Butlers and The Travel Industry


sandcastle butler

Sandcastle butler


Butlers, concierges, they’ve been marketed by the travel industry for years, from hotels to more recently cruise ships (Viking river cruises) as evidence of going the extra mile in service. They can be a true value proposition – as in a baby concierge offered by our client Velas Resorts, or a public relations tactic to generate press. In fact, one of our all time great press generators was when we announced the butlers as a service at an Intercontinental Hotel, talking about how the butler would even iron the newspaper to avoid the guests’ having ink stained hands. Over the years we’ve read about everything from pillow, recovery (as in from a hangover) and suntan concierges to fragrance, camping and barbecue butlers . Interestingly enough, this kind of news, falling into the category of unusual hotel services,  continues to be a media darling.

And speaking about what’s happening in the hospitality industry and “butlerdom”, I thought I’d share these interesting thoughts and updates from Steven Ferry, Chairman of the International Institute of World Butlers . It appeared in his recent newsletter which always makes for good reading.

“An interesting article about the lengths butlers go to in hotels to service their guests—although the author has taken it upon herself to pronounce that “butlering is a dying art.”

Some entrepreneurs have created a company called “Hello Alfred” (referring to Batman’s butler)  that offers “butler service” for $25 a week—the duties basically being running errands and managing small projects for which the clients do not have time. As the company already employs 100 butlers (stay-at-home mums and artists) so far in New York and Boston, they are obviously much in demand by busy executives and no doubt appreciated by those looking to boost their income.

If the above is a bit of a stretch, then how about Sandcastle Butlers, the latest hijacking of our profession to boost image? The picture (from the Hertfordshire Mercury) says it all.

Hot on the heels of the Japanese cafe culture with butlers and maids, we now find Glasgow, Scotland offering the same: a cafe with maids and butlers. Used to be a time when one went to a cafe to enjoy a simple coffee and scintillating chat.

Not sure if we have covered the “Stock Butler” before—software that analyzes and rates a person’s stock portfolio. (Karen’s note: idea for a city hotel?)

The first hotel in the world has opened with service almost exclusively carried out by robots—done to save money on wages and downtime, such as days off, and to create “the most efficient hotel in the world.” Um…. Let’s see: “Hospitality,” basic definition being “friendly.”  “Friend” comes from an Indo-European root word meaning “love.” Met any friendly robots recently, ones who express their heartfelt love for you? (Perhaps that should read “programmed love”?). Somewhere, someone, or a lot of someones, are missing the point.

And while “scientists” are busy trying to make robots human, and humans unnecessary, they are also busy making humans into robots: witness the University of California, Berkeley breakthrough (also reported in the Wall Street Journal) in creating neural dust that is so small, it can be implanted into the cerebral cortex (front of the brain) without the knowledge of the individual and run forever, collecting information and controlling people’s thoughts and emotions (and presumably, ultimately, their actions).”

Insatiable Luxury in China

luxury in china

Peninsula Shanghai image from

Post by Karen Weiner Escalera

We’ve all read about the boom in sales of luxury products in China. But nothing prepared me for the reality — the quantity and size of stores of the big names in luxury brands. Staying at The Peninsula Beijing, within two blocks there were several Chanel stores, one larger than the next. Within the hotel itself, besides the entrance being flanked by Chanel and Louis Vuitton shops, there’s a two story arcade exclusively with all the big brands. And this is repeated throughout the city.  Curiously, walking past the shops there was seldom anyone inside. Why? Our guide said that wealthy clients get the brochure of the new collection (or see it online), call the shop, and have the item or items sent to their residences much as mere mortals would order take out food.

I asked the same guide why there weren’t more top Chinese fashion designers. She said why would anyone buy a local fashion brand and pay a lot for a name no one knows. Anyone in the luxury business should not miss a visit to the “knock off” multi-leveled emporiums – the Silk Market in Beijing and several in Shanghai. It’s fascinating to see what brands are being counterfeited besides the obvious – Hermes, LVMH, Prada, etc. Beats headphones and speakers seem to be “hot” items. No wonder Apple recently announced a possible purchase of Beats. It was also interesting to see how luxury brands have to quickly come out with new lines to stay ahead of the counterfeiters. Of course new models help fuel purchases but you can’t help thinking that in any case, this counterfeiting greatly debases the brand.

Speaking of luxury and hotels, I also had a chance to see the latest in hotel technology in action by the master, Peninsula. At the hotel in Shanghai, here are some of the picks for top features:

  • Built in “nail dryer” in the dressing room
  • VOIP for free international calls
  • Humidity control for the guest rooms
  • Preset internet radio channels
  • A Yamaha speaker built into a lacquered cabinet, totally unobtrusive
  • And then the bathtub that even they have taken up a notch: luxuriate in the tub watching tv, having a conference call by speaker phone, choosing your favorite spa music, and more

All this being said I kept asking if and when the bubble will burst. As someone said, throughout the country there are thousands and thousands of unoccupied apartments bought for speculation (said one friend, in China the crane is the national bird). Makes for an unstable situation, no?

