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Unlock the City: Your Hotel Concierge Can be Your Key to a Great Trip



Carolina Avaria photo by Nicholas Lachman

Carolina Avaria, photo by Nicholas Lachman

Carolina Avaria, chef concierge of the InterContinental Toronto Yorkville, says that concierges are “front line superlative service providers who are ready to assist with any request. Nothing (unless illegal or unethical) is unreachable for an experienced concierge.Although the most common requests she and her peers receive are for restaurant recommendations, purchasing tickets and returning forgotten teddy bears, your concierge is ready and willing to assist with any request no matter how big or small. Among some of the more wild requests she’s heard being fulfilled: filling tubs with champagne and even jelly beans for proposals, buying bespoke presents for pet parrots, shipping breast milk overnight, and organizing a bullet-proof limousine.

“We pride ourselves on making the impossible seamlessly be possible,” says Avaria, who is also the President of Les Clefs d’Or Canada, an elite group of concierges who are easily identifiable by the golden keys worn on their lapels.

This year, Les Clefs d’Or Canada celebrates its 40th anniversary as a valued chapter of Les Clefs d’Or UICH (Union Internationale des Concierges d’Hôtels). Worldwide there are more than 4,000 members representing Great Britain, Denmark, Hong Kong, Brazil, UAE and Israel among more than 40 other nations. In Canada there are 152 members, along with professional and corporate affiliates, which proudly includes Where Toronto.

To become a member of this prestigious organization doesn’t happen by chance; it requires commitment through a rigorous process that includes an invitation from an existing member along with at least five years of hotel experience. Potential candidates must then attend monthly meetings for a year, then go through a three-month long test, write a national exam and do a presentation in front of regional members who then vote on the member’s qualifications, with the final decision being made by the executive/national board.

The golden keys represent the organization’s global contacts, allowing them to reach out to fellow concierges around the world to assist local guests with whatever they might need. “We are your key to everything,” says Avaria. “Our motto ‘In service through friendship,’ ensures that our keys open doors for you.”

So how does a guest develop a relationship with their concierge? It can start even before you’ve left home according to Avaria, who suggests calling or emailing your concierge in advance, who can make recommendations depending on the nature of your trip, and even help with transportation from the airport. And be sure to let them know if you’re in town to celebrate a particular occasion—they might be able to provide a complimentary touch.

And once you’ve arrived, just visit the concierge desk. “You have a dedicated friend in the lobby,” says Avaria. “Even if you have researched the city, plan a five minute stop in the lobby on your first day with your concierge.” Expect them to ask you what you like to do, and from there they’ll be able to “lay out the city for you according to your preferences, layering in our local knowledge and not-to-be-missed gems.”

And finally, “Once our guest, always a guest,” says Avaria. If you’ve left something behind or visited a great restaurant that you wanted to recommend to your friends at home but can’t quite remember its name, your concierge is there to help.

To learn more about Les Clefs d’Or Canada, visit lesclefsdorcanada.org.

Exceptional Hospitality in the GTA Recognized with the 2016 Spirit Awards

On April 22, the Greater Toronto Hotel Association (GTHA) presented the fifth annual Spirit Awards, a ceremony that recognizes the tireless efforts of front line staff at hotels across Toronto and the GTA. Nominees in 18 different categories, including housekeeping room attendant, valet driver, laundry and steward of the year, are chosen by their peers. More than 500 attendees attended the luncheon celebrations, which were hosted by Kevin Frankish of City TV’s Breakfast Television. Here, GTHA president and CEO Terry Mundell shares more about the history of the Spirit Awards, its evolution and what it means to the organization’s 32,000-strong membership to be assisting visitors during their stay in Toronto.


The 18 winners of the 2016 Spirit Awards.

Where: How did the Spirit Awards come about?

Terry Mundell: The Spirit Awards was developed from a discussion that originated with our association Board of Directors. The intent of the event was to recognize and show our appreciation to those front of the line ambassadors that provide an exceptional visitor experience, which leaves a lasting impression on the over 14 million overnight visitors to the Greater Toronto Area.

Where: How are the winners determined?

TM: The judging panel is made up of five individuals who include event sponsors, industry partners and representatives from the Spirit Awards committee. The judges review the nominations prior to the event and grade them based on a variety of criteria including, but not limited to, a can-do attitude, delivering that exceptional customer experience, and passion for their team and property that drives return visitors.

Where: What are the most common qualities of nominees?

TM: Passion. For these exceptional ambassadors in the hotel community, it’s all about the passion they have for the visitors they greet, their team members and their property.

Where: Why do you think the recognition means so much?

TM: These front of the line exceptional ambassadors are being recognized among hundreds of other nominees at the event to celebrate the best of the best our industry has to offer; just to be nominated gives them so much pride. 

Where: What is your favourite aspect of the Spirit Awards each year?

TM: After the winner is announced, they proceed to have their photo taken with myself and the award sponsor. Seeing this ambassador moments after they’ve accepted their award is incredible: the excitement, the pride and pure joy they express is an experience in itself.

Where: What do you look forward to the most at this event?

TM: Talking to the nominees, getting a chance to say hi and thanking them for everything they do for our industry.

Visit gtha.com for a complete list of winners and for more information about the GTHA.

Where Winnipeg Announces 2012 Silver Plume Award Winners

Wednesday Where Winnipeg magazine proudly hosted its 21st annual Silver Plume Awards, an afternoon celebration of hotel hospitality excellence that took place at Assiniboine Park Zoo. Every year the event is held at Where Winnipeg‘s selected top summer attraction. Awards are handed out to local hotel and hospitality personnel in recognition of outstanding service.

Pictured above are the Silver Plume 2012 winners with publisher Laurie Hughes. The winners are (from left to right):

Guest Services/Front Desk: Yusuf Kacamak, Place Louis Riel

Kitchen: Jason MacLeod, The Fairmont Winnipeg

Food Service: Tysa Telfer, Delta Winnipeg

Housekeeping: Laura Wiebe accepting on behalf of Dece Tormon, The Fort Garry Hotel

Bell Desk: Willy Ubaldo, The Fairmont Winnipeg