President Anders Jensen introduced Mark Patterson, a consultant who he hopes can help Les Clefs d’Or focus and identify its best course for future endeavors. 

Mr. Patterson began the presentation by showing a picture of a burning oil tanker and asked what emotions it evoked.  The Executive Committee agreed that Les Clefs d’Or is facing a crisis, but there was hope that we were not doomed, that we were not alone in an ocean without resources, and that with focus and direction we could put the fire out and right the ship. 

Mr. Patterson shared his credentials. He has been familiar with Les Clefs d’Or since speaking at a congress in Copenhagen in 2008, and he admires the association.  In fact, he always seeks a concierge out when he travels either for business or leisure, because he knows that concierges provide extra magic and professionalism that will enhance his stay. 

Today, Mr. Patterson intends to offer an intensive seminar emphasizing interaction and exchange of information.  According to Wikipedia, an experiment is an orderly procedure carried out with the goal of verifying, refuting, or establishing the validity of a hypothesis.  “Consider today an experiment,” he said. “We don’t know what the results will be until we finish today. 

The pandemic has taken its toll on the world and the hospitality industry, in particular.  UICH has not met as an association since 2019, and the next congress is not until 2023.  President Jensen will not even get to address his members in person until he steps down in Istanbul.  Mr. Patterson is concerned because, at the moment, there is no defined strategy for the future.  Many members have been laid off or fired; many of the newer members have not had an opportunity to experience the value of UICH membership; it is uncertain what a concierge position will look like in the future. 

The situation for UICH’s partners is also seriously affected.  Airlines, cruise companies, travel agents, restaurants, car rental agencies, sports, and the performing arts have all suffered.  A return to normal will be slow and painful, and the share of business that has gone to digital services and platforms will be hard (if not impossible) to regain. 

To survive into the future, UICH will need to redefine itself.  The concierge position will have to be redefined.  What will “In Service through Friendship” mean in the future? What role will digitization play in the concierge’s life? How can concierges continue to provide worldwide support to each other, develop and inspire each other? How can UICH build an important organization and live up to its full potential?  All these questions need consideration. 

Mr. Patterson usually consults with businesses and other for-profit entities.  But because UICH is nonprofit, it has the luxury of focusing on ideals.  Obviously, the entity must remain viable financially, but quality is the goal here, not profit, and the opportunity to help UICH is, for Mr. Patterson, a unique and exciting prospect. 

One of Mr. Patterson’s most important tasks today is to keep the Executive Committee listening with open ears and absorbing facts rather than jumping to conclusions, which is always everyone’s default mode. 

Mr. Patterson sees the Covid crisis as a unique opportunity to lay a solid future path.  He has advised President Anders Jensen to consider the three main events of his presidency (this meeting in Doha, a Board of Directors meeting in 2022, and the congress in 2023) as a whole in order to develop synergy and make progress.  His challenge will be to develop a strategy based on the principles from other well-established military and business models.  It will be the Executive Committee’s challenge to implement a truly global member organization, engaging all members in all countries to sign on to the new definition we create for ourselves today. 

The Executive Committee acknowledged that the problems it is facing are not solely Covid-based.  The organization has known of the need to evolve; it’s just been easier to stay the course.  Mr. Patterson asked the Executive Committee and other attendees to share their thoughts about how to change. 

Shujaat Khan feels we must be open to redefining ourselves but we cannot lose the essence of our statutes, which require us to be specifically hotel concierges.  It will be a balancing act to respect the ways of our elders and at the same time inspire new generations and incorporate new business models that allow us to thrive.   

Dimitri Ruiz thinks the Executive Committee needs to find ways to educate incoming concierges and hoteliers alike to see the concierge position as a critical profession and the only one that truly meets guest expectations.   

Martin Mulholland commented that, historically, UICH has been very rigid, and while rigidity can keep an association on track, it can also be inhibitory.  How do we keep our beloved traditions alive and still move forward? 

Catalin Malureanu said he thinks one of our challenges will be to educate GMs.  The concierge position must be seen as the pillar of a hotel.  Tradition is not only our history, it’s the basis of our association.  We must respect the traditions of UICH while embracing the changes that will allow us to thrive in the future. 

