23-year-old hotel concierge, Ingabire, on the highs and lows of her line of work

Johanna Ingabire hopes that more Rwandans will join the profession. Photos by Emmanuel Kwizera

As ayoung girl, Johanna Ingabiredeveloped a love for luxury. Now at 23, she has found a niche in the newly developing role of concierge at Hôtel des Mille Collines. The job entails multi-tasking and taking care of the well-being of the hotel’s clients, a role she attributes to her ability to pay attention to detail and adapt to change. She spoke to Women Today’s Sharon Kantengwa about her new role and aspirations.

When did you realise that you wanted to join the hospitality industry?

As a kid I loved luxury and every time I had a luxurious experience it would be in a hotel. I wanted to be part of it but at that age I didn’t know exactly how to. Growing up, I drifted away to marketing because everybody was doing marketing, but looking at my personality, I wondered which post I would hold in marketing. A family friend who founded HotelJobs, the first and only recruitment agency in hospitality, persuaded me to join the hospitality industry because he saw I was good at dealing with people. I am the last born and my sister that I follow is 15 years older than me; that background taught me how to think and adapt fast.

Johanna Ingabire hopes that more Rwandans can join the profession

Still, I didn’t know exactly what I would do because I didn’t want to be locked behind the reception desk. When I watched a documentary about a female concierge, I thought this could be me. I started doing a lot of research and I realised that I could use the profession to contribute to finding people solutions. As a young girl, I knew how to get people out of trouble but never knew how to get myself out of it.

How did you eventually join the field?

After high school, I went to China to learn Mandarin. I came back, studied marketing and worked at two different places but I felt something was missing. HotelJobs was recruiting a Front Office Agent for Hôtel des Mille Collines but the way the interview went, they saw me fit for Concierge, which I have been for almost a month now. HotelJobs will still mentor me and train me for the first year.

Why do you think we don’t have many females in this profession?

In Rwanda, we have not yet adapted to concierge yet in Europe people are hired to multi-task. I think we have to keep pushing and introducing this type of job to people so that they discover they are capable because I don’t think you have to be male or female to do this job. You just need to know how to think fast, multi-task, not panic and do what might be considered ‘impossible’.

What would say is the most fulfilling part about your job?

I get to meet people that I have never met. My job enables me to interact with people from different cultures every day and in order to provide good service, you need to understand them. It helps me adapt to this world and be who I am with people. It’s fulfilling to see that people not only enjoy what I provide but also the person that I am. I am in charge of the wellbeing of the clients both inside and outside the hotel. I’m like a wizard, because I make things happen.

And the most challenging?

When there is an emergency or that moment they tell you there are about 40 people coming through at the same time; to know how to take it one step at a time and make sure everybody is catered for.

What do you think makes a successful concierge?

Connections. You have to have your hands in every part of the city, you’re actually like an octopus. This job will shape me, especially with where Rwanda is going. We are going to sell services more and if you have connections in all the services, you are good to go.

How do you envision your career?

I enjoy my work and it has not only helped me feel good about myself, but also the people around me because when you’re frustrated, you can’t be good to people around you.  I thank my employers for seeing the potential in me. For me to start this young as a concierge in a legendary hotel and grow with it is amazing!

I’m going to learn as much as I can and be based here because most times concierges are known by the hotel. I want to be known as Johanna - the Concierge of Hôtel des Mille Collines.