Cape Town, April 2016: For Freddy Pather, the head concierge at the Protea Hotel Edward, service is part of his DNA. And it is the service excellence that Freddy has demonstrated over his 50-plus years in the hospitality industry that is now being recognised by Marriott International. Freddy has become the first-ever South Africa-based employee of the world’s largest hotel group to receive the coveted J Willard Marriott Award of Excellence, the premier award available to associates within the Marriott group.

The Awards – which this year celebrate their 30th anniversary – were established to honour those in the Marriott International group throughout the world who have been recognised for outstanding service. According to Mark Satterfield, Chief Operating Officer for Marriott International, Middle East & Africa, and Marriott International’s Business Leader for Protea Hotels, “Recipients are acknowledged for their achievement, character, dedication, effort and perseverance. The fact that Freddy is one of just eight associates recognised from the entire Marriott group of 4 200 hotels across the globe demonstrates the magnitude of his achievement. He is also the only person among this select group from the Middle East Africa region and from Protea Hotels.”

The award recognises a lifetime of dedication to the Protea Hotels group, in particular to Durban’s Protea Hotel Edward, and is a fitting tribute to a man who has given so much to the thousands of clients he has dealt with over the years.

Freddy, a Durbanite through and through, joined the Edward Hotel in 1961 in a junior position when he was just 16 years old. “I started out when I was still at school,” he explains. “I needed to contribute financially to the family, so this was what prompted my lifetime of work in the hotel industry. Once I had completed my schooling, I was offered a permanent position as the night switchboard operator.”

Through all these years – 55 in fact – he has remained a loyal member of the hotel’s staff. With so many years under his belt at the hotel, he looks back with both fondness and humour at the many people he has been privileged to meet and serve. “One of my fondest memories is when I met Robert and Ethel Kennedy in the 1960s, when they stayed at The Edward while on holiday,” he recalls. “Despite coming from a family recognised and revered all over the world, they were very humble and warm. I have always treasured the tie pin that Mr Kennedy gave me, and I have kept it for all the years as a precious memento of him.”

Freddy’s current role as the Concierge at the Protea Hotel Edward involves him interacting with guests to ascertain their wishes. “I co-ordinate all our guests’ needs with the respective departments in the hotel,” he explains. “This role means that I work with 19 associates, and we work together to ensure that we exceed our guests’ expectations. Most important is that we action the guest’s request speedily, and provide feedback.”

The typical requests that Freddy and his two fellow concierge colleagues receive are to arrange trips to natural attractions in the region, to recommend restaurants, and to book vacations for international guests. “I always recommend the local food – my favourite is lamb curry,” Freddy says. “As for the tourist trips, safari excursions to Hluhluwe or Ithala Reserve are popular.”

For Freddy, his Marriott Award of Excellence is the source of great pride. It’s also an opportunity for him to travel abroad, something he has not yet had the privilege to do. During this trip to the USA, he’ll find himself on the other side of the hotel for the first time – as a guest. The event includes a visit to Marriott International’s head office building and a tour of Washington.

“My wife and I are absolutely thrilled to be able to visit the United States for the Marriott Excellence Award function, which will be held in early May. Since we’ve never been outside South Africa, this is really an exciting time for us!” he enthuses.