Ultra-wealthy want experiences above all
(Story contains descriptions that some readers may find objectionable.)
BOSTON (Reuters) - When you have huge sums of money to spend, merely staying at a Ritz-Carlton is far from enough.
Top hedge fund managers and chief executives instead prefer to hire someone like Gregory Patrick to create a holiday experience at a private villa that they will never forget -- and money is no object. You want five of the world's best chefs flown in? It will happen. Butlers? No problem.
One American investor, who was on such a trip to Italy, was whisked away by chartered jet for the evening to Vienna with a group of friends to a Sting concert, and after the show, they partied all night with the band.
His wife went on a shopping trip with Italian entrepreneur Laura Gucci, and he and his friends raced a Ferrari, a Lamborghini and several Porsches from Florence to Portofino.
The couple were part of a new generation of wealthy tourists. They want luxurious accommodations and tip-top service but they want something much more -- an experience.
Patrick, founder of travel firm DreamMaker International, creates unusual vacation experiences for the rich for a living.
So what is it that the ultra wealthy want when they travel? They may not know it, but often they are looking for experiences they can tell their friends about, Patrick told the Reuters Wealth Management Summit in Boston.
"They are fixated on the story -- there's a lust for the ability to tell their friends what they did," Patrick said.
They may want adventure, be it skydiving, bungee jumping, or surfing.
"You have to take them out of their element. They want something to take their minds out of the marketplace," Patrick said.
Having personal staff is key, too. A client visited Spain with friends, and Patrick arranged for several butlers to staff the home at which they were staying. The client and a friend went jogging one afternoon, and when they returned, a butler was at the end of the driveway with a decanter of cold water and glasses on a tray.
"If they had had to go to the kitchen themselves to get the water, it would not have been nearly the same experience," Patrick said.
Sometimes the experience is staged. A couple was dining at a restaurant in Rome. The woman dropped her napkin underneath the table, and took an unusually long amount of time to surface. The man at the table seemed inordinately happy during and after the experience.
Sitting next to the couple were a group of Patrick's clients, who saw the whole pas de deux unfold, and couldn't stop talking about it for the rest of the trip. They didn't know that the couple were actors and that Patrick had arranged the whole scenario.
"What they perceived to be happening, wasn't really happening. There's no limit to what I'll do to make someone happy, so long as it's legal," Patrick said.
One thing the ultra-wealthy do not want when they travel is to rub shoulders with the hoi polloi. Riding on a cruise ship is "out of the question," Patrick said.
"They'd rather have a red hot poker shoved in their eye."
All that uniqueness costs money. The experiences typically cost between $2,000 and $4,000 a day per person, but demand is so strong that Patrick is looking at growing rapidly over the next few years to annual revenues of $40 million from $3 million to $5 million currently.
He intends to rent villas in places like Tuscany for longer periods and to hire butlers, chefs and other personal staff on a monthly wage rather than a daily rate. That will allow him to reduce costs and also offer similar experiences to a number of clients.
That may make the experience less unusual, but if the service is good enough, clients may not care, Patrick said.
(For summit blog: summitnotebook.reuters.com/)
(Reporting by Dan Wilchins, editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)
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