Before our meeting in Doha, President Anders Jensen attended the annual educational seminar in the UAE, where various GMs from various hotels and hoteliers was asked what the future of the concierge position would look like.  The GMs honestly didn’t know.  Anders thinks it’s time to seize the moment and lead the profession to its next renaissance.  He thinks the association is in a unique position to liaise with hotel groups to see this vision materialize. 

Mr. Patterson knows that one of the tenets of UICH is that the concierge be employed by the hotel. But he encouraged the Executive Committee to open its minds and think about what a self-employed or outsourced concierge might look like as part of the association.   

Raphaelle Grandgirard explained that while many GMs are very supportive and pro-UICH, others do not share these sentiments.  While a lofty goal, it must still be a goal to convert these thinkers to seeing and understanding the value a concierge gives a hotel.  Mr. Patterson asked what would convert these skeptics; the answer was revenue, which is very black-and-white.  What the concierge offers is less quantifiable: guest satisfaction and loyalty.  A further complication is that much of senior management isn’t even on premises to understand guest services in person; rather, they are in a remote office looking at spreadsheets and bottom lines.   

Catalin Malureanu also sees commission structures as another complication, or challenge, when it comes to garnering GM support.  Commission structures vary widely between hotels and hotel groups, regions and countries.   

Randy Santos said it’s important to give younger, newer members the right tools and teach them how to be proactive in their own hotels, so that their GMs become their champions. 

Catalin Malureanu added that many GMs coming into hotels are young, eager mostly to prove themselves through bottom-line decisions that will look good on their resumes as they move through their careers.  They are also focused only on the short-term, aware they will only be onsite at a particular property for a small number of years. 

Martin Mulholland suggested that the question be posed to management, ‘what would happen if we took away your computers and your smartphones?’  For years and years, concierges have been able to make magic happen for their guests by using their network, their connections, their personalities, their friends.  And this is still where the greatest strength of our organization lies. 

Martin Rey liked the idea of teaching traditional values but incorporating new ideas and delivery methods with a fresh set of eyes that combine tradition and technology. 

Robert Watson finds it interesting that the profession adapted to the computer era and embraced it, replacing hand-written confirmations with software tracking.  But when Covid hit, the software service companies they relied on were suspended.  This made it extra difficult to restart the desk when Robert returned to work.  He is happy he knew the “old ways” because it saved him and kept him afloat until he could restart the computer programsAbout outsourcing, Robert Watson said it always sounds like a good idea because it would create revenue, but in a very short amount of time, most GMs realize the ROI is not there, because ultimately, they lose guests who are unhappy with the lower service quality. 

Burak Ipekci thinks there’s a camaraderie issue that needs to be considered.  Younger members may not feel the same level of intimate connection that older members have come to consider normal.  The sense of family, the sense of oneness, is getting lost.  We need to find a mechanism to be sure that ‘oneness’ is carried forward to the new generations.  The organization must find a way to bind itself together.    

Catalin Malureanu pointed out that the millennial way of doing business is to constantly move upward, from position to position throughout one’s career.  Because our bylaws state they must be static in their concierge position for 5 years before they can even apply, this adds to their feelings of being an outsider.  Traditionally, it is this time length that allows one to learn one’s concierge identity.  But the millennials learn quickly and don’t have the same patience.   

Renata Farha respected Catalin’s comments but disagrees.  She values every year she had to wait to become a member of UICH.  She thinks the waiting years are crucial; they teach knowledge but they also teach commitment to work toward a long-term goal and stick with the job as a career.  She’s more interested in quality of members rather than quantity of members. 

Dimitri Ruiz thinks educating the public is another one of UICH’s challenges.  We know what we do and who we are, but much of the public sees us as a mystery.  Strategic partnerships are a key part of this, as well.  We must be able to educate our partners so they see the value in supporting us.  What do partnerships look like and how can we help each other?  Dimitri thinks developing new partnerships will be critical to our survival. 