Estate Manager: New Career Path for Hoteliers

estate manager

Have a track record in hotel management and looking for a new career path? In reading an article about the new breed of estate manager for the world’s elite affluent, it occurred to me this could be a  career opportunity for a hotelier who wants a change. The management, leadership, diplomatic skills and versatility of a hotel GM could well fit the bill demanded for this new breed of estate manager. As described in the article in the New York Times, a job ad could read like this:

“Seeking an experienced Estate Manager to oversee the day to day function of multiple homes around the world. The ideal candidate must be comfortable working with a full range of home technology, managing a multi million dollar budget and overseeing a domestic staff of 20 including a curator, filmmaker and a flight attendant.”

The job is said to pay in the mid six figure range and come with what could include everything from a 401K plan to extra “hardship duty” pay and a generous bonus during the holidays.

Then there’s the opportunity of providing the Estate Managers. In the same article they referenced Mahler Private Staffing which started twenty years ago and now has offices in four cities serving 900 families, an increase from 300 seven years ago. And the potential can only increase given the tremendous growth in wealth of the 1%. Last year according to the Credit Suisse Wealth Report more than 45,000 Americans had a net worth of over $50 million, an increase from 38,000 in 2012 (they call these people “ultra high net worth individuals”). Sounds like another opportunity.

Image courtesy of bplanet /

Our Favorite Travel and Lifestyle Details in 2013

They say it’s the little things that count. Luxury is in the details which don’t necessarily have to be expensive. They can save time, make one feel pampered, and/or lend an air of exclusivity. Starting the new year, we thought we’d look at the best details we’ve experienced or read about in travel and lifestyle over the last year (most have been featured in past posts):

ü Station to refill water bottles in La Guardia, courtesy of Delta Airlines

ü Get a loaner designer handbag for a special evening out,  part of the all inclusive rate developed by KWE for client Casa Velas Boutique Hotel in Puerto Vallarta

ü Return of tableside food preparation (guacamole, flambes, duck press, etc.)

ü Warby Parker sunglasses given to passengers on Andre Balazs air charter STND and also sold at his hotels

ü Closet stocked with clothing for a guest’s arrival by a personal shopper based on a questionnaire at the St.Regis Bal Harbour

ü Blackboard at a restaurant naming a “client of the week” with the name, hometown, occupation, and favorite eats

ü Farmers market at Jet Blue terminal at JFK

ü (An easy one), a glass of complimentary champagne to every guest at lunch and dinner

ü Gold leaf on pasta – even brownies! – at Gold and Pepper, Miami (it feels so extravagant)

ü A bottle of nail polish with a manicure or pedicure included in the price so you can do touchups at home from Marilyn Monroe Spas


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“Handbag Bar”  at Casa Velas Features Designer Bags on Loan Complimentary for a Special Evening

Cyber Monday Travel Deals

First it was Black Friday (which really started on Thursday in some places!), then Small Business Saturday, and now, today is Cyber Monday, which is quickly becoming one of the biggest shopping days of the year. Sales in the US continue growing – from $610 million in 2006 to about $1.3 billion in 2011.

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Traincations gather steam

The popularity of train travel has made a comeback. Just yesterday, Amtrack announced its ridership reached an all time high since the railroad was formed in 1971. There a few contributing factors for this…

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Countdown: #5 Travel & Lifestyle Trends in a Social Media World

A growing trend over the last few years is the desire for less responsibility and reluctance to commit large sums of money, but consumers still want to collect as many experiences as possible. We saw significant growth and development of fractional ownership in everything from real estate to jets, even olive groves. And it’s evolving to peer-to-peer renting between consumers: everything from homes and fashion, to jets, cars and parking spaces.

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New Profit Center for Luxury Hotels?

Picture this: insurance salesmen visiting a Ritz-Carlton hotel to immerse themselves in a luxury experience, followed by a presentation by the HR department on “How to Treat Ladies and Gentlemen”. That’s what Mike Weinberg of Gateway Insurance did with his sales teams to help instill a service ethic that’s critical in dealing with the ever more demanding affluent customer.

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Hospitals – new destination spas?

The rise of medical tourism to glittering hospitals in places like Singapore and Thailand has turned coddling and elegance into marketing necessities. As mentioned in the Herald Tribune: “It’s not just competing on medical grounds and specialties, but competing for customers who can go just about anywhere.”

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Adaptability – The New Competitive Advantage

The example: Apple and its system of suppliers, telecom partnerships and independent application developers to support the iPhone. As Stephen Elop, Nokia’s CEO wrote to his staff, “Our competitors aren’t taking our market share with devices; they are taking our market share with an entire ecosystem.”

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