Hong Kong concierge tells Seoul some secrets
In his 30 years in the hotel business, Christian Sussmann, the director for the Asia region of “Les Clefs d’Or,” an international network for concierges, has seen plenty of that on his own.
He’s booked tickets to Pavarotti in Hong Kong for a couple in Italy who were planning a trip to Asia. He’s served a “special request” from tenor Jose Carreras to send flowers to a mystery acquaintance after his concert. He managed to forsee Elton John’s fastidious tastes when he assigned him a private butler during his Asian tour in Hong Kong. Sussman says he has plenty more episodes from his days at the world’s top hotels, but that for professional reasons he can’t go into detail.
As he puts it, the art of the concierge is “understanding everybody.”
“We see a lot,” says Sussmann, who came to Seoul to give a lecture at a congress of the Korean Concierge Association, many of whose members belong to the International Union of Hotel Concierges, otherwise known as UICH. “We hear a lot. But we don’t speak a lot. That’s the nature of this business.”
Les Clefs d’Or, a French term for a “golden keys,” is a prestigious network of concierges around the world who assist international travelers.
The history of Les Clefs d’Or goes back to 1952, when delegates from nine countries met in Cannes to create a European union of porters. Concierges, however, are much older. The word means a “keeper of candles” in French and was used in medieval times to refer to castle gatekeepers. Nowadays, the term is used to include services that are far more personal, such as making guests’ restaurant reservations or addressing Christmas cards. Indeed, Sussman has made some interesting friends over the years.
One guest, a female traveler from Japan, occasionally flies in to Hong Kong from Tokyo with a bag of toro, a kind of tuna, freshly picked up at a seafood market, takes him to lunch at a nearby sushi restaurant, then flies back home on an evening flight.
“That’s the legacy of the system,” he says. “Sometimes you have to be a diplomat. Other times you’ll be an advisor and the rest a concierge. I have three balls in my hands. I constantly juggle.”
Sussman says he likes Hong Kong. He was headhunted for the job in 1992. The next thing he knew, he was in Asia.
“I have a Korean friend who invites me over to his hotel every now and then,” he says, bursting out in laughter. “We worked in the same hotel way back. I’m still a concierge. He became a GM (general manager).”
by Park Soo-mee