‘White Lotus’ vs. reality: Are rich guests as bad as they look on TV?


Maybe it’s schadenfreude. Maybe it’s jealousy. Maybe it’s the ever-widening wealth gap. Or maybe “White Lotus” is a really good show that satirizes the egos and excesses of the wealthy traveling class. Whatever the reason for the success of the HBO series, we can’t wait to devour its second season, which kicks off October 30, like bags of free pretzels in economy class.

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And it’s not just prestigious TV that inflates the idle rich. “Triangle of Sadness,” a movie that upset customers’ power dynamics (and stomachs) on a private yacht cruise, won the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Driven by the interplay of demanding charter guests and crewed “yachtboats”, Bravo reality show “Below Deck” spawned four spin-offs. “The Menu”, set to hit theaters on November 18, features an ominous trailer that suggests a bloody ending to guests at an exclusive restaurant on a remote island.

As we prepare for more gruesome depictions of behavior, passengers in the back of the plane are probably wondering: How real is this sense of entitlement? Do the elite really make such outrageous demands?

The answer is yes, according to travel industry professionals who spoke to The Washington Post.

“No one can give up their privilege,” Mark, the castrated husband played by Steve Zahn, tells his family in the first season of “White Lotus.” Not even on vacation.

To find out more, we interviewed concierges, travel advisors, hoteliers, and tour guides that cater to the 1 percent. Here are the stories of the cashmere-lined trenches.

‘We have a mermaid on speed dial’

Nightfall Group’s employees – the kind of Airbnb and concierge service for celebrities, C-suite types or anyone with a ton of money – have a Rolodex full of niche experts to take care of any whim a client might throw at them.

It’s like when a guest renting a 13,820-square-foot mansion in Los Angeles requests a mermaid to swim in the pool, which you can browse from one room of the house, for a cocktail party that starts an hour later. Angelica Bridges, spokesperson for the Nightfall Group, says she’s not just any mermaid, but “a real authentic mermaid with a bouncing tail.” “They wanted to see, like gills.”

Not only would the company need to find a suitable mermaid that could cross LA traffic in time for the party to begin, but it would also need to heat the pool to a mermaid-friendly 80 degrees. It’s not a quick success, even for the already heated pool, but the company has succeeded.

Fortunately for guests looking for a mermaid, “we have a mermaid on speed dial,” says Bridges. “We got him there in probably an hour and two minutes.”

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No, you can’t fly or drunk

The group usually has more lead time for large requests. Like the customer who wanted a 60 x 60 inch temperature-controlled safe fitted to his one-week rental to store his mother’s ashes. Or the client who wants Santa and his real reindeer to show up at his Los Angeles rental property on Christmas Eve.

“We have a company that has reindeer,” Bridges says. “We even have elves there.”

Sandra Weinacht, a travel planner and co-owner of Inside Europe Travel Experiences, regularly hears stories of extreme behavior from friends and business contacts who work at five-star hotels in Europe.

He said a hotelier in France told him there was a guest request from Italy to have a large quantity of Sanpellegrino delivered on the same day. No other sparkling water would do; It should have been a sanpellegrino – and not because the guest likes the taste.

“The Russian client needed water to wash his hair, and it couldn’t be Perrier,” Weinacht says. “It must be Sanpellegrino.”

A shopping tab for about $4 million

When Christina Stanton, a New York City tour guide with decades of experience, was hired to guide a Russian oligarch’s wife on family trips, Stanton had to hand her cell phone over to a bodyguard at the start of each day.

While the three children were on vacation with their own guides, Stanton helped the mother with her back-to-school shopping. Bergdorf Goodman opened his store early so that the two could browse in peace. They bought 58 pairs of shoes from Little Eric Shoes On Madison. During the four days they spent together, Stanton estimates his client spent about $4 million.

When Stanton learned his client’s last name at the end of the trip, a quick Google search revealed the woman’s husband was one of the richest men in the world. While their wealth was as shocking as their shopping bills, another detail surprised Stanton.

When the family reunited to dine at restaurants like Balthazar and Serafina, Stanton realized that “the family doesn’t talk to the waiters, it’s the guards.”

In one case, one of the kids asked for a straw and the server forgot the request. The guard was not satisfied.

“His way [talked] you know he killed a man with his bare hands,” Stanton tells that server.

