A doctor from Hawaii recently embarked on his dream trip, a world tour to see all 36 existing Vermeer paintings. Museum viewing was no problem, but two Vermeers are in private locations — one of those being Buckingham Palace. And the queen is not exactly amenable to having complete strangers drop by. What to do?
Enter Frank Laino, concierge at London’s Stafford Hotel. Strings were pulled, favors called in, and soon a taxi was whisking the art-loving guest to the queen’s abode, where a security officer waited at the gates. He was escorted to the Royal Collection gallery where, not a soul to disturb him, he had a private 15-minute audience with the Vermeer masterpiece “The Music Lesson.”
“This was hard to get access to,” admits Laino, who has been head concierge at the Stafford since 1998 and was named Best Concierge in the World by luxury travel agency network Virtuoso in 2007. “It took a few weeks to arrange. But any concierge worth his salt has the contacts to pull something like that off.”
“I’ve had it all,” Laino continues. “A man who wanted me to ensure the fish restaurant he was going to served him a female Dover sole. The banker who needed his bed propped up with the same philosophy books that propped up his four-poster at home. All of it was done.”
Concierge comes from the French comte des cierges (“keeper of the candles”), servants who tended to traveling aristocrats in the castles of medieval France. Fortunately, today one need not be nobility or a millionaire to get a concierge to arrange the most dramatic requests.
“Part of our job is to make the impossible happen,” says Kenneth Abrisor, head concierge at the Mandarin Oriental in New York. “The reward is seeing a guest’s dream come true.”
Far-flung beach and safari resorts also have their share of crazy questions. At the Four Seasons Tented Camp in Thailand, a guest requested a photograph of his children with a snake so they could remember their stay. The staff did better than that: they brought in a 12-foot-long python from a next-door village that was large enough for the kids to lie down on.
At the Ritz-Carlton Cancún, a guest wanted to watch a movie on the beach but did not want to get sand on his feet — so the staff covered the entire beach with carpets.
Not every outrageous demand can be met. Deborah Calmeyer of the New York–based Roar Africa travel company recalls an American client at Lions Sands safari lodge in South Africa. “He wanted the staff to place an engagement ring on a string around the neck of a male lion and parade the animal into the lodge towards his future wife. They had to explain to him that perhaps this wasn’t a very good idea.”
Yes, concierges do have their limits. But short of having to corral a man-eating beast, they will apparently do their utmost to accommodate the weirdest and wackiest.