This story is one of determination, self-accomplishment, passion for the concierge profession, but above all, a story of friendship. That kind of friendship that transcends and that does not know distance. Friendship that makes us grow and learn. Friendship that teaches us who we are and what we can accomplish. I am going to tell you the story of my participation as the Canadian candidate for Les Clefs d’Or Award – André Damonte 2018, held during the 65th UICH Les Clefs d’Or International Congress in Seoul, South Korea, in April 2018.
Once upon a time….
I have been a concierge for more than 10 years, and a proud member of Les Clefs d’Or Canada since 2015. I am truly dedicated to Les Clefs d’Or Montreal, and for me it is important to be involved in different projects. Through the years, I had the chance to attend National and Pan-American Les Clefs d’Or congresses, and I always wanted to attend an International congress. I thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to make new contacts from all around the globe, and to learn more about our association on an international level. I knew about Les Clefs d’Or Award (formerly the Andy Pongco Award), that gives the possibility to young concierges to attend to their first International congress by participating in a friendly competition. I followed closely the journey of some of my Canadian colleagues, like Veronique Bourgeault from Montreal in 2015, Andrew Van Der Hoeven from Ottawa in 2016, and Mark Finn from Vancouver in 2017. I knew how much they loved their experience, and I decided to apply for the year 2018. And in November 2017, I received the answer: I was selected to represent Canada to the next International Congress! It was one of the most important phone calls I had ever received!
The process starts with a series of examinations in five parts: Les Clefs d’Or history, geography, general knowledge, essays, etc. You need to be focused, well organised, and use all the tools at your disposal. You have one month to achieve the examination part, and trust me, it is necessary! And then, one day, it’s already the time to fly to your destiny! Direction South Korea!
I arrived in Seoul motivated, excited, very nervous, and really looking forward to meeting the 15 other candidates. We had already started chatting via a WhatsApp group, and I was curious to learn more about them. I was wondering which nominees would be my biggest opponents, and I had developed my strategy. I met most of the candidates the day before the beginning of the congress, and all my ideas, beliefs and big plans fell apart. I was under the spell of that fantastic group of motivated, charismatic and talented people. I decided that I was going to spend the most time possible with them and that I wanted to share every moments of this congress with the group. And I think it was the good decision to take!
The congress started the next day with the welcome reception. I was truly impressed with the kindness and the interest of all the attendees I met. Most of them already knew who I was thanks to the advertising done on social networks by Les Clefs d’Or. They were all very interested by the whole process, and were asking a lot of questions. I received so many words of encouragements! This helped me a lot to feel more confident. We were then asked to go up on stage to be presented to the audience. They even asked us to dance to show how talented we were, and thanks to José Maria from Spain, who make me dance and whirl on the stage, I was able to pass through this brilliantly!
The educational symposium was to me the most important day of the congress, as it was also the day of our individual interviews with the selection committee of Les Clefs d’Or Award. It was fantastic to assist to the presentations of passionate speakers, among the most influential people in our industry, like Mr. Gerald Inzerillo, CEO of Forbes Travel Guide. He demonstrated that we have a leading role as ambassador of our hotels, and compared us to the Jedi’s of the profession. His speech galvanized me, and I was now ready to go to my interview with confidence! What also really helped me on that day was the team spirit that united all the nominees. We were there to support and encourage each other. And that’s what this competition is all about: creating friendships that go beyond rivalry.
It was the next day, at the end of the General assembly that the winner of the Les Clefs d’Or Award – André Damonte 2018 was going to be announced. I was sitting with the other candidates, doing my best to be focused on the important matters presented by the International board, but at the same time very excited and curious to discover the result of our competition. When they asked us to go in front on the stage, I was nervous but the Canadian section made a lot of noise to encourage me. I was standing there, with my fellow candidates, and I realised that we were all winners. No matter the final result, we had won because of our hard work, our new learnings, the contacts we had made, and the unconditional friendship we were sharing together. And when they announced that the winner was Jennifer Brody from United States, I was just truly happy and released from all the pressure. We were looking to each other, with big smiles and stars in our eyes, and I understood that we had live something very special: the experience of a lifetime.
During the five days of the congress, we attended many presentations, learned a lot, explored Seoul and enjoyed beautiful moments together. What I will remember forever is our strong group spirit, the endless laughs, our discussions about everything, the passionate people that I met, the kindness of every single Clefs d’Or member and, of course, our multiple karaoke sessions! I have made friends for life, and they are the Award that I bring back home in my heart!
And we lived happily ever after!
If I had something to say to anyone who would like to live this experience, it’s to go for it without hesitation. Despite the hard work and the stress, it’s an amazing opportunity, and one that changes your life for the better. And most importantly, listen to this precious advice which has been given to me by many people: just be yourself, and the rest will follow.
In service through friendship,
Concierge, The Ritz-Carlton Montreal
Candidate, Les Clefs d’Or Award – André Damonte 2018