The wealthy Chinese who pay to meet the pope, drive Fast and Furious cars and more

Luxury concierge companies are serving a growing number of China’s uber-rich who want exclusive access to global figures and personalised holiday itineraries, or are simply too busy to accomplish mundane tasks

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 August, 2016, 12:31pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 August, 2016, 5:20pm

A private meeting with the pope; the chance to drive the cars of the type featured in the Fast and Furious franchise on a racing track; an avid Batman fan turning his sprawling house into a “Batcave”.

With the rising number of affluent Chinese tourists heading to exotic places like Antarctica, a trip to see tundra animals on ice caps is no longer enough for some. To stand apart from the merely well off, uber-rich Chinese are seeking luxurious, personalised concierge services to satisfy their whims.

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Quintessentially Lifestyle, founded in 2000 and headquartered in London with offices in Hong Kong, serves an increasing number of clients from China, catering to their wild – and sometimes bizarre – requests. This month they brought a group of their members to meet Pope Francis in a private session at the Vatican.

Vincent Lai, managing director of Greater China at Quintessentially Lifestyle, says they have extensive networks with influential people around the world to help realise their clients’ dreams of unforgettable encounters. One of their founders is Ben Elliot, nephew of Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall.

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“It’s not like you can pay HK$250,000 to see the pope. In August, the pope had to attend a large-scale event in Italy where there were private sessions for him to meet members from the public. We paid an amount of money to support the church’s charity events.”

The meet-the-pope venture is among the activities on an app Quintessentially Lifestyle launched recently for a global bank, aimed at a selection of the bank’s clients.

Lai says instead of giving outright cash offers for meet-ups with the powerful and famous, they arrange them in a subtle way.

“Say a client wants to meet actress Yang Ying [better known as Angelababy] and her husband, Huang Xiaoming. The couple has a foundation. We would tell them we have a client who wants to support their foundation and it would be nice of them if they could meet him as a gesture of gratitude.”

In the first five years of Quintessentially Lifestyle, its major target markets were Europe and America. Later European markets were overtaken by fast-developing countries like India, Russia and China.

In spite of their bulging wallets, Lai says Asian clients are less mature than their Western counterparts when it comes to their requests for luxury service.

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“Western clients are more forthright. They will tell us what they want to do in detail. If they ask us to prepare a gift for someone, they will tell us who the recipient is so that we can personalise it. But Asian clients don’t understand our service. They guard their privacy,” he says.

“Mainland [Chinese] clients are impatient and their whims are random and vague. They don’t pay attention to how we plan things. For example, we’ll have someone who sends us a Weixin message saying he has to go to Italy three days later and asking us to prepare exciting activities for him. Another will tell us he wants to bring his friends to a fun place to play – but he has no idea where he wants to go. They just tell us to help them get it done.”

Concierge services like the one provided by Quintessentially Lifestyle are on the rise due to the swelling ranks of the super-rich class in Asia. Among them is Barcelona-based boutique concierge service Alberta La Group. Aiming to keep their services personalised, they cap their business at 100 international clients, which include Forbes List CEOs, ultra-wealthy individuals, and boutique travellers. Other bespoke luxury service providers include Prime in Russia and Pure in Canada.

“Such companies have to take care of their high-net-worth clients. While they serve the financial needs of their clients, they turn to us to help fulfil their clients’ personal needs. Some luxury cars are outfitted with a concierge button, and we are at their service when the driver presses the button. Only 20 per cent of our client’s requests are the special ones,” says Lai. “For example, a client loves a classical music performer. We will track down the performer’s agent and ask him whether we can go to a performance and meet the musician backstage. Eighty per cent are mundane requests like asking us to find a dining place or buy a present.”