Mathieu Glaser remembers fondly his role models when he first wanted to become a concierge.  He said, “We are here today because we love what we do, we know what we are doing, we know we are good at our jobs, and our GMs know we are valuable.  For the young coming in, we have to teach and impart this identity, this sense of confidence.  We must act as mentors. 

James Ridenour thinks we spend a lot of time expressing disappointment with our GMs and while the complaints might be valid, he does not feel it’s a good use of time.  Rather than worry about what isn’t in our control, it would be better to concentrate on what we can do to make ourselves and our organization truly excellent.  When we strive for and achieve excellence, it will be noticed.   

Sheron Empey thinks tradition is important because it’s one of the things that uniquely define us.  It lets us all know who we are.  But we have to grow and change and look at different things.  New GMs are a different breed altogether than hoteliers of the past.  She’s surprised we seem to talk about old and new generations, but in her mind the association is multigenerational and on an ever-evolving continuum.  She thinks it’s odd how we seem to talk about the generations as if they are pitted against one another. 

Abey Sam thinks one thing UICH could look at it is the length of a presidential term.  Two years doesn’t seem adequate time for any one president to enact or conclude their mandate.  Perhaps a three-year term would be more reasonableAlso, for Abey, UICH is already a very well-structured association with specific benchmarks in place.  He doesn’t feel we need to question the amount of time it takes before an applicant can qualify.  Part of the process of becoming a member is the time it takes to learn the job and to be mentored by current members.  The new generation is eager to learn and grow. 

Mr. Patterson summarized that today is really a Strategy Workshop.  Today, the goal is to develop a strategy to lead UICH into the future, including specific sub-strategies for the Zone Directors and the Education, Partnership, CSR, Awards, Membership and Communication committees. When we meet at the next Board of Directors meeting, there will be a Tactical Workshop, which looks very different.  The strategy will be in place, and it will be the job of the Executive Committee to communicate it and get a buy-in from the Board, sharing with them the best tools to implement the strategy.  Finally, in Istanbul in 2023, the organization will host an Educational Day that teaches the chosen tactics to the membership at large, giving them the best possible tools to succeed and profit from the future challenges our industry faces. 

Mr. Patterson likes the word “strategy.”  It comes from the Greek word strategia.  It is an art form.  “A general, undetailed plan of action, encompassing a long period of time, to achieve a complicated goal.”  Strategy sets the direction.  The details come later.  One of the most important components of developing a strategy is creativity.   

The word ”tactic” is completely different than strategy.  Also a Greek word, taktikos is also an art form, but it is the discipline that comes after the strategy.  It is “the art of disposing military or naval forces and maneuvering them in battle.” 

The definition of a military strategy is “the utilization during both peace and war, of all the nation’s forces, through large-scale, long-range planning and development, to ensure security and victory.”  To translate this into UICH terms, our association is, in fact, in a war at the moment.  But it is not enough to just settle the war and ensure victory, we have to plan for peacetime and our future wellbeingMr. Patterson asked the Executive Committee to liken themselves to generals gathered in a war room, which is effective because everyone brings something different to the table. 

Typically, when corporations develop strategies, they are muddled and rambling.  If we cannot think a clear strategy, we cannot write a clear strategy. If we cannot explain a clear strategy, then no one will adopt the strategy.  Not only do we need to find a strategy today, but we need to make it simple, clear and concise. 

Mr. Patterson shared a quick interview on strategy he conducted with Mr. Jacob Dahl (McKinsey & Company).  According to Mr. Dahl, strategies often end up including a list of what companies do not want to do, what they do not want to see happen, or areas they do not wish to pursue.  We are living in volatile times, politically and economically.  A company must find its way through these times.  It is helpful to have an overriding guide of 5-7 years out.  But, operationally, it is also good to have six-month plans in place that are pliable enough to change depending on volatility.  Equally important is the ability to impart a clear strategy to all members of the organization.  If the Boardroom thinks one thing but the employees are saying another, then the strategy has not been made clear. 

