To serve Hong Kong's rich, bespoke travel services bend over backwards
Meet the Downton Abbey cast? No problem, Sir. What bespoke travel and concierge services do for their ultra-wealthy clients in China and the West - nothing is too much trouble
For Cedric Reversade and his partner Paul Maxime Koskas of Unique Properties and Events, no request is too difficult - well, almost.
"Two years ago, we had an American client who was getting married in Florence. After she arrived in her private jet, she wanted a horse-drawn carriage to meet her at the airport to take her to the wedding venue," Reversade says. "I had to explain that because of traffic and pollution, she would arrive not in a white dress, but one that was grey or black."
Not all requests are as outlandish, Reversade says. Today's ultra-wealthy are looking for the best experience in travel that money can buy, but discreet enough so they can live like locals and discover the culture and gastronomy on their own.
These clients are looking for personal concierge services on bespoke holidays that are tailored to their every realistic whim.
Unique Properties and Events has access to 15 to 20 villas owned by friends and clients which it can use for its bespoke travel services. The properties are not advertised for rent online, and so are highly exclusive. They include a palazzo in Venice and a seafront villa in Saint-Tropez.
Clients are from England, the United States, South America, Switzerland and Hong Kong; many are on the Forbes 500 list. "We have a few celebrities, but we don't want those who cause any trouble," Reversade says with a chuckle. "Our guests are the ones who want to be apart from the crowd."
Clients can either name a destination and have an itinerary planned for them, or seek advice on the best places to visit at a certain time of year.
Reversade and Koskas also take count of clients' food preferences and activities they would like to try: hot air ballooning, yoga, horse riding, a Michelin-star chef preparing their dinner, tickets to the opera, or the best seats for the running of the bulls.
The homes they use are decorated using top linen and crockery brands so clients feel more at home than at a hotel. The staff in the villas are employed by the owners, but Reversade and Koskas provide them extra training and have stayed in each of the properties they promote.
"When we send them photo links of the villas, we have a professional photographer take 30 to 40 pictures of every room - even the bathrooms - so that when they arrive, there are no surprises," Riversade says.
Their clients will pay a minimum of €15,000 (HK$127,000) a week for a five-bedroom villa in Tuscany or Provence, and €30,000 to €35,000 for a week in Ibiza or Mikonos.
Hong Kong clients, Reversade says, are very stylish and their favourite destination is Europe for two to three weeks. "It's usually a family holiday, with nice wine and amazing food, as well as sightseeing. They are more cultured and interested in art," he says.
Vincent Lai Kar-leung, managing director, greater China, for Quintessentially Lifestyle, which also provides personal concierge services, has similar impressions of Hong Kong clients. He says they range from their late 20s to early 40s and are young CEOs, entrepreneurs or scions of wealthy families.
"We had a Hong Kong woman who wanted to see the Northern Lights in Finland. She wanted to bring back a husky that pulled her sled so we arranged for it to be brought back to Hong Kong," he says.
There are requests to visit car factories because a client may put in an order for a car, or to eat at Michelin-star restaurants. "One client wanted to drive cars like in the movie Fast and Furious, so we arranged for him to test-drive some race cars," Lai says. "Some want to have personal interaction with animals in a safari and we make it happen."
Shopping is another popular request; for example, visiting a watch factory in Switzerland. "One client chatted with the craftsmen and in the end ordered 48 timepieces and asked for his name to be engraved on them so that he could give them away as gifts," Lai says.
"We have one member who went to Bordeaux three years ago and visited the vineyards and loved it so much they bought a chateau, like [Chinese] actress Vicky Zhao Wei. But that's very common these days," he says, matter-of-factly.
Hong Kong clients are interested in exotic locations like central Africa, Croatia, Capri and Ibiza. "These people have a purpose in going to a place - not to cross it off their list, but to try a particular experience. One client wanted to ski on the same slope where [retired Formula One driver] Michael Schumacher was almost killed. Another wanted to train and race with a champion rowing team," he says.
Some Chinese guests have asked to meet the cast of hit TV series Downton Abbey. Lai says many are "politically sensitive" and high up the political ladder or in senior positions at state-owned companies.
He says Hong Kong and Chinese clients did not insist on private villas, as five-star hotels satisfy their needs. They are willing to spend HK$200,000 to HK$300,000 for a one-week holiday, and up to several million for two or three weeks.
Another boutique concierge club called Nine is run by Timmy Coles-Liddle, who finds up-and-coming destinations for his well-heeled, mainly British, clients, who range in age from 32 to 70.
"Current favourites include Song Saa, a remote private island in Cambodia that boasts the country's first ecological marine reserve, and French Polynesia's The Brando, an extraordinary destination of ecologically conscious luxury. We have also been looking into Ariara Island, south of Manila," Coles-Liddle says.
In the end these services aim to please, and Unique Properties and Events is no exception.
"Last year we had a British client who wanted to go to Saint-Tropez and propose to his girlfriend," says Reversade. "He ordered 3,000 Pierre de Ronsard roses. We had to get the best florist in the French Riviera to order them and hired five extra staff to cut them. He called me a month later to ask him to organise their wedding in Marrakesh."