When Choosing Hotel, Look for Golden Keys
We met with Lee Seung-joon, the manager in charge of concierge at SIGNIEL SEOUL, and talked about the type of concierge service that can make guests happy. When you love the service, you will love the hotel and the city you’re visiting, too.
Staying at a comfortable hotel is a key element that can determine your overall level of satisfaction when traveling. So what makes a hotel great? It has to have comfortable facilities, offers good views and must be in a convenient location. And just as important is the quality of the service. A top-rated hotel must offer the service befitting its status. The glittering golden key on the lapel of SIGNIEL SEOUL manager Jonathan Lee serves as confirmation of the quality service that SIGNIEL provides.

A golden key symbolizing the best concierge is attached to Lee’s lapel.

Golden Keys, Opening Doors to Top-Notch Service
Every trip is an exploration into the world beyond your daily grind. The adventure is always exhilarating, and there are certain things you can’t compromise. A concierge is the person in charge of providing service at hotels, and also can refer to the service itself, something that helps you preserve values that you don’t want to sacrifice, even in strange places. SIGNIEL SEOUL is a top-rated hotel that has been offering superb service to the delight of its guests. The hotel boasts two veterans in the field wearing golden keys: Yoon Ji-young, a 19-year concierge who overseas guest rooms, and manager Jonathan Lee.
Les Clefs d’Or, the French word meaning the golden key, is also the name of the global association of hotel concierges. It was founded in Paris in 1929, under the slogan, “In Service through Friendship.” Les Clefs d’Or Korea was established in 1994. Only hotel concierges who pass through a rigorous review by Les Clefs d’Or can wear golden keys on their lapels. It certifies that its wearers can provide satisfactory services that can leave a lasting impression on guests. Lee was voted the president of Les Clefs d’Or Korea in 2023. He’s doing his best to help both SIGNIEL SEOUL and the services in Korean hotels grow. We wanted to find out his idea of services tailor made to satisfy each guest.
Q. What’s concierge?
A. Concierge is a service that can meet different demands of guests at hotels. A truly good concierge, on top of satisfying those demands, would provide the accompanying services, and thus help create a positive image of both the product and the service.
In medieval times, the concierge referred to the servant responsible for keeping candles lit. In modern society, I suppose you can define the concierge as someone who speaks for the customer and also helps satisfy the customer’s desires and demands.
A concierge must be able to handle multiple responsibilities. He or she must be a personal assistant and plan for trips or special events for guests. The job is now done on a personal level for individual guests. The concierge today covers a lot of grounds, be it receiving and sending off VIP, booking and changing flight tickets, offering limousine service, reserving tables at restaurants, running downtown tours or providing entertainment services.

Q. What are some of the qualities necessary to become a good concierge?
A. I always try to keep in mind that I must put myself in someone else’s shoes. In order to find out what the guests need ahead of time, I try to look at things from their perspectives. In October last year, we had a foreign guest who wanted us to book tickets to a concert by Simon Rattle and London Symphony Orchestra. Tickets were quickly sold out for this one day only show, but we kept checking on the ticketing app and managed to grab a ticket. If I had told the guest that I wouldn’t be able to find a ticket because they were all snapped up, then that guest wouldn’t have had such a great memory of traveling to Korea. Even in a challenging circumstance, a concierge must be able to understand what the guest wants and try to solve problems accordingly. That sort of approach helps create synergy that can build long-lasting relationships between tourists and SIGNIEL SEOUL.

A concierge tries to find a solution to any kind of demand by the customer.

Q. Is there any particularly memorable episode?
A. Around this time last year, an Ecuadorian couple were in Korea during their travel around the world. They need a special type of antibiotics, but they had lost their medicine before arriving in Korea. They asked me for help, but I couldn’t find them at hospitals because this was a rare type of antibiotics. And the couple absolutely had to take their medication that night. So with members on my team, we checked with pretty much every hospital and pharmacy in Seoul. We were able to find a hospital that had just the antibiotics we needed. We finally delivered the medicine to our guests. They were finally able to relax after taking that medication, and held my hands to thank me. I can still remember how they looked so happy and kept telling me ‘thank you’ in their broken Korean.

Q. What do LOTTE HOTEL and SIGNIEL do to ensure they can continue to provide great concierge services?
A. LOTTE HOTEL runs its own service academy to train hoteliers. It teaches you everything from adopting a service mindset to how to greet and speak to guests, and how to manage them while they’re staying. It offers systematic development and training, making sure hoteliers will leave with a customer-first mindset.
“Concierge starts with reading people’s mind. When a guest seems down, you’d say, ‘You look tired,’ and if they tell you they’re exhausted from a long drive, give them a rundown on massage or other healing programs. Once you get inside their minds, both the guests and the hotel win.”

A concierge must be able to understand what the customer wants.

Q. It must be difficult to offer tailor made services to guests coming from different cultural backgrounds.
A. It is absolutely important to understand cultural differences of guests coming from all over the world, and respond accordingly. Let me give you an example of guests from Islamic countries, because we aren’t that familiar with their cultures. With them, we don’t book restaurant that serve pork because it’s banned in their cultures. We also remove alcoholic beverages from mini bar before they check in. Praying five times a day toward Mecca is the most important ritual for Muslims. So we set up prayer mats and Korans for them.
Personally, I try to provide services tailored to guests’ nationality, purpose of travel and age. Some people coming from the Middle East come here to see some snow. When we’re receiving VIPs from the Middle East, we contact their assistants to find out what those guests expect from Korea. Those traveling with young children often want to experience K-culture. It can be hard to book tickets to K-pop concerts on a short notice, but we can take them to BTS museum.
Guests want different things, depending on their nationality, religion, age and purpose of visit. You must stay on top of the latest trends, in order to learn what guests want and set them up with programs that can satisfy their needs. High-end hotels must separate themselves from the pack with their services that can exceed lofty expectations. The difference is in the details.

Q. You were voted president of Les Clefs d’Or Korea in 2023. What does the association do to raise the quality of concierge?
A. Members of Les Clefs d’Or Korea include concierges from the finest hotels in Seoul, Busan and Jeju. They share values and services offered at their hotels, hoping to provide shopping concierge and travel concierge on an even higher level. We have a mix of international and domestic hotel brands. So we exchange stories on service and build a cooperative network that can help all of us meet guests’ demands promptly.
Q. What do you expect from the network amongst members?
A. The more concierges and hoteliers that take part in concierge services, the larger the platform of Les Clefs d’Or will become. And the influence of the association will grow as well. I think it will also help deliver a positive and hopeful message to the rest of the world. We’re seeing more and more local travelers seeking concierge today, in addition to international guests. By building a vast and strong network on the foundation of training curriculum and system at hotels, hopefully concierge services will expand.
April 2023 Editor:Jung Jaewook
Writer:Yi Joonghan
Photographer:Kim Zun

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  • April 2023
  • Editor: Jung Jaewook
    Writer: Yi Joonghan
  • Photographer: Kim Zun
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