The Concierge King
American based Bluefish Concierge service has mastered the art of the ultimate experience and travel. Nothing seems to be too exclusive or difficult for the company. That’s why it needed to be challenged, writes Rana Bailout.
“Are you throwing down the gauntlet? Are you daring to challenge Bluefish?” declares Steve Sims, CEO of the concierge service to the stars, millionaires and most discriminating clientele. Well, yes that’s the idea, I found myself blurting out, somewhat meekly responding to his booming voice. There’s a pause down the phone to Palm Beach, Florida, where the headquarters are located – Bluefish grew so big in the last few years, Sims was compelled to open another office in London and it currently has over 2,000 staffers worldwide. I could imagine him musing over the situation, turning it over and over in his mind, flipping it on its head, as I wait for a his answer, “You’re on!” he says with childlike excitement. We both laugh a little. With our gloves now off, respective positions were taken. There was too much at stake: his reputation and this feature.
The challenge was quite simple: to create a one week, 20,000 USD new age itinerary for the fabricated Saleh family in some of the more traditional countries in the region: Algeria, Yemen, Oman and Jordan.
Dubai would have been too easy and Beirut a usual suspect. By new age we meant: groundbreaking, off-the-beaten-track, progressive, alternative, eclectic and modern. And in an attempt to put a spanner in the works, the Saleh family members had very little in common with each other, except for the love of travel and exploration. Bluefish only had a week to come up with the goods and the sands in the hourglass were beginning to make their way through the narrow tube and into the bottom bulb.
The heat was on.
Bluefish is not your regular concierge service, at the ready to pick up your laundry, get you on the list for the latest Hermes bag or fly your poodle halfway across the world because you happen to miss it. The company organises customised travel, events, transport and the more adventurous experiences. The brainchild of the Irish-born Sims, the company was launched in the early 1990s when the entrepreneur realised he could make money out of getting people into the hottest parties, Michelin-rated restaurants and over-booked luxury hotels. “When people call us up,” says Jillian Vann, a senior representative at the company who handled our request, “They look for what no on can provide – and that’s no sales pitch. There are plenty of companies out there willing to do your dry cleaning, but how many can boast the ability to have you lunch with royalty and then party with a rock star.”
Sims’ natural flair for incorporating business with people’s sense of fun was piqued after he was given a banking position in Hong Kong. He proceeded to gain and keep clients by offering complementary passes to exclusive parties; all they had to do was offer up a silly code at the door, of which bluefish was one. The concierge service was born when Sims moved to Florida and his former clients kept requesting he hook them up with exclusive tickets and bookings.
What the company does is cater to the whims and wants of the likes of Pamela Anderson, Steve Tyler and The Sopranos patriarch James Gandolfini. And such services don’t come cheap. Wanting to make her husband’s dream come true, the wife of a computer executive called Sims up and asked him to organise a one week James Bond experience for her dearly beloved. The exec was summarily picked up, flown to Monaco where he stayed in a hotel and spent a week being kidnapped in Saint Tropez by a sexy Bond girl and then rescued by American Navy Seals. All this for the neat sum of 500,000 USD.
How do they do it? “Bluefish has within its extensive network a slew of contacts we have worked within the past to provide a particular type of itinerary. We begin every request by returning to those who have already proved an exemplary service. In the unlikely scenario that a contact is not available for the particular event, we first seek recommendations from those we know and trust. And as a last resort, we start fresh and make an educated decision” explains Vann.
Consequently, a new age trip in the Middle East should be a walkin the park? According to Vann, the only difficulty was that the Saleh family was a Bespoke concoction, making it difficult for a ‘travel-stylist’ to get a real feel of the clients involved. “It’s vital to gather impressions of the people you are working to please. To an attentive listener, details such as the syntax of a person’s sentences and the choice of and repetition of some words help gain a well-rounded understanding of not only the person, but also their expectations of your itinerary,” she says.
When I received the itinerary, it looked impressive enough for me to hop on a plane and head across to Yemen (see programme in box). The journey includes activities like dance and music lessons in Yemen, informative tours such as a Bedouin escapade in Oman and some much-needed rest and relaxation at the Movenpick Hotel and Resort by Jordan’s Dead Sea. But, hold on, where’s Algeria?
“We had a problem with Algeria because in doing our research of this country, we became increasingly aware of conflict and military presence there. And we were apprehensive as to whether tourists would really want to go there. Often, when clients make their requests, they are not entirely aware of the conditions. They come to us for help. Period. It is our moral obligation to outline the bad as well as the good. Their trip will be made all the better for it,’ clarifies Vann. Now, what if! ask them to create an experience of GI Jane in the North African country? Maybe that would work just fine.
Bespoke Magazine May-June 2007