With apologies to the Hotel Confidential blog; I think it’s high time that the topic of confidentiality was discussed. I really only know how to discuss it as it relates to the hotel industry but it really can apply in any industry and of course in everyday life.
My entire working career has been spent in five star hotels. It’s all I’ve ever known. And, possibly the most important thing I have learnt is how important confidentiality and discretion are. It should be a given that when you work in a job that requires these qualities that you would have the decency to adhere to the guidelines. But as we see over and over again how easily people sell their souls out for a few dollars or a few minutes of glory.
Confidentiality in hotels is something very different though. It ranges from not discussing the personal idiosyncrasies of a guest, which have no professional merit, amongst staff members to the far end of the scale which is revealing company statistics, occupancy’s and revenue figures. Any decent hotel will include a confidentiality clause which requires you do not disclose any guest related or financially sensitive information to anyone not authorised to possess this information. In recent time this has evolved to include non-disclosure of celebrities which probably attracts the biggest reaction from myself. I read up to 30 news, sport, financial and celebrity websites a day so that I can feel up to date with the current ‘affairs’ of the world and every time I read something along the lines of ‘sources close to … tell us’ or ‘in an exclusive interview… reveals’ it really irritates me. Obviously people are always going to look after ‘Number 1’ and screw who ever gets in the way. But when you are entrusted with a confidence be it between a friend, colleague or whatever, and you can’t keep your mouth shut; to me that shows a complete lack of decency and morality.
If anyone has been in a position to ‘dish the dirt’ on celebrities it would be me. In my 13 years of working in 5 star hotels I have met musicians, film stars, politicians, presidents, actors and actresses and supermodels; among the highlights, and in no particular order of personal interest or preference; Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jackson, Arsene Wenger, Sep Blatter, Bono from U2, Britney Spears, Ana Beatriz Barros, Anne Vyalitsyna both of Victoria Secret fame, to former US Presidents Bill Clinton and both George W. Bush Jnr and Snr. My current favourite, just for being an absolute ANGEL when she stayed with us, and not being a diva and taking the time to actually talk to the staff, is the lovely Neve Campbell. I had to assist her with a whole bunch of personal tasks and I fell in love with her sweet nature and beautiful smile. Top of the list though, is not just a statesman, but perhaps one of the greatest and most humble people to have ever lived: Nelson Mandela.
There is actually a funny/embarrassing/cute story to my first meeting with Madiba, I was working at Reception at that time and he walked up to the desk while I was was typing away on my computer with my focus on the screen, and he says in his typical Madiba voice ‘ Err, excuse me young man’ at which point I froze. Time stood still, like I was in the Matrix; as I obviously recognised the signature voice. I slowly looked up at him and when he asked me to direct him to the bathroom you would have thought he had asked me to explain the Da Vinci code, or to solve a Rubix cube! I was completely star struck; which had never happened before and hasn’t happened since. I was still catching flies in my wide open mouth when my colleague walked over and escorted him on his way. I felt like such a fool, but later that evening I realised this is probably the most famous and sought after personality in the entire world that I had just met, so perhaps my reaction wasn’t so cringe worthy.
But back to the point I was trying to make. Throughout all of my years of working in 5 star hotels, hearing sensitive information at meetings, seeing highly confidential reports and meeting these celebrities; never once was I tempted to share it with anyone. I certainly don’t think of myself as a saint or that I have always been as honest and morally perfect as I should have been; but where I draw the line is anything that would adversely impact on my professional reputation. I have written another blog post here which explains my feelings on that, but suffice it to say that I would never do anything to jeopardise this. My professional integrity is the most important thing to me, besides family course; and you would think that everyone would have the same values. But I’ve seen, and even worked with people who have broken this ‘code’ for money and in every single case it may pay off initially in monetary terms, but it never lasts and the ‘rat’ label lingers a lot lingers than the money does!
I feel proud of being entrusted by my hotel to honestly adhere to the confidentiality rules and policies we have in place. I’m certainly not in possession of nuclear launch codes or the bedroom webcam address of Adriana Lima, unfortunately; but when you realise that people depend on you to withhold certain facts and knowledge that should be enough to shut you up. I feel very strongly about this point. I’m certain that most people won’t; but then again the amount of people buying tabloid newspapers and magazines, reading celebrity gossip websites and openly discussing said people in public openly are the majority.
Celebrity news sells, and sells well. But the main reason that it does is due to hotel staff tipping off the press when they have famous guests in or waiters in restaurants who have retainer deals with photographers to get pictures of celebrities trying to have some alone time in public or paparazzi who hound celebrities on foot, by car or on motorcycles often causing injuries to themselves or others. The most famous example being Princess Di and Dodi Al Fayed in 1997. Need a reminder? Here you go. This behaviour even happens in the technology industry, and is becoming worse all the time. Some of you may have heard the story about an oddly disguised iPhone that was left in a beer garden in California by a field tester. This turned out to be the has yet, unreleased iPhone 4. The issue that I have with the whole saga is the fact that the person who found it; while admittedly he did try make a fair attempt to contact the owner of the phone, managed to get the phone ‘discovered’ by one of the largest and most popular technology websites Gizmodo. Anything for a buck, right?
