Victor Baraya might not order anyone to “sleep with the fishes” or have devotees kissing his ring finger, but the concierge”s powerful connections and inside knowledge of the hospitality industry have earned him the same awe and admiration that made filmdom”s Vito Corleone so revered. It”s therefore not surprising that the long-time hotel professional is widely referred to as “The Godfather” by his peers – a moniker that”s resulted from an impressive 40-year career spanning London, Damascus, Beirut and Cairo. A member of the Union Internationale des Concierges Hotels “Les Clefs d”Or,” Baraya has served as the face of the five-star Radisson Blu Hotel Sydney since the hotel”s opening back in 2000. He is also arguably one of Australia”s longest-serving concierges. We were recently lucky enough to chat with the international man of mystery to find out just what makes him tick:
How did you first become involved in the hospitality industry?
It’s a rather bizarre story actually. I lived in Cairo, Egypt at the time and was coming down with the flu so decided to visit the Hilton Hotel in Cairo to bask in the air conditioning and order a soft drink. While sitting in the lounge area enjoying my cold drink, I was approached by a security guard who asked if I was a guest. I wasn’t sure what to do so quickly blurted that I was looking for a job. He then proceeded to tell me that I was in the wrong spot and led me down to the HR department, where I undertook my first interview. The following day I went for my second interview and landed a job as a receptionist. The rest is history!
You’ve been called “The Godfather” because of all the knowledge and contacts you’ve accumulated throughout the years. How do you feel about your nickname?
I feel very heartened and humbled being referred to as “The Godfather”
Having been in the industry for so long, the knowledge and contacts I’ve amassed have allowed me to become great at my job, and I feel very heartened and humbled being referred to as “The Godfather”. But I cannot take all the credit. None of it would have been possible without the support, hard work and dedication of my team.
You’ve met many powerful and famous people throughout your career. Any interesting stories you can share with us?
There are many, many interesting stories that I would love to share. However, the role of a concierge extends beyond story-telling and making magic happen. There is a certain level of trust and respect that exists between a concierge and their guests – particularly those powerful and famous. For now, I enjoy re-living them in my memory.
We hear you speak five languages! How have you become so impressively multilingual?
I went to a primary school in Cairo where it was compulsory to learn three languages: Arabic, French and English. Being multilingual is an added asset to my job and has allowed me the flexibility and ability to give guests a more personalized service. They are thrilled when I converse in their language and I feel it further enhances their experience.
You’ve worked in hotels across the globe. What ultimately made you choose to settle in Australia?
Australia represented a new and different world for me. It was a country swelling with opportunity and a promising future. I also quickly discovered that it allowed me to feel challenged and rejuvenated in my career. I feel privileged to bring up my family here.
What would you say the hardest part of your job is?
The most important key for any concierge”s success is not only to meet guests” needs, but also to anticipate them.
Each person that walks through the hotel has different wants, needs and expectations. Luckily, I love a good challenge and believe that the most important key for any concierge’s success is not only to meet guests’ needs, but also to anticipate them.
And what would you say is the most enjoyable part of your job?
Not knowing what to expect. Each day presents a new challenge, a new experience, and new friendships.
What would be your advice for young people starting out in the hospitality industry today?
It’s important to listen to your guests’ wants and needs and to do your absolute best to deliver beyond their expectations. If you don’t know the answer to something, find someone who does. It’s also important to keep abreast of the issues and topics surrounding the industry. Lastly, always smile and be courteous. You never know who might be walking through the door.
Have you achieved everything you want with your career yet, or do you still have a few goals left on your bucket list?
Throughout my time in the hospitality industry, I’ve made a conscious effort to place a strong focus on actively developing members of my team. I take pride in being a mentor to young professionals entering the industry, and am committed to sharing my knowledge and imparting a professional attitude. If I don’t kick the bucket in the near future, I’d like to open a training school for concierges of all ages.