kong, and a driver took me on arrival from the airport to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.”

Bogni delivered the diamond to his guest, visiting for not more than ten minutes, and returned to the Hong Kong airport to board the very same aircraft that brought him to China. 

“I left on the 22nd of December, and I returned to London on the 23rd,” Bogni says. “After all, I had concierge duties at a major hotel in central London waiting for me.”

Credit: marketwatch.com

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