Our Founding

Source: Chad Blair, Pacific Business News

In her 19 years as a concierge at The Royal Hawaiian Hotel, the most memorable request for Wendy Nagaishi came from actor Harrison Ford.

Ford was filming "Six Days, Seven Nights" on Kauai but flew over to Oahu for the premiere of the 1997 film "Air Force One."

"It was also his birthday, and he wanted to rent a catamaran, with this and this and this, to celebrate," Nagaishi said. "And I had one hour to arrange it."

Fortunately, Nagaishi had developed a long list of contacts and was able to find a catamaran on short notice.

Hotel and resort concierges do many things for their guests, from recommending restaurants to helping plan a wedding. The services are free, with the understanding that a top hotel will win the loyalty of its guests by offering discreet, efficient concierge service.

But through the rise of Internet travel agencies and "activity desks" that receive a commission for their help, the ranks of full-time professional hotel concierges are shrinking.

Hoping to reverse the trend, a group of Hawaii concierges formed the Concierge Association of Hawaii last month.

The group intends to enhance the profession by providing educational and professional growth for its members, and raising awareness of the difference between trained concierges and an occasionally staffed activity desk.

"You just can't get the same level of service over the phone or online," said Frank Hernandez, the association's vice president for marketing and public relations. "Quality service is what brings guests back."

Hernandez, a concierge at Halekulani for seven years, said the relationships forged with guests are so special that it's not uncommon for concierges to receive birthday and Christmas cards.

"We genuinely care about our guests," he said. "When you see families growing up, that makes for very personal relationships."

Hawaii had a concierge association for a time in the 1980s. Efforts to revamp the group stalled in the 1990s.

But board members of Les Clefs d'Or USA, the nonprofit hospitality organization that many concierges aspire to join, pushed its Hawaii members (there are 13 statewide) to form an association.

"They could not believe we couldn't get one started," said Marion Sato, a Les Clefs d'Or USA member and a concierge at the Kahala Hotel & Resort for 34 years.

The association was formed with the help of MVP Hawaii -- Morris Visitor Publications -- and Les Clefs d'Or USA.

"We value the concierge profession and strongly believe that concierges are vital to the tourism industry," said Elizabeth Carey, regional vice president for MVP Hawaii.

Sato, the association's president, said about 70 other concierges on Oahu have been sent membership invitations, as well as concierges on the Neighbor Islands.

"A lot of them are anxious to join," said Sato, who echoed the concern about Internet competition. "The hotel business is a people business. You really need to have someone to reach out to -- to touch their lives and to deliver."

According to Les Clefs d'Or USA's Web page, the etymology of the word concierge may be from the Latin root for "fellow slave," or the Old French derivation of "keeper of the candles," which later evolved into keeper of the keys of castles and government buildings.

Most concierges prefer the latter definition.

Hernandez plans to join Les Clefs d'Or USA, but it's not as simple as sending in a check. The application process takes one year, and during that time applicants can expect test calls and even visits.

If accepted, the concierge also must endure another year of probation before he or she can permanently wear the Les Clefs d'Or lapel pin -- two crossed gold keys.

Nagaishi, the new association's secretary, says concierges have a strong dedication to service.

"I tell my staff we need to accommodate whatever a guest is requesting, as long as it is legal and moral and humanly possible," she said.

"We really need a really great network because you have all this knowledge that you can share with each other, including those wild requests. The main thing is to provide the highest standard of excellence we can, and to teach that."