MYour job is to organize vacations for the money-rich and the time-poor. I’m not a traditional tour operator — I’m an old directory and I don’t even have a website; clients come to me by word of mouth because I’ve been in the business for over 40 years and have a shiny little black book.
I specialize in Europe, and travel there at least twice a month and know the GMs of all the top hotels personally, which means I can always (well, usually) rock the best rooms in their properties for my clients. I work with wonderful old fashioned families who trust me to choose not only their hotel but also the destination, because I know them so well and they don’t have the the time or inclination to do the research. Likewise, I have tech millionaires in their twenties who have a lot of fun because they just want to visit the latest hot hotel before all their friends.
When I have to deal with a slightly nuts client, the only thing that keeps me sane is the fact that 99% of my clients are charming, reasonable and respectful of my expertise. But then there’s the 1% – and very often it’s also the rich and stinky 1%. I had a couple who had booked two huge suites in Paris: one for themselves and the other for their newborn and toddler. The kids were still in cribs, so since they were in a suite that could have comfortably accommodated a family of five, I foolishly assumed their nanny would be allowed to use the lovely four-poster bed it contained. The parents had other ideas – they were worried that his breath and body heat would affect the temperature in the suite. Fortunately, they had the perfect solution: they decided she could sleep in the bathroom. Really obvious. This poor young girl looked after her children all day, in fact holding them most of the time. Somehow it didn’t matter, but the idea of her sharing the air of a 4,000 square foot suite with them was unacceptable.
Haley Lu Richardson as Portia in The White Lotus, the television satire about the wealthy on vacation
I can’t stand people who spend a fortune on themselves but a penny on their staff. I threw a big party in St Moritz for a man that cost several arms, legs and kidneys and I was disgusted when he told me to allow €5 a day for his PA’s food, which l ‘would accompany in Italy, however, of course, not to attend the party. I nurtured it myself, with my team, and never worked with him again. I’m usually pretty good at spotting bad eggs early in the process and politely telling them that we’re very busy and probably will be for the next five years and maybe they should try another business.
I have plenty of hotel friends who can’t watch The White Lotus, Sky Atlantic TV’s satire on the rich on vacation, as they find it more like a free-flying documentary than a comedy-drama. I remember one of them telling how a bride was upset because she didn’t like the colors of the flowers that lined the hotel driveway – they were red, which she considered to be bad luck. He had to go out and buy a van of rose flowers to replace them. I believe the phrase is more money than meaning.
I can usually arrange anything, but whims obviously come at a high cost. Luckily, I’m pretty good at estimating how much money people really have. That said, I still sometimes have a problem with newlyweds – they often spend way too much on their honeymoon, then come back and ask me if I can fix it somehow. Seriously? I would be Chancellor of the Exchequer if I could pull off that kind of trick.
“I can usually organize everything, but whims come at a high cost”
Be careful what you say in the transfer cars. The drivers are my eyes and ears and give me great information about what the customers are like and more importantly what they are planning. Sometimes I might collude with a hotelier. For example, some wealthy Manhattanites tend to complain about their rooms upon arrival, almost before they set foot in them. If a driver warns us that we have one live on our books, a hotelier and I might agree to put them in a room one level lower than we would normally give them because, guaranteed, they will ask be moved – and, surprise, surprise, they then get the room they originally wanted but can happily brag about having found a better room. It’s all part of the multi-layered and ever-changing psychology of travel.
One of the things I offer in addition to a conventional tour operator is personalized service. The client deals with me, and me alone, and I am available to them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They can also count on my absolute discretion, especially when it comes to more delicate travel arrangements – which is why I once found myself booking a room for a client and his wife on a floor of a very small hotel on a small Spanish island. , then acting like it was completely normal when he asked me to arrange another room downstairs for his lover.
I always like well-meaning but ultimately delusional customers. Those who book a trip to Italy and say they are gluten intolerant and don’t drink alcohol, for example. I spend hours talking to hotel chefs about what these guests can and can’t eat, only to get a phone call on the second day saying that on their first night the couple downed pizza after having drank several martinis.
Sometimes clients will want me to travel with them to handle all the administration and bureaucracy on their behalf. Traveling light is not a concept that many of my clients understand. I accompanied a couple who had 62 bags on a trip to Greece. I know it was so much because, while they were sipping retsina in the sun, I counted and counted them at various ports on our island-hopping itinerary – you can imagine how popular I was to everyone behind me in the check-in queues. At least they indulged in a Mariah Carey outfit level change and actually got through most of that vast wardrobe.
My job is not just to complete seemingly impossible holiday challenges, but also to tackle firefighting problems that unexpectedly crop up along the way. Nothing beats the fabulous man who called me at midnight asking for a little grand piano while on a sailing vacation off the French Riviera. I had to hoist it onto the yacht in a helicopter the next morning – it destroyed the tuning, so I had to find a professional piano tuner and fly it in to fix it. There is never a dull moment.
As said to Susan d’Arcy