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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Insider Interview: South Pacific Concierge Teams

There’s an element of mystery in any hotel concierge. How do they come by their expansive knowledge? Whose secrets do they keep? Which questions stump them?  

We had a chance to interview a team of people who hold what many would describe as a dream job: concierge at luxury South Pacific resorts. These are no surf bums: across the board, their dedication to their guests stands out, and more than wishing to revel in their paradisaical environments, their main goal is enabling their guests to enjoy it. When we asked the concierges to name the best part of their day, we thought they might describe the beautiful sunsets or the impossibly famous celebrities they get to meet.  But (and it shouldn’t have come as a surprise), each one answered: “Helping people.”

Rather than through specific training, a concierge is formed through a variety of experiences and education. Yumi Refalo of InterContinental Moorea Resort & Spa says that “motivation and passion” are the building blocks of a good concierge, although a background in tourism, food & beverage, or cultural studies often begins the career.  Many got their foot in the door in other destinations before graduating to the South Pacific.  Laure Salabert, Head Concierge at InterContinental Bora Bora & Thalasso, learned the ropes in Europe, but it’s her “passion to advise and guide the guests to make their dreams come true” that she calls her most important skill. 

Teiva Milz grew up in the Midwest before moving to Tahiti to become first a bellboy, then Doorman, and eventually Head Concierge at the InterContinental Tahiti. For him, it's “the unpredictability of the guests’ questions,” he says, that “keeps the job exciting.” For Veronique Bellivier, concierge at the InterContinental Bora Bora Le Moana, “nothing is more touching than the wonder-struck regard and the sincere ‘thank you’ of an enchanted customer” as a reward for her dedication.

FROSCH Insider:  What’s the most under-appreciated feature or activity that you wish more guests would take part in?
Teiva Milz:  The traditional Tahitian wedding ceremony comes to mind. It's an unforgettable event that takes place on the Motu in the middle of the crystal clear waters of the hotel's Lagoonarium. The bride and groom are dressed in real traditional costumes. The groom, escorted by a dance, arrives by outrigger canoe, with the sound of a conch shell or "Pu." The bride is escorted along the shore by two "Vahine" dancers to the sound of ukeleles and guitars playing a traditional love song. They're welcomed by a Tahitian Priest, who gives them each a Tahitian name... Their hands are brought together with an Auti plant and a fresh coconut is poured to symbolize their union. Then they're wrapped in a Tifaifi (handmade quilt) and the priest makes the blessing. Following the ceremony I like to surprise the guests with special arrangements such as champagne or flowers on the bed and bathtub-- it's always the extra touch that makes a difference.

FROSCH Insider: What’s the strangest request you’ve dealt with as a concierge?
Laure Salabert:  One of our guests spent five weeks in French Polynesia, traveling around the different archipelagos, and he had fallen in love with Tiki, the Polynesian god. He took so many pictures of different types of Tikis he met during his trip. His other passion was chess, so he asked me to find a local artist to carve in stone a chessboard and figurines according to the pictures he had taken. It took me two days but I found the craftsman in Bora Bora who could do it!

FROSCH Insider: What’s the most under-appreciated feature or activity that you wish more guests would take part in?
Yumi Refalo:   Aquablue, the helmet dive, offers a very unique, safe, and fun way to explore the underwater world and it's accessible to everybody. It's often considered an activity for kids or non-divers, but even certified and experienced scuba divers can enjoy it. You can have an experience that's very different than scuba diving. During your exploration, it gives you a feeling of no gravity-- you won't regret it!

FROSCH Insider:  What’s the most under-appreciated feature or activity that you wish more guests would take part in?
Veronique Bellivier:  The hiking is a great activity. Most of our customers come to Bora Bora for its translucent lagoon and paradisaical beaches. However, this marvelous island possesses something even more unique. From the top of Mont Otemany, the island's point of view gives us breathtaking landscapes. When the sky is cloudy, the veil of mist provides a mysterious dimension to the island like in a fantastic movie! At the top of this mountain you feel free and alone. For a moment you're living something different and unforgettable.

Many thanks to the InterContinental concierge teams for answering our questions!

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