The Man With The Golden Key

As a member of the global society of concierges Les Clefs d’Or, Siddhartha Kaul has the keys to make guests welcome not only in Adelaide but almost any major city in the world.

A member of the 4000-member society that is Les Clefs d’Or, Kaul takes immense pride in his own capacity to make guests and visitors feel at home, both here and abroad.

“The most important thing is to understand what the guest wants — to understand their expectations, and then exceed them,” says Kaul, chief concierge at InterContinental Adelaide.

But how does a concierge who works in Adelaide make someone feel at home in a different city?

The key is in his connections. Much like the scene from Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, where Ralph Fiennes’ character passes messages between a chain of international concierges, Kaul has the ability to make contact with an enormous and well-placed global network of peers. If a valued guest is leaving Adelaide and heading to Singapore, Kaul will discretely pass on their personal preferences to that destination, where they will be set up for the guest’s arrival. It could be a rose on the nightstand, a particular meal or something more complex, but if Kaul knows what they’re after, he’ll do his best to make it happen.

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“The guest feels special when we do that,” Kaul says. “The most important thing is to understand what the guest wants — to understand their expectations, and then exceed them.”

Translating literally to ‘The Golden Keys’, Les Clefs d’Or is an international organisation and union of the world’s very best concierges. They meet annually in different centres of commerce, capital and luxury every year to learn, maintain their encyclopaedic knowledge, and, most crucially, keep in touch. Membership is highly prized, and hard to get, with only the most knowledgeable concierges gaining entry to the society.

Kaul is modest about his inclusion, though quietly proud of his achievement in becoming one of only three Les Clefs d’Or members presently working in Adelaide. “It wasn’t an ambition or dream, as such,” he says nonchalantly, “I was there and thought, ‘why not?’”

He goes on to explain the conditions of entry into Les Clefs d’Or. Candidates must have five years’ experience as a concierge, and three of those must be as a chief concierge. A recommendation must come from the candidate’s colleagues, who will endure hours of questioning over their general knowledge.

“It’s about everything,” Kaul says of the arduous interview, noting he was grilled on topics as diverse as the state’s emblem, specific transport options, global customs controls and Adelaide’s history.

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Having worked in luxury accommodation in Dubai, the USA and Perth before coming to Adelaide, Kaul has seen his share of remarkable largesse and complex itineraries. He describes setting up a private tasting at Two Hands wines in the Barossa for visiting (unnameable) rock stars only to have them return to their rooms to find their favourite bottles of the day on their pillows. The strangest though, came during his time in Dubai, when a Saudi princess demanded that “the entire stock and catalogue of a jewellery store be moved to her hotel suite” for her own perusal.

Kaul believes his top-notch service is more relevant than ever in an industry affected by rapid technological disruption, in the forms of new booking methods, digital guides and wayfinding methods.

“These days I feel that the technology cannot emulate that real emotional human connection,” he says. “With our experience, we can tell guests more. Booking sites can’t tell you a restaurant’s signature dish, for example.”

It’s a position of duty and devotion for Kaul, who says that he feels a responsibility not just to the guests he assists. “As a concierge, you’re an ambassador for not only the hotel, but the city, state and country,” he says. Referring to the medieval origins of this grand global society, where the master of a lodging was known as the ‘keeper of the keys’, Kaul says he feels at home making others feel the same.

“As an ambassador, I have the keys to the city.”

Photography: Jonathan van der Knaap

This article is drawn from the 2017 edition of LUXURY. Click here to read the full edition of LUXURY online.