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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

For Butlers, No Mission Is Impossible

For MTArtyom, a concierge, attending to a client in the lobby of the Hotel Sovietsky. "The guests are always right," he said.
Yekaterina Zhuravlyova had heard a lot of requests from hotel guests, but rustling up a horse for an English businessman to buy sounded like a tall order.

"At first I thought this was a crazy request, but we can't say no to a guest," said Zhuravlyova, a concierge at the Marriot Royal Aurora Hotel. "As a rule, we never say something is impossible."

Indeed, Zhuravlyova managed to organize a meeting with a higher-up at the Moscow Hippodrome, and the Englishman was able to buy the black Arabian horse that he wanted.

"I think he wanted it to race or something," she said.

Zhuravlyova, 28, is one of the country's few members of the Russian branch of Les Clefs d'Or, or The Golden Keys, the international association for professional hotel concierge staff that was formed in France in 1929.

It is not an easy crowd to join. Requirements include three years working as a hotel concierge and recommendations from the executive board, Zhuravlyova said. The organization currently has around 15 members in Russia, she said.

"Of course we'd like to expand, but we're more focused on quality rather than quantity," said Zhuravlyova, who became a member three years ago.

The concept of butlering is still relatively new to contemporary Russia, despite the fact that English servants were the rage in the country's pre-revolutionary days. But the number of hotels offering personal butlering services from their concierges has increased in recent years, although the level of service does not quite match that of exclusive hotels in Paris or London, said Stephane Meyrat, associate director at Colliers International.

"Any five-star restaurant now tries to provide this extra service," Meyrat said. "There are lots of Russians who will dress up and can speak English. Not having one these days looks bad."

Golden Keys members currently work at about 10 hotels in Moscow, including the National, Hyatt, Suisse Hotel, the Marriott Grande and Marriott Royal Aurora, Zhuravlyova said.

Even that stalwart of Soviet swank, the Hotel Sovietsky, has gotten into the act.

Artyom, 29, said he had gained much experience organizing day-trips, theater and cinema outings, soccer tickets and travel arrangement for guests at the Sovietsky, though like any good concierge, he knows there is only one guiding rule.

"The first rule in my business is the guests are always right," Artyom said. "And I'm always trying to meet their requests."

Zhuravlyova said Hollywood stars such as Jim Carrey and Liv Tyler had used the Aurora's concierge services in recent years, though the staff caters more frequently to Russian and foreign businessmen.

Meyrat said many of Russia's new rich might not know exactly what to expect from qualified concierge, and for that reason might have lower expectations than someone who has traveled extensively outside Russia.

"Many of them are straight out of Siberia," Meyrat said. "If you give them some champagne or foie gras, they'll think they're in the West."

Prices for concierges vary depending on the hotel or the services requested, Zhuravlyova said. And for exotic services, such as rounding up an Arabian horse, it's usually up to the guest and the concierge to decide the price.

"For something like that you can usually come to an agreement," she said.

Zhuravlyova said she had no plans to leave her profession anytime soon.

"Once people start working as a concierge, they may switch hotels but they tend to stay in this line of work," she said. "Being a concierge is a calling."

Yury Nesterenko contributed to this report.