The SherpaReport spoke with a few of these professionals, also known as destination hosts, destination managers or personal travel concierges (PTCs), from Equity Estates, The Hideaways Club and Quintess. They told us about the rewards of working as a concierge or host as well as some of their more memorable experiences.
London concierge Ronan McFadden says he begins the client's planning process about two months prior to the trip, as do most destination hosts. "We want to give each client personalized service," he says. "Every guest is different, so I can be asked to arrange anything from a kids' day out at the zoo to a grown-up birthday party at the hottest night club in London." He adds that this allows him to constantly research the best new activities for a wide range of people. "I like this because it helps me enjoy the city more myself."
Natalie Gond, a Paris host, concurs adding, "[I like] speaking to the guest before they arrive and helping them plan a fantastic vacation." During the guests' stay, she says she assists with everything from groceries, restaurants, and last-minute activity planning and changes, as well as travel outside the destination including transportation, accommodation and other tourist activities.
In addition to being organized and able to multitask, Los Cabos host Silvana Carpinito says part of the job includes anticipating what the client wants—before he or she even asks. "It's a skill that a host can acquire over time," she says. "During the trip planning phase, I always ask if the trip is to celebrate a special occasion—whether it's a milestone birthday, anniversary or a family vacation—which helps me suggest excursions, special dinners or even plan a party."
Weddings, Yoga, IPOs
The host can also suggest excursions or events depending on the group. Silvana said she recently had three very different vacation experiences happening during the same time. "I had one couple who wanted to have a beachside wedding, a yoga retreat for a group of women and a firm celebrating an IPO buyout." The IPO buyout group wanted more of a party atmosphere while the yoga retreat group wanted to capture a more serene, meditative mood.
For the wedding celebration, the couple did not have many requests. However, Silvana took the initiative to make the occasion more memorable for these guests. "As a surprise, we decorated the bridal path with seashells, chiffon and roses," she adds, "It was so rewarding to see the joy on their faces." She feels, as do the other hosts, that she has as much fun planning the trips as the guests have during their vacations.
Personal travel concierge Monica Jacobs covers four destinations for her company: New York City, Hilton Head Island, S.C., Costa Rica and the Bahamas. "I work with a local host in each city who keeps me apprised of what's new," she says. "Whether it's a zip line adventure in Costa Rica, a boat charter in Hilton Head, or theater or sports tickets in New York, during my planning conversations with the members, I try to get a feel for what they want to do during their trip," she attests. "I inquire as to whether they like to keep busy with excursions or if they are celebrating anything special during their vacation." She adds that she'll go to great lengths to give members those "WOW" experiences.
"My biggest reward is when [the members] tell me they had an incredible time on their trip," Monica notes. "I love learning about the members' personal lives to formulate a memorable vacation experience." She says she will note specific things about a member and try to plan little surprises during their stay.
Monica recently arranged a Thanksgiving meal for a family that was vacationing in one of the club's Costa Rican ocean-front residences. "Because the family wanted a more intimate, traditional holiday meal, I found an incredible chef who was able to accommodate their wishes and created a lasting family memory," she says. "I will try to think out of the box and find an exciting excursion for the family to take or a specific wine to share during their vacation and I'll surprise them by having a special welcome gift waiting for them upon arrival."
Hosts may also be able to act immediately to fulfill a request. Central concierge manager Catherine Roberts of The Hideaways Club recounts some members who needed to charter a private jet to return home due to a family crisis. "We were able to organize the trip in four hours," she claims.
Of course, not all requests are so dire. Catherine says a group in one of the club's Moroccan villas had a unique and fun request. "This group wanted their wives to dress in traditional Moroccan dress for an evening out," she says. "We brought someone in to dress the ladies—it was reported back that much fun was had by all." A separate request involved a husband on a romantic holiday in Provence who wanted a singer to serenade him and his wife one evening. "We arranged a local guitarist and singer to perform," she claims. "The husband told us what his wife's favorite song was, so we asked the singer to include it in his performance—which was very well received."
Sometimes, there are just chance encounters that guests can enjoy. "One of our members was enjoying an afternoon with friends in the gardens of one of our Tuscan properties," she says. "They heard singing and saw a man upon horseback being led by another horse and rider." The singer was Andrea Bocelli who was born in the village where The Hideaways Club villa is located and returns to perform there once a year.
There are also those very big, memorable events that a destination host is happy to accommodate. Host Natalie recalls a member who wanted to propose to his girlfriend. "I rented a private boat for them on the Seine," she says. "We arranged appetizers and champagne, covered the boat with rose petals, and had the driver stop at the foot of the Eiffel Tower at the very moment it started to light up and sparkle."
Natalie adds, "of course she said 'yes'!"
There is the very rare occasion where a concierge is not able to fulfill one of his or her guests' requests. "Unfortunately, there comes a point where every activity or restaurant is fully booked and no amount of networking or banging on doors can get you in," says host Ronan. "In these cases, I have always been able to find a good alternative and my guests have often really enjoyed the alternative, so it works out for the best."
Silvana adds that she will do everything in her power to make sure her guests have a memorable vacation experience. "The sky's the limit," she claims, "I always try to find ways that I can go above and beyond the guest's expectations."