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

Tue, Nov 29, 2022 8:21amGrey Clock 4 min

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.

Bogni explains he took it as an honour 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 endeavours 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.

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 organise 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.”

‘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 travelled 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.”


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GENOA, Italy—Renato Zanelli crossed the finish line with a rusty iron hanging from his neck while pulling 140 pounds of trash on an improvised sled fashioned from a slab of plastic waste.

Zanelli, a retired IT specialist, flashed a tired smile, but he suspected his garbage haul wouldn’t be enough to defend his title as world champion of plogging—a sport that combines running with trash collecting.

A rival had just finished the race with a chair around his neck and dragging three tires, a television and four sacks of trash. Another crossed the line with muscles bulging, towing a large refrigerator. But the strongest challenger was Manuel Jesus Ortega Garcia, a Spanish plumber who arrived at the finish pulling a fridge, a dishwasher, a propane gas tank, a fire extinguisher and a host of other odds and ends.

“The competition is intense this year,” said Zanelli. Now 71, he used his fitness and knack for finding trash to compete against athletes half his age. “I’m here to help the environment, but I also want to win.”

Italy, a land of beauty, is also a land of uncollected trash. The country struggles with chronic littering, inefficient garbage collection in many cities, and illegal dumping in the countryside of everything from washing machines to construction waste. Rome has become an emblem of Italy’s inability to fix its trash problem.

So it was fitting that at the recent World Plogging Championship more than 70 athletes from 16 countries tested their talents in this northern Italian city. During the six hours of the race, contestants collect points by racking up miles and vertical distance, and by carrying as much trash across the finish line as they can. Trash gets scored based on its weight and environmental impact. Batteries and electronic equipment earn the most points.

A mobile app ensures runners stay within the race’s permitted area, approximately 12 square miles. Athletes have to pass through checkpoints in the rugged, hilly park. They are issued gloves and four plastic bags to fill with garbage, and are also allowed to carry up to three bulky finds, such as tires or TVs.

Genoa, a gritty industrial port city in the country’s mountainous northwest, has a trash problem that gets worse the further one gets away from its relatively clean historic core. The park that hosted the plogging championship has long been plagued by garbage big and small.

“It’s ironic to have the World Plogging Championship in a country that’s not always as clean as it could be. But maybe it will help bring awareness and things will improve,” said Francesco Carcioffo, chief executive of Acea Pinerolese Industriale, an energy and recycling company that’s been involved in sponsoring and organizing the race since its first edition in 2021. All three world championships so far have been held in Italy.

Events that combine running and trash-collecting go back to at least 2010. The sport gained traction about seven years ago when a Swede, Erik Ahlström, coined the name plogging, a mashup of plocka upp, Swedish for “pick up,” and jogging.

“If you don’t have a catchy name you might as well not exist,” said Roberto Cavallo, an Italian environmental consultant and longtime plogger, who is on the world championship organizing committee together with Ahlström.

Saturday’s event brought together a mix of wiry trail runners and environmental activists, some of whom looked less like elite athletes.

“We like plogging because it makes us feel a little less guilty about the way things are going with the environment,” said Elena Canuto, 29, as she warmed up before the start. She came in first in the women’s ranking two years ago. “This year I’m taking it a bit easier because I’m three months pregnant.”

Around two-thirds of the contestants were Italians. The rest came from other European countries, as well as Japan, Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico, Algeria, Ghana and Senegal.

“I hope to win so people in Senegal get enthusiastic about plogging,” said Issa Ba, a 30-year-old Senegalese-born factory worker who has lived in Italy for eight years.

“Three, two, one, go,” Cavallo shouted over a loudspeaker, and the athletes sprinted off in different directions. Some stopped 20 yards from the starting line to collect their first trash. Others took off to be the first to exploit richer pickings on wooded hilltops, where batteries and home appliances lay waiting.

As the hours went by, the athletes crisscrossed trails and roads, their bags became heavier. They tagged their bulky items and left them at roadsides for later collection. Contestants gathered at refreshment points, discussing what they had found as they fueled up on cookies and juice. Some contestants had brought their own reusable cups.

With 30 minutes left in the race, athletes were gathering so much trash that the organisers decided to tweak the rules: in addition to their four plastic bags, contestants could carry six bulky objects over the finish line rather than three.

“I know it’s like changing the rules halfway through a game of Monopoly, but I know I can rely on your comprehension,” Cavallo announced over the PA as the athletes braced for their final push to the finish line.

The rule change meant some contestants could almost double the weight of their trash, but others smelled a rat.

“That’s fantastic that people found so much stuff, but it’s not really fair to change the rules at the last minute,” said Paul Waye, a Dutch plogging evangelist who had passed up on some bulky trash because of the three-item rule.

Senegal will have to wait at least a year to have a plogging champion. Two hours after the end of Saturday’s race, Ba still hadn’t arrived at the finish line.

“My phone ran out of battery and I got lost,” Ba said later at the awards ceremony. “I’ll be back next year, but with a better phone.”

The race went better for Canuto. She used an abandoned shopping cart to wheel in her loot. It included a baby stroller, which the mother-to-be took as a good omen. Her total haul weighed a relatively modest 100 pounds, but was heavy on electronic equipment, which was enough for her to score her second triumph.

“I don’t know if I’ll be back next year to defend my title. The baby will be six or seven months old,” she said.

In the men’s ranking, Ortega, the Spanish plumber, brought in 310 pounds of waste, racked up more than 16 miles and climbed 7,300 feet to run away with the title.

Zanelli, the defending champion, didn’t make it onto the podium. He said he would take solace from the nearly new Neapolitan coffee maker he found during the first championship two years ago. “I’ll always have my victory and the coffee maker, which I polished and now display in my home,” he said.

Contestants collected more than 6,600 pounds of trash. The haul included fridges, bikes, dozens of tires, baby seats, mattresses, lead pipes, stoves, chairs, TVs, 1980s-era boomboxes with cassettes still inside, motorcycle helmets, electric fans, traffic cones, air rifles, a toilet and a soccer goal.

“This park hasn’t been this clean since the 15 century,” said Genoa’s ambassador for sport, Roberto Giordano.


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