From ice cave proposals to rare beverages: What it's like to be a vacation 'fixer' for the super rich
Think being fathomlessly rich looks easy? Try chartering a $122,510-a-week superyacht for a reef-hop through the Maldives. Then, organize a celebrity chef to fly halfway across the planet for one night to serve you eggs Benedict on deck.
After that, how about sourcing an all-black helicopter (because you only fly in all-black helicopters) to whisk you from boat to land?
Or, try arranging for a diamond ring to be hidden in a secluded beach cave for your fiance to "accidentally" discover.
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Knowing how to spend fantastic amounts of cash is no picnic … even if that picnic is in an unspeakably tranquil forest glade while gorilla trekking in Uganda.
That’s why a small web of fixers exists whose job is to organize the super-rich’s vacations — so they don’t have to.
These aren't browbeaten personal assistants, frazzled by a life of thankless servitude. They are serious, skilled professionals whose raison d’etre is to navigate the demanding, complex and sometimes totally bonkers world of the 1%. For them, "no" might as well be a four-letter word.
“We pride ourselves on meeting the needs and desires of our discerning, and sometimes famous, clients — however whimsical they may seem,” said Carolyn Addison, head of product at the bespoke adventure travel specialist Black Tomato.
“We know that many of our clients have the means to satisfy their every whim, and we’re very used to going the extra mile to satisfy their urges, even if they can occasionally appear quite quirky.”
Ice cave diamonds and impossibly rare soft drinks
Black Tomato is one of an expanding legion of luxury adventure travel specialists, and its business is to book only the best holidays money can buy. For them, no request is too big, and no quizzical travel dilemma too small.
Once, when the young child of a well-known American celebrity left her beloved bear at home as the family jetted off to Europe, Addison and her team were called into action.
“We organized for the teddy to be flown out on a long-haul flight across the Atlantic and then driven to them on their European holiday,” she recalled.
“This one not only put our logistics skills to the test but also our ability to rapidly respond, as they were firm about the much-loved bear safely reaching the child as quickly as possible — whatever the cost.”
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Then there was the time when, in Iceland, the team was asked to hide a diamond ring in an ice cave for a client’s fiance to "discover."
Once, in South Africa’s Sabi Sands game reserve, Addison had to stock the minifridge of a client’s hotel room entirely with Tab soda, Coca-Cola’s discontinued diet drink that’s now about as rare on the soda scene as an albino rhinoceros on safari.
“Sabi Sands is a major bucket-list item amongst safari connoisseurs and we’re used to clients seeking rare experiences while they’re there,” said Addison. “This specific request for Tab soda to be flown in took us a bit by surprise, but we enjoyed being able to make it happen.”
These fixers are, in their own words, there to serve and make hyper-luxe dreams come true.
In the world of high-net-worth (HNW) vacation fixing, money doesn’t just talk, it bellows like a drill sergeant. An elite travel fixer must be ready to climb any obstacle, whatever time the call comes in.
“It can be very stressful, particularly when you have to get things out [to a client] quickly,” said Gaby Stanley, business development director at Ten Group, a leading travel and lifestyle concierge service. “Unless it’s illegal, we would endeavor to do whatever our members ask of us to the best of our ability.”
And if they can’t? “Then we would always find an alternative,” she said. “The next best thing.”
As a luxury concierge service, Ten Group’s job is to open doors for its clients — acting as a sort of gatekeeper to spectacular opportunities. Or, as the company puts it, it's to “help wealthy and mass affluent individuals and their families to discover, organize and enjoy dining, live entertainment, travel and premium retail with better value and quicker than they could themselves.”
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So if, as one client found, you become bored while moose hunting in the wilds of northern Scandinavia, put in a call to Ten and a Nintendo will be shipped out to you to pass the time in your tent. Pronto.
Or if, as another client learned, you run out of your favorite lip gloss while in Portugal — the kind that can only be procured in London — Ten will track it down at its source and have it spirited to your hotel.
“We’ve booked magicians to do shows in clients’ rooms, we’ve found a hotel room overlooking the Monaco Grand Prix race track so the client could literally watch the race from his bedroom, we’ve organized meals to be made at the world’s best restaurants to be delivered and served on private jets,” said Stanley.
“We get about 200,000 requests a month across the business. We provide our service 24/7, 365 days a year wherever our members are in the world.”
Black books and buying power
So, how much does all this cost?
