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Elite concierge service gives hotel a glow

  • JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
    Concierges Frank Hernandez, right, and Erena Takekawa help guests at the Halekulani where seven of the hotel's concierges are members of Les Clefs d’Or, an international group of lobby concierges.
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No request is too small or large for Frank Hernandez, a Halekulani lobby concierge and member of the elite Les Clefs d’Or, an international association of top hotel lobby concierges.

At any given time, Hernandez might have to help a guest replace a passport, provide advice during a tsunami, charter a multimillion-dollar yacht, get last-minute dinner reservations at hot spots, book tickets to a sold-out show or plan a wedding, birthday or funeral. Then again, sometimes, the order of the day is simply to make a brooding boy smile.

"I don’t sell tours; I provide experiences," Hernandez said. "To some people that’s a multimillion-dollar yacht; to one little boy it was the seashell that I gave him so that he could still listen to the ocean at home."

Hernandez said Halekulani’s service commitment applies to every guest. At a time when other hotels are cutting non-revenue-generating concierge desks or replacing them with activity desks or virtual services, Halekulani has the highest count of lobby concierges of any Oahu resort and the most in Hawaii sporting the crossed golden keys, a symbol of the exclusive Les Clefs d’Or.

There are only about 30 lobby concierges in Hawaii, and of those, 10 are at the Halekulani. Seven of them are members of Les Clefs d’Or (pronounced "lay clay door"), and the other three are applying.

"The percentage of Les Clefs d’Or at our hotel is really high in Hawaii and even on a nationwide basis," said Hernandez, who earned his membership last year.

THE KEYS TO SUCCESS

Only five Hawaii resorts have lobby concierges that have been named exclusive Les Clefs d’Or members. The Halekulani Hotel has the largest number, entitled to wear the crossed gold key lapel pin that is an international symbol of Les Clefs d’Or.

HALEKULANI HOTEL
Susan Koki
Erena Takekawa
Wendy Wong
Naomi Abe
Frank Hernandez
Jan Minders
Denise Mikasa

FOUR SEASONS RESORT MAUI
Pikake Kamahele
Reiko George
Karen Tanaka
Shermaine Rodrigues
Sam Wilhelm

FOUR SEASONS RESORT HUALAI
Tracie Kahikina
Summer Hai-Kelly

ROYAL HAWAIIAN HOTEL
Hiroe Yanagisawa

MAUNA KEA BEACH HOTEL
Nikki Reeves

The Halekulani’s service philosophy comes from the top, said Michael Romei, chef concierge at the Waldorf Astoria in New York and general secretary of the Les Clefs d’Or International Executive Committee.

"The Halekulani is a very, very special place," he said. "They believe in personalized service, and you feel it the moment that you walk through the door."

While luxury hotels often try to hire as many Les Clefs d’Or members as possible, it’s unusual to find one where nearly every concierge is a member, said Romei, who coincidentally earned his own Les Clefs d’Or status while working for Peter Shaindlin, now chief operating officer of the Halekulani Corp., when he was at the Boca Raton Resort and Club in 1993.

"Halekulani’s commitment to Les Clefs d’Or shows that they are strong in service," he said.

William Van Landegen, a recent Halekulani guest from Belgium, took notice of Halekulani’s highly decorated concierge desk.

"For me there are a few hotels where I remember very much the concierge. It tells me something about the quality of the hotel. Here, we feel that they deliver service," Landegen said. "They didn’t need much explanation, and they organized our golf outing very well."

Meticulous service is a Halekulani hallmark, Shaindlin said.

Halekulani has earned countless accolades, including being named to Travel & Leisure’s Top 500 World’s Best Hotels this year and earning a Conde Nast Readers’ Choice Award last year for being among the top 20 resorts in the state.

"We are the only hotel in the world to rank in the top 100 for more than 10 years straight," Shaindlin said.

However, the resort never believes its own press, he said.

"It is part of our core values that we only compete against ourselves," Shaindlin said. "We are never complacent and we are never satisfied."

For instance, Shaindlin was unimpressed when a guest recently thanked him and referred to Halekulani as a "very, very fine hotel."

"In this company, very, very fine is absolutely unacceptable," he said.

The quest to improve on perfection is why all of Halekulani’s concierges strive to become members of Les Clefs d’Or, Hernandez said.

"It’s strongly encouraged, and all concierges here are given the tools to help make it happen," Hernandez said.

Still, it’s not easy to become a member of Les Clefs d’Or, Romei said.

Prospective members must have lobby concierges and sponsors willing to vouch for their experience to apply. They also need letters from their hotel general manager and human resources directors. Once the process begins, they have to complete a two-week test that examines their creativity and resourcefulness.

"There are questions on it like, How do you help a guest that needs to leave the country in 48 hours and has lost his passport?" Hernandez said.

The questions are hard because Les Clefs d’Or members must be among the best problem-solving minds in the world, he said.

"We are known for our creativity, our resourcefulness and our connections," Hernandez said. "Together we are a formidable force."

Hernandez and others have used their connections to help their own.

They reached out to Yasue Schumaker, a concierge at the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort and Spa in Ko Olina, after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami stranded her on the 12th floor of a hospital in Sendai, Japan.

"This story was very symbolic of how our network helps," Romei said.

Les Clefs d’Or members in Japan made sure that Schumaker was not alone in her ordeal, he said. Members in Hawaii, who were helping stranded and scared guests, also offered support for family members back home, Romei said.

"It shows the magic and strength of our network worldwide and what we really can do," he said.

Les Clefs d’Or has about 4,300 members in 42 countries, Romei said.

"Our motto is service through friendship, and that’s what we try to do," he said.

Hernandez said he and his colleagues have developed friendships all over the word.

"Guests invite us to birthdays, weddings and anniversaries," he said.

Frequent Halekulani guests Joseph and Michelle Gabriel of Saratoga, Calif., recently invited him and about 70 or 80 members of the Halekulani staff to their 50th wedding anniversary.

"We couldn’t think of a better place to celebrate," Joseph Gabriel said.

The Halekulani’s thoughtful, innovative service has made it the couple’s favorite hotel and turned the staff into their extended family, Gabriel said.

"I travel quite a bit," he said. "I’ve stayed at Ritz Carltons, Four Seasons, Hiltons, Hyatt Regencys, and none of these even come close to the service that we get at the Halekulani," he said. "Their staff doesn’t know how to say no. Even if it’s a ridiculous request, they’ll find a way to make it happen."

That philosophy extends Halekulani’s concierge services to locals and passers-by, Hernandez said.

A guest at another hotel once sought Hernandez’s help getting her application for the University of California, Berkeley, postmarked on a Sunday, when most mailrooms are closed.

"We have a mailroom, but the postmark was automatically set for Monday and the staff was not there," Hernandez said. "I figured out how to reset the postmark and was able to stamp her application. It was really gratifying when she came back two years later on spring break to thank me."

Local residents ask for dining recommendations, concert tickets, flowers and cakes, he said.

"It’s our duty to help everyone," Hernandez said. "If we are busy with a guest, we may tell them to call back, but we always help — it’s what we do. This is a pay-it-forward kind of job."

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