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‘They want bigger, better, more, more for free’

Stacy H. Small, founder of Elite Travel Club, had a client who was a reality TV personality. Small says the Bravo channel star yelled at his driver for not picking up his luggage fast enough, then refused a high-end suite at a luxury hotel, but remained enraged about the price of the room at Small, even though they had already confirmed it.

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“They can pay, they just don’t want to pay,” Small says of past reality TV customers. “They complain a lot because they want bigger, better, more, more for free.”

Now, Small only works with clients he’s scrutinized. Trips are still overkill—$100,000 summer vacations are commonplace—but he’s had no rotten apples since he’s gotten more picky.

While some of the rich and famous show off their magnificent lives, many prefer to keep a low profile. Rob DelliBovi, founder of full-service travel agency RDB Hospitality, says many clients ask their drivers to sign confidentiality agreements.

Once at Kalon Surf, the luxury all-inclusive resort in Costa Rica, a woman sent an email asking who else was on her husband’s upcoming reservation. Staff could not share information.

“Privacy and privacy is number one for us,” says company owner Kjeld Schigt.

The woman explained that her husband was aware of the affair and wanted to confirm that his mistress had joined him. The hotel still hasn’t compromised on its policy.

The woman says she understands and ends their correspondence with one request, Schigt says: Can one of her surf instructors take her to the biggest wave possible and “push her so she can get hurt as much as possible?”

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No expense spared for pets

In February 2021, with pandemic travel concerns and strict border restrictions standard, private jet charter Monarch Air Group received a request for a customer to travel from Santa Barbara, California to Vancouver, British Columbia. The pilots were stunned when their only passenger arrived.

A pomsky (a mix of Siberian Husky and Pomeranian) left for its owner for a $60,000 trip was Bella.

In another instance a few years ago, staff at the Dolder Grand in Zurich received a request from a Russian guest that chief concierge Jens Maier found “weird” for even the most pampered pet.

“He asked us to arrange a piece of lawn so his dog could pee in the suite and he wouldn’t have to leave the hotel,” Maier says.

Staff offered to take the pup out for a walk along the resort’s wooded trails. The guest refused and insisted on an indoor lawn that was delivered to his room within two hours. Of course, you can’t run to the corner shop for one square meter of lawn. “Everything was complicated,” Maier says.

With the help of a local florist, the hotel was able to provide a piece of faux grass that comes in a wooden frame for an extra touch of class. Installation cost about $800 which guest pays.

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“The lady was delighted that the nearly impossible was made possible,” Maier says.

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For many in the hospitality industry, it is not specific requests that mislead them, but how or why they are asked for.

“The old is, ‘Please sort the M&Ms by colour’,” DelliBovi says. “People do this just because they heard it and thought it was funny. But as a hotel owner, we know it’s not funny.”

Curtis Crimmins, who was once a concierge at five-star hotels and is now the founder of a hotel reservation startup called Roomza, points to a time when a famous guest requested a certain alien tree frog for his daughter.

Crimmins gave an introduction to a congressman who could help speed up the Department of Agriculture approval process to get the frog into the country.

“Leaving just the frog in the room when canned was a prudent $50,000,” Crimmins says.

Being rich doesn’t automatically indicate bad behavior, says Schigt, owner of the Costa Rican resort.

“No, absolutely not,” says Schigt. “It may change, but sometimes the richer ones are actually much more comfortable.”

DelliBovi came to a similar conclusion during her outings for rock stars and very wealthy individuals.

We have billionaires who say, ‘Put me in the standard room’. I do not care. … And then we have billionaires like, ‘I better buy me a Ferrari and my water is this temperature’,” says DelliBovi.

According to the survey findings, 1% of people are more satisfied with their lives than anyone else.

Schigt has been dealing with wealthy clients every day since she opened her Costa Rica property in 2011. After playing as host for more than a decade, she discovered that most guests are easy to accommodate, but impossible to please a few of them.

Dealing with difficult guests is a lose-lose situation for the resort. Not only do the staff appease unsatisfied guests, but addressing every complaint takes service away from other customers.

Sometimes it’s enough for the staff to take care of casual guests to solve the problem. After noticing that the other guests were having fun and getting more attention, he put his difficult customers at ease.

“We noticed that in the past we spend 80 percent of our time on 20 percent of our guests,” Schigt says. “These guests were very demanding and they weren’t going to be happy anyway because some people come to be happy.”

These days, Schigt trains Kalon employees to try to make every guest happy – within limits – “but also try not to forget about other equally valuable guests,” he says.


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