If UICH comes up with a list of what it should not do, that could be very helpful.  And it takes courage to own what we do not wish to do.  To have the 5- to 7-year view requires us to look into the future and consider the facts and reality, not what we hope, but what is actually achievable and likely.  To make the long-term vision come true, it’s important to have short-term plans of action in place.  The strategy must be simple, easily explained and absorbed by the members.  Part of strategy is communication.  Achieving simplicity is really the most difficult challenge UICH will face in developing its strategy. 

Considering strategy, Mr. Patterson quoted Sun Tzu, who in 500BC, wrote that “the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”  How can UICH win its wars without going into actual battle?  Which battles are winnable? 

Sun Tzu had five tenets:  mortal law, heaven, earth, the commander, and method and discipline.  In today’s language, these would translate into values, timing, competition, leadership, and organization.   

A Prussian general, Carl von Clausewitz, in 1832, wrote “It is even better to act quickly and err than to hesitate until the time of action is past.”  Mr. Patterson wants UICH to do something good in the short term that hopefully benefits the long-term, but even if it doesn’t, it’s still better to do something and change directions in the short-term than do nothing at all. 

Carl von Clausewitz had 9 tenets:  mass, objective, offensive, security, economy of force, maneuver, unity of command, surprise, and simplicity.  In today’s language, these would translate into focus, target, initiative, intelligence, priority, positioning, clarity, disruption, and simplicity.   

Finally, another Prussian general, Helmuth von Moltke, 50 years later, said, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.”  Mr. Patterson wanted UICH to be aware that even with the best strategy, we need to be able to own our setbacks, and modify and adapt when we encounter resistance or defeat. 

To conclude the presentation, Mr. Patterson talked about modern warfare, or fourth generation warfare, and what it looks like today.  It is asymmetric.  It is non-hierarchical and networked.  It is psychological.  It is media manipulated.  It is religious, cultural, and idealistic.  There are technological aspects (cyberwar).  Legal considerations loom large.  Insurgency, terrorism and guerrillas dot the landscape. Today, everyone can sit in their garage and wage war. 

The reason strategy is so important to UICH is because, in today’s world, things are happening faster than ever.  We face increasing complexity through globalization, digitization, automation, regulation, technologies and complex business models.  There are multiple stakeholders to consider – old members, new members, members who have been laid off, GMs, sponsors and partners, hotel chains, etc.  Time is short; speed is key.  Decisions cannot be put off.  Company life expectancies and CEO life expectancies are shorter, reaction time is faster, and stakeholder patience wears thinner quicker than ever before.   

It’s easy to get paralyzed by data overload.  We have so much of it now, unlimited amounts really, from multiple and often conflicting sources.  It is easy to wait on the sidelines because of uncertainty (to avoid professional loneliness, because we are naturally procrastinators, and change is too stressful).   

The military spends its entire life planning and training.  They constantly gather in the war room to strategize.  Aviators spend their lives in the simulator so they can be prepared for any event.  Sports professionals train every day so they can be the best at what they do.  The war room is critical because it is where data, diversity, discussion, disruptions, and decisions come about.   

Mr. Patterson then divided the Executive Committee into three diverse groups.       

Group One’s assignment was to define the “Who.” Who is LCD?  Is it the members, the members who’ve been laid off, the members who survived (who are still working), or the members who wish to become members?   

Group One replied that the “who” is all members equally.  They could not choose or prioritize one segment of the membership over another. They did not feel comfortable segregating or labeling any members as more or less important than the other.  When Mr. Patterson forced the issue and said they had to choose, Shujaat Khan replied “current members.” 

Group Two’s Assignment was to define the “Why.” 

Why does this organization exist? Why is it necessary?   

Group Two replied that the organization is necessary because it represents the competence, quality, and professionalism that are the hallmarks of the concierge profession.  It is a network that builds trust.  Mr. Patterson probed deeper and said “But why do we need Les Clefs d’Or?”  The answer was for the guests, because they know they will be cared for by members who are competent, who offer quality service, who benefit from the network, who operate with the highest level of professionalism, and who engender trust and manufacture good will.  The organization exists for the guest.  The purpose of the international body is to present a unified vision, one that builds the trust of the guest and that engenders loyalty, which in turn earns revenue for the hotels. 