In a world where there is so much poverty, natural disasters, pain, suffering and trauma shouldn’t we living our lives honourably and justly? Do we need more reasons for bad thing to happen?
Something to think about.
I know I will.
I am Concierge.
As you’ll know, if you’ve taken the 2 minutes it takes to read my ‘About Me’ page; I grew up in Zimbabwe.
Now let’s just be clear, this was the ‘proper’ Zimbabwe before it was lead down the tubes by a person ‘whose name we do not mention.’ So when I decided upon a career in the hotel industry there was really only one option for me to do my hotel management course. The Meikles Hotel, in the capital city Harare.
The Meikles was built in 1915 by Thomas Meikle, who had emigrated to South Africa in 1890. Along with his brother, he opened a trading post in Southern Rhodesia in 1892 and with a keen sense of forethought soon realised that a small settlement already established to the north would be a suitable location for a colony.
This led to the building of the countries first luxury hotel which opened in 1915. I’ll not bore you with 95 years of history lessons and memories of those times; suffice it to say that The Meikles has always been Zimbabwe’s most luxurious and popular hotel, and remains so to this day.
When I began my 3 year hotel management internship I had already been staying at the hotel on and off since I was 6 years old. My father has been a regular guest at the hotel for over 30 years. Not hard to see why it was a given that I would learn my trade in this illustrious hotel. It has the same long-standing reputation that the Mount Nelson Hotel does in Cape Town. The countries oldest and grandest hotel, which has endured recessions, economic dips and all manner of historical factors and still remains at the pinnacle of its industry.
With 370 rooms and suites, 6 restaurants, 4 bars and a roof top pool deck with gym, spa and sauna it exceeds the standard facilities required for a five-star hotel. It has one of the largest basement sections of any building I’ve seen with golf carts required to get between far ends of it; includes a full laundry with dry cleaning facility, this incidentally was also the very first dry cleaner to be established in the country. It has a dry stores department as big, if not bigger, than most modern supermarkets, a bakery where all the hotels bread and pastry’s are prepared , a butchery where whole carcasses are cut into portions as the chef requires and a waste management system which, for that time, was extremely sophisticated and environmentally sensitive.
So with such a complete back of house system in place, and an extensive range of facilities available to guests you would imagine that similar care and attention had been paid to the selection of staff. This assumption is correct.
The hotel employed at that time over 1500 staff members, a staff : guest ratio of nearly 3 to 1 which is impressive in any country. It also differed from hotels in South Africa in that it employed an almost entirely male housekeeping compliment. I never found out why this was, but it seemed to work well. A little less gossiping and a little more productivity perhaps…I’ll never admit to having an opinion on this so you’ll not need to track me down and bash me!
Where the hotel excelled though was in the strength of its Management team. From the early days until my time there over 80 years later the hotel was run by ‘hotel people’ Don’t misunderstand, I do see the value that qualifications in different industries may bring to a hotel, however without a good understanding of ‘the ways things are done’ hotels cannot be run successfully by people who do not have the required knowledge and experience. When I was employed as a trainee, our Executive Management team of 10 people had a combined hotel industry experience of over 120 years! 120 years for goodness sake! Can you see why the hotel has won the best hotel in the country award every year since the award has been given? And why the hotel was regularly on the list of the world’s best hotels, with the highest being a ranking of 13th. Only the Mount Nelson and the Cape Grace, in this country, have ever been placed higher.
The Management was almost entirely made up of people who had followed the hospitality industry straight from school. People who lived and breathed hotels with such passion that there was no choice but for them to be successful and at the top of their industry. The Chief Executive at that time had first been employed at the hotel right out of school at 17 years old; had vowed that one day he would run the hotel and when he returned just over 10 years later he did. Two of the doormen had worked at the hotel for over 40 years, with most of that time spent in that position. The Rooms Division Manager had trained there and worked her way around each department over the hotel, and after 35 years later she is still there. A ‘lay person’ will not understand this life long dedication to service.
It’s a sad truth that the world is full of people who do just enough to keep their jobs safe. They will work in a job just to pay the rent and support themselves but rarely will they LOVE what they are doing. These people are the majority and they really should really be a minority or not exist at all. Why do something if you are not putting into it all that you can? Some people may be forced into a job that they have to do to make ends meet, but I am really talking about the majority of people who go after the big salary or the glamorous lifestyle. These people live shallow and empty lives and it shows in the work that they do and the results speak for themselves.
We all need to have drive, determination, love and ambition for the work we do. It’s not exactly breaking news that many people spend more time at work that at home or at leisure; so why compromise on the most important part of your life? You wouldn’t marry someone just so you didn’t end up alone, so why ‘settle’ in your professional capacity?
I have even been accused of having a lack of ambition for wanting to be a Concierge for the rest of my life. Nothing could be further from reality. The reality is, that yes, I do want to be a Concierge for the rest of my life; but don’t ever accuse or suspect me of having no or little ambition. I have always put in more hours than necessary, I’ve sacrificed money, sweat, tears and relationships for my career as a Concierge. I’ve worked damn hard to get as good as I am, to know what I know and to have the connections and contacts I have had. I actually find it offensive when people think that I am ‘settling’ by doing this job forever.
Concierge is not just a job for me.
Concierge is a career.
Concierge is a lifestyle.
Concierge is my life.
I am Concierge.