To procure the ministrations of a service like Ten, you either need to bank with one of the big wealth management institutions (think: Coutts, HSBC Jade, St. James Place or Schroders) or you can sign up for an annual membership.
The fee for membership starts at 4,200 euros (about $5,000) a year.
And it’s still big business.
Ten currently has 2 million members around the world, ranging from business leaders, entrepreneurs and athletes to red-carpet A-listers and so-called "changemakers."
“Most of our members will have second homes, or will spend half the year in, say, the south of France [and] then might go to Dubai or London or wherever in the world they reside,” Stanley explained. “They come to us because we’re able to get them better value or do things quicker than they can do them themselves.”
As for the cost of vacations, both Addison and Stanley said it’s impossible to put a figure on a luxury vacation due to the nature of bespoke planning.
“Chartering a yacht can be anything from 100,000 euros or more, and some accommodation can be in the same price range reaching 200,000 euros or more for some of the top resorts,” Stanley said.
Once, Black Tomato was asked to hire a Hollywood cinematographer — whose oeuvre included blockbusters like “Star Wars” and “Interstellar” — to document a family’s six-week sailing trip through the Indonesian islands.
That holiday cost 530,500 euros (nearly $650,000).
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A "black book of contacts" is an HNW holiday planner’s most powerful resource.
“Because of our contacts, we have the buying power and access that [a client] wouldn’t necessarily have themselves,” Stanley explained.
On another recent occasion, Ten was asked to persuade an A-list Hollywood actor tied to a well-known movie franchise to take part in a client’s murder mystery party in Saint Tropez … in character.
(We had to promise not to name the celebrity here because client confidentiality is an HNW fixer’s second most powerful resource. And, frankly, having the world know you moonlight as a billionaire’s party entertainer is off-brand for a Hollywood star.)
“Celebrities can sometimes be a theme on holidays we organize,” said Stanley. “Another time, we flew Massimo Bottura [chef and restauranteur of three-Michelin-starred Osteria Francescana] out onto a yacht in Italy to cook dinner for a family.”
She won’t say what such celebrities cost because fees tend to be negotiated directly. “We use our contacts to make the introductions and leave the rest to them,” she explained.
Rise of the eco-rich
Money doesn’t just buy Insta-friendly superyachts and A-list actors with tax bills to pay, though. It can, for the right price, buy peace of mind, too.
In fact, Stanley said she’s seen a shift since the pandemic in what the rich and famous want from their getaways.
“A lot of members want to give back, and there’s been a growing demand for sustainable holidays in the last few years,” Stanley said. “So, for instance, we recommend a host of hotels that embrace sustainability.”
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These include London’s Savoy, which has a “98% recycling record;” the Four Seasons Hotel London which generates electricity from food waste; the Four Seasons Resorts Maldives which carries out coral propagation, turtle rehabilitation and manta ray research; or even Portugal’s Six Senses Douro Valley, which has a fund to help children in need, a donkey sanctuary and 10 acres of old-growth woodland.
For the more intrepid have-it-alls, Ten will make it possible to access Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park for a gorilla trek, or sail the Amazon aboard the 20-suite Aqua Nera luxury pleasure cruiser.
By "luxury,' that means it costs north of $368,000 to charter the boat for a week, according to its owner, Camper & Nicholson. It includes a gym, a billiard room and a library, a spa, a medical suite, a tropical-style lounge and a fine dining restaurant.
These are just the trimmings.
It’s also armed with low-impact smokeless engines and a shallow draft of just 1.5 meters to reduce wake and relieve your conscience as you glide through the squawks and chirps of the most biodiverse rainforest on Earth.
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Unless it’s breaking the law, companies like Ten and Black Tomato can pretty much make anything happen, anywhere, at any time.
That is, if you’ve got the bank balance.
Elite travel isn’t just about infinity pools and remembering to book an extra room for the nanny. It’s having an exclusive hotel room in Montenegro with a private elevator. It’s organizing for the kitchen at Nobu to cook a four-course meal for you and six friends to eat on a private jet above the Atlantic. It’s about — as Black Tomato has apparently been asked more than once — sightseeing only in all-black helicopters.
What being an elite traveler is really all about, it turns out, is knowing who to ask.
“We’ve spent years building relationships to put us in the position of being able to secure that [kind of] access,” said Stanley. “[Our job is to work out] how we can support our clients in living their best life.”