Group Three’s assignment was “How?” How can we move forward? What should the strategy be?   

Their reply was to identify areas of concern. Then, to communicate these concerns to all members. President Jensen thinks the time to build a foundation of our future is here, today, in this room We can identify our strategies and share our concerns with each other, then our members, then our vendors, then our GMs. 

Group Four’s assignment was “What?” Think about our mission and our vision? What should they be?   

The mission is to serve the profession.  If the profession were to disappear, there would be no reason to exist. We need to serve the profession however it evolves. The vision will follow.  

We exist to be of service to each other in a friendly way (our motto).  The founding fathers of Les Clefs d’Or created the association to serve the hospitality industry. It was a unique thing, to be competitors from different hotels but who worked together in a friendly way – to serve guests, to be ambassadors of their cities, areas, countries.  And, of course, to be ambassadors of their hotels. 

Hotels that are results-centric lose their service centricity. Perhaps the mission should be to emphasize the soft revenue.  Relationship-build.   

The word ‘concierge’ has become very generic, it wields no power anymore.  But the name ‘Les Clefs d’Or’ is powerful. It is recognizable.  

The guest is our best advocate.  The guest is the one who wants to see the same face, year after year 

To summarize, the mission and vision should be: 

  • To serve the hospitality profession

  • To serve the guests 

  • To connect guests with destinations 

  • To be global leaders in luxury service 

  • To emphasize the guest experience in local associations 

  • To act as guardians of hotel revenue 

  • To offer excellent service that translates into long-lasting guest loyalty 

  • To play offense not defense 

Mr. Patterson thanked the groups for their input.  To create a strategy is not an easy task.  Covid makes it even more difficult.  We can’t fight the world on a million fronts.  We have to identify the real problems, ones we can do something about.  We can’t manage all visions at once.   

Mr. Patterson asked the Executive Committee to consider the word, “problem.” Problem is a good word.  Before you can find a solution, you must acknowledge a problem, not pretend it doesn’t exist.  So what problems is UICH trying to solve?  There are many.  Mr. Patterson’s goal is to help the Executive Committee focus in on just one or two.  

Mr. Patterson shared brief video of Mr. Anton van Rossum discussing what it takes to be a good consultant. You don’t need to be a Harvard graduate. You just need to be disciplined and fact-based.  The more data you can find to support your ideas, the more effective you will be. He uses “Issue Analysis,” which is a five-step approach.  

  1. What are critical issues the company is facing? 

  2. Why are these issues the critical ones? Be able to demonstrate this to yourself and others. 

  1. What can you do to solve them? Be creative and write down all possible solutions. 

  2. What analysis do I need to do to prove (or disprove) the hypothesis solution? 

  3. Once you’ve decided on the solution, who should do what to make it happen? 

To attack this, we need to be equal parts analytical and creative.  To do this takes both sides of the brain. This is what makes excellent CEOs. Concierges are wonderful examples of people who use both sides of their brains, every day. 

Mark Patterson explained the structure for the afternoon session.  It is McKinsey & Company’s seven-steps to problem solving. 

  1. Define the problem.  Think impact. What questions is UICH trying to answer?   

  1. Structure the problem.  Decompose it and hypothesize it. What could the key elements of the problem be? (and it is important not to waste time on problems we can do nothing about) 

  1. Prioritize. What questions are most critical, and what questions do we not have to answer?  Think impact and efficiency. 

  1. Create an issue analysis and work plan. It can help to make what Mr. Patterson calls an “issues tree.” Mr. Patterson shared an example on-screen.  The tree defines the problem and asks the question (level one), then breaks down the various answers (level two), then offers possible solutions to each answer (level 3).  Think efficiency. Find the simplest answers of how to use your resources most efficiently. 

  1. Analysis.  Think about real answers. What is the simplest fact-based approach that will prove/disprove each issue? 

  1. Synthesis. Think “so what?” What are the implications of our findings?  

  1. Recommendations.  Think “Action for Impact” – is it clear what the client should do and how? 

Mark Patterson divided the Executive Committee into groups.  The role play assigned was to have one client and a team of consultants.  

