Wednesday, 3 September, 2014

Published February 08, 2014
Dial for love
'Cupid concierge' services lend a hand to hopeless - and helpless - romantics for their special Valentine's Day trysts. By Debbie Yong
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'Cupid concierges' such as at the Ritz-Carlton Millenia hotels (above) feature tailor-made full-day itineraries including spa experiences, sunset cruises and other outings around town. Romantic destinations such as Bali remain one of the favourites on the list

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SO you went all out with that multiple-carat diamond ring or the all-expenses-paid holiday for your other half last Valentine's Day, but there's only one problem: just how will you top that this year?

Don't despair, hapless Romeo (or equally time-strapped Juliet). There are people who can handle this professionally - and help is just a phone call away.

"Cupid concierges" are a growing business in countries such as the United States and concierge service operators in Singapore say they, too, are seeing more couples turn to them for some extra romancing on Valentine's Day. The demand is expected to further surge this year with Valentine's Day falling on the 15th day of the Chinese New Year, or yuan xiao jie, signifying double happiness for many.

James Eyton, the Asia Pacific CEO of LesConcierges, which partners with credit card company Visa to offer concierge services to its top cardholders, has seen a 60 per cent increase in requests for romantic activities from the Singapore market on an annual basis, with most requests coming in the week before Feb 14. Likewise, leading luxury concierge services provider Quintessentially Lifestyles has seen a 30 per cent jump in demand during Valentine's Day over the past four years.

While most hotels offer ready-made Valentine's Day dining and staycation packages, top luxury names such as the St Regis Singapore, Pan Pacific and the Ritz-Carlton Millenia hotels all have in-house concierge services that up the pizzazz by pairing them with tailor-made full-day itineraries including spa experiences, sunset cruises and other outings around town. Flowers, restaurant meals, wedding proposals and trips to popular romantic destinations such as Bali are also common requests, say independent concierge service operators, though with growing affluence, customers are increasingly seeking private experiences in exclusive venues, such as truffle hunting in France or individual cooking classes with Michelin-starred chefs.

Outsource the legwork

Hate shopping? Outsource the task to the Ritz-Carlton Millenia Hotel's in-house concierge services team, who can help you pick out jewellery and limited-edition shoes as gifts. Quintessentially's team once sourced a black crocodile Hermes Birkin bag worth $82,000 for a client, cutting its three-year waiting list to just three weeks.

"We've organised everything from a butler-serviced champagne dinner on top of an iceberg, to closing the Sydney Harbour bridge for a private proposal, and arranging a world-first opportunity for a couple to climb the Sydney Opera House and watch the New Year's Eve fireworks from the top of its 'sails'," recounts Quintessentially's executive director, Caroline Lam.

Concierge businesses say the voraciously growing demand stems from heightened expectations of the highly commercialised holiday, coupled with the increasingly time-starved modern lifestyles of high net worth individuals.

"Roses are always lovely, but sometimes a little cliched. Singaporeans are all becoming much more creative and expressive in how we show our softer side to our loved ones, but don't necessarily have the tools to arrange such things," says Andrew Long, CEO of Ten Group Asia Pacific.

Trying to get seats at a sell-out restaurant at the last minute? Strong relationships between concierges and chefs could sometimes be your ticket in, says LesConcierges' Mr Eyton. "The strength of the concierges is that we are part-assistant, part-detective and part-magician."

Indeed, Aspire Lifestyle's most unusual request was from a customer in Singapore who wanted to send flowers to his girlfriend in Japan, but she would only give him a photo of the front gate of her house, and the longitude and latitude of the place, recalls Andrew Quake, general manager of its Singapore office. His team eventually managed to locate her to send the flowers over, after some sleuthing. Though requests can take hours to days to pull off, depending on their complexity, Aspire's current record is a grand total of 40 minutes. "A customer from Singapore called at 8am, as he wanted a cup of hot latte delivered to his girlfriend in Seoul just before 9am when she would step into the office. Eventually, we tapped on our network and our consultants in Seoul managed to get it done successfully," adds Mr Quake.

Requests for Valentine's Day activities are typically from males, say concierge businesses, though there is equal demand from married and unmarried individuals.

Some concierge services such as Quintessentially charge an annual membership fee of $7,700 for unlimited requests, while others work based on commission from their service partners, so customers pay only for third-party costs incurred per request. