Behind-the-scenes: The crazy world of private concierge services

What do tigers, the Egyptian pyramids and Enrique Iglesias all have in common? 

Neil Churchill June 25, 2015

Where were you on January 23rd this year, when Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah passed away? 

One Saudi national was in London when he heard the news. Obviously feeling a need to return to the country and pay his respects, he set about making his travel plans. However rather than do it himself, he turned to his Vertu mobile phone, and pressed the ruby key.

That activated the Vertu Concierge service – part of the package when you buy one of the high-end handsets – and his assigned modern day butler duly arranged the man’s emergency transportation.

It’s a fine example of why today’s private concierge market is growing, particularly here in the Middle East. A lot of people have money to burn and aren’t afraid to hire somebody to do the boring tasks in life, freeing themselves to focus on the here and now.

In the Gulf though, as you might expect, concierge companies receive far more outlandish requests than simply booking a flight home.

“In Dubai, people like exotic animals, tigers and the like. We’d source the tiger, do the permits and make sure it’s all legal,” says Paul Drummond, co-founder and director of the Quintessentially Group. 

“We’ve had members ask us to find their lost father after they’ve lost contact. We’ve arranged fireworks for a client from Sydney Harbour Bridge. We’ve bought a member two tonnes of gold blocks. We’ve arranged for Enrique Iglesias to call and sing Happy Birthday down the phone. We’ve helped rescue a member stuck in the desert who had a punctured tyre at 1.30am.” 

But the requests are not limited to thought processes the average salary worker would never consider. A big part of the work is the metaphorical picking up of the dry cleaning.

“We do lots of glitz and glamour and we’re really good at that, but then there’s the stuff on top of that, which is just making your life easier, the more mundane stuff, but all the more important because the most valuable thing any of us possess is our time. That’s the joy of the service.”

Julia Berridge, head of marketing for Vertu in the Middle East, agrees. While private concierge does attract outlandish requests, the service is also about the day-to-day chores of life.

“Vertu Concierge is used for many purposes, from simple day-to-day requirements, such as booking restaurant and travel itineraries, through to complex and unusual requests,” she says.

“It is a personal service; a team of dedicated lifestyle managers who can provide 24-hour worldwide assistance, recommendations and priority bookings. They can facilitate every request, from finding the perfect gift to accessing money-can't-buy events and experiences. 

Aside from the outlandish requests and day-to-day tasks, the main source of work for private concierge companies seems to be the opening of doors.

Guest lists to nightclubs, tickets to the theatre, the best seats at sporting events. Concierge companies step in at the point when a normal human being gives up after learning all the tickets have sold out, or that they’re not on the guest list.

“It provides access to a bunch of stuff that you couldn’t do yourself, or it would be incredibly difficult to do. It’s a mixture between saving people time and providing access to our contacts,” says Drummond.

“Imagination is one of the key things we offer. A lot of people don’t know what’s available to them or how to get it.” 

The industry does have a perceived hedonistic image though of course, and judging by some of the requests received by another Dubai-based concierge company, it’s not hard to understand why.

In 2013, Virtually Here chartered a 150-person private yacht for the Formula 1 in Abu Dhabi, and took care of everything from travel and hotel bookings of the guests to sourcing the food and drink.

Another request was to host a 120-person Christmas party on Lebanon, World Islands in Dubai. Now that’s festive.

When it boils down to it, with fees ranging from AED 8,500 to AED 140,000 per year (Quintessentially costs), private concierge companies are at the beck and call of their members. As Drummond says: “We will do anything that’s legal for our members.”  

Incredible requests made to private concierge companies: 

  • Hiring the Egyptian pyramids with three days’ notice for a private engagement party, with 400 guests, a horse-drawn carriage, an opera singer, and a AED 43 million diamond ring. Fortunately she said yes.
  • Sourcing a live elephant for a child’s birthday.
  • Private music lessons from top Korean musical director Kolleen Park – who never gives private lessons.
  • Holding a New Year’s party on one of the highest mountains in Amman, Jordan.
  • Locating the specific Newton’s cradle from the Iron Man movie.
  • Facilitating the transportation of a Rolls-Royce from London to Dubai in just five days.