Travel Agents To The Rich & Famous Tell All

Photographed by Erin Yamagata.
On the list of dream professions, 'travel agent to the rich and famous' probably falls somewhere between 'fashion muse' and 'ice cream taster' in terms of desirability. Right now, you're probably thinking, Is that even a real job? And we're here to tell you that yes, yes it is. Not only is it a real job, it's one that combines hard work, adventure, never-ending hours, and big-name clientele to result in some pretty incredible stories.
We asked luxury travel agents — two current and one former — to spill the beans on their favorite destinations, the list of places one can privately rent out (spoiler: pretty much anywhere in the world, if you have enough money), and what it's really like to plan vacations for the one percent. Read on for their answers, including a misplaced-passport anecdote guaranteed to have you on the edge of your seat.
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"They expect everything to be planned"

The Realities Of Working For The Wealthy

"They expect EVERYTHING to be planned, which includes restaurant reservations, activities, contacting local luxury destination management companies for an authentic experience, specific car rentals, and calling the hotel for their specific needs. The more personalized, the better," says Stacy Niemi, a former luxury travel agent now working in the global relocation sector. "For example, I woke up at 4:30 a.m. to call a restaurant when they opened to make sure the restaurant knew it was an important client coming for a special occasion so they would get the best view and table in the restaurant."

"For most of our clients, privacy is a big thing," says Jason Couvillion, a partner at Bruvion Travel, a Los Angeles-based luxury travel, concierge and entertainment services firm. "That's why, at a hotel, they'll take a suite or book a whole floor of the hotel. When it comes to the air travel, we'll arrange things [to be] as private as possible. We'll have a greeter meet them out of their car at the airport, take them — you know, already have them checked in — and take them through a special line through security so that they don't have to wait in line, take them to the airline lounge in a private room, and then walk them straight to the plane after everybody's gotten on ."
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"It was expensive, but they had the money to pay for it"

The Most Over-The-Top Request

"We had to privatize the London Eye, because the clients wanted to have a cocktail reception in it," shares Couvillion. "I mean, it was expensive, but they had the money to pay for it. We also privatized the Guggenheim Museum in Abu Dhabi. They shut the whole museum down because because they wanted to just see it privately and have a little champagne toast on the balcony there."
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"Three weeks before her wedding, there was a hurricane"

Nail-Biting Stories, Part One

"I once had a bride research an over-water bungalow she wanted to stay at on a specific island in Fiji. Everything was confirmed one year in advance. Three weeks before her wedding, there was a hurricane and I had to make the really difficult call to inform her the resort was hit by the natural disaster, and her resort was now in the water and destroyed," recalls Niemi, who notes that she did manage to get her client re-booked somewhere else.
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"We get to experience some of these places as our clients would"

The Experiences That Make It All Worth It

"We travel to go see these places because we want to know about the product for our client, so we get to experience some of these places as our clients would without having to pay the price we charge our clients," says Couvillion. "It's hard to pick just one [favorite place]. I went with a group to Bhutan, which is in the Himalayas, kind of above India and Thailand. One night they took over this abandoned Buddhist temple and they had a very local ceremony. They dressed us all in local attire and they had a band playing and they had this long table that was all lit by torches and served us local food and they had some of the local government officials there. It was just such a cool setting. You kind of felt like you had gone back in time."
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"One would only sit in seat 1A on a plane"

The Weirdest Request

"I have had clients with all sorts of requests: One would only sit in seat 1A on a plane," says Niemi. "[For another,] the bathroom had to be on the right or left side of the room, the type of water or alcohol they want in the room or the bed had to be south or north facing. These are just a few examples."
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"I was like, this is never gonna happen"

Nail-Biting Stories, Part Two

"This was a travel issue that we once had to resolve: I had to get a client's passport that they'd accidentally given to [a friend who was] on a commercial plane. [The client] was sitting on a private jet waiting to take off. I had to call the airport in London, beg the British Airways person to give me the number for the airline dispatch person — I somehow talked them into it," Couvillion recalls. "I called airline dispatch, I told the people what was going on, they had a message sent to the pilot on the British Airways flight — that was in flight on the way to London — to tell the person that had [the client's] passport that they need to get off in London. I had a car waiting to take them over to the private airport with a private jet upon landing. There was someone waiting at the gate and when they landed in London and they grabbed the person, took him over, got him on the private jet, and they were able to continue their journey with the passport. I mean, I was like, this is never gonna happen. And they're like, oh my God, it totally worked. We just go the extra mile like that."
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"A lot of our clients want to go have an experience"

The Biggest Misconceptions About Their Job

"That I just travel around a lot and get to lounge by the pool!" says Stephanie Chai, founder of The Luxe Nomad, an online travel agency and villa management company. "Sadly, even when I'm in exotic locations such as Bali and Samui, because I'm there for work I'm usually in the office 9-6 p.m. for meetings and then clearing my backlog of emails after dinner."

"I think people think that they're just going to go to London and stay at the Bulgari and go shopping," Couvillion says. "[But] a lot of our clients want to go have an experience. They want to go to Africa and go on safari, but while they're there they want to visit a local school and maybe do some type of service thing for a day. I've also found that some of them, you know, they want to go to these places where they can see how other people live. And I think they almost want their kids to see how other cultures live and how well they have it. That happens a lot in Africa or Southeast Asia. They want their kids to understand like, we're lucky we have all this stuff. Other people live like this. But those other people who live like that are still happy."
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"It is the ultimate idyllic island life"

Their Top Travel Recommendations

"Turkey can only be defined as a mosaic of culture its where the hustle and bustle of Asia meets the elegance of Europe with a Middle Eastern twist," says Niemi. "Palawan, Philippines introduced me to the underwater world of scuba diving, some of the most breathtaking sunsets I have ever seen, and the most incredible sailing I have ever experienced."

"Island-wise nothing beats the Maldives," says Chai. "You literally feel like you're a drop in the ocean there because usually at a resort all you'll see is the sea. No neighbours, no noise, it is the ultimate idyllic island life. And the water there is akin to stepping into your own turquoise coloured pool. For me when I first went to the Maldives I thought 'this is paradise.'"

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