Groups should consider what they are trying to achieve. This question focuses the work and ensures that findings are actionable.  The more specific the statement, the better, provided it is not so narrow that the “wrong” problem is addressed. 

Groups should provide background and context.  Come up with comments about the situation and complications facing the key decision-maker. 

Groups should ask “what is success?”  This helps the key decision-maker decide whether to act on the recommendations. 

Groups should know who the stakeholders are.  This identifies the internal and external parties who can affect the implementation of new ideas. 

Groups should consider potential challenges, acknowledging what will not be included in the project, and also defining the limits to the solutions that can be considered. 

Finally, where will the group find its information and help?  Discuss the implementation strategies and challenges and address them in a way that changes stakeholders’ beliefs and behaviors. 

Robert Watson was the client in Group One, and his question was how to identify the role of the conciergeThe team decided the best way is to explain the role through various and diverse communications.  Communications with owners, GMs, hoteliers, partners, sponsors, and guests can help them understand who we are, what we’ve been, and who we have to be again in the future.  We are ambassadors of our cities and our hotels. 

Mark Patterson fine-tuned Group One’s findings.  The challenge is to redefine the role of the concierge today and then communicate it effectively to members and the hospitality industry.  Mr. Patterson encouraged the Executive Committee to think of things from an outsider’s perspective.  There is no simple solution to this issue and this problem merits much more discussion. 

Group Two would like to review the value of the current organizational structure, rework it, and then communicate it to the membership effectively.  This task will require full transparency and continuous review and follow-up, tweaking the structure as necessary and on a regular basis.   

When Mark Patterson asked why Group Two focused on the organizational structure, the response was that it will protect the integrity of the organization, whether the threat is from its members or from outside influencers.  The concern is that the concierge profession is suffering a slow death.  The answer might be to increase the numbers of leadership, or to reorganize the way leadership operates altogether.  First task will be to look at the statutes and be sure they are clearly communicated to all members. 

Group Three tackled the question of how to encourage sponsors, specifically for the upcoming Istanbul congress in 2023.  How can UICH give sponsors ROI?  One way is to track the business you give them and thus prove your value.  The recommendation was made to ask each of the seven zones to find and bring one zone sponsor to the table.  This will eliminate the need for one giant international sponsor.  Another recommendation was to invite all past sponsors to the next Board of Directors meeting, au gratis, as a good will gesture, paying their registration. (Of course, Shujaat Khan noted that if they want to give money, they would not be refused!). This gesture will show the sponsors that we value them and appreciate them. 

Group Four (the Teams virtual attendees) isolated three problems: 

  1. How to build relations with guests in the changing digital world 

  2. How to convince hotel management that Les Clefs d’Or holds value  

  3. How to keep members (and guests and management) inspired 

Group Four believes the solution to all these issues is education.   

Mark’s summary of combined group findings looked like this: 

  1. Redefine the role of the concierge and convey it using effective communication that targets members, employees, guests, and management, and that keeps everyone inspired. 

  2. Revisit the organizational structure, which no longer serves us well.   

  1. Focus on cash income.  Cash now for Istanbul.  Find ways to raise it. 

President Jensen thanked Mark Patterson for his expertise.  President Jensen believes today, at this meeting, the Executive Committee is laying a foundation for the future.  He is grateful to have Mr. Patterson’s assistance for his two-year mandate, and is aware that there are several more years of evolution in front of the association. 

When Mr. Patterson went around the room to ask for people’s opinions of how the day went, everyone seemed impressed with each other’s work, dedication, honesty and integrity.  Many great ideas came to light today and the Executive Committee was appreciative of everyone’s input.  

President Jensen thanked everyone for their time.  Today was a very emotional, probing day.  He hopes everyone sleeps on all the great ideas shared today and comes to the table fresh for tomorrow’s meeting.  He ended by saying he is quite confident that the membership will benefit from everyone’s contributions today. 

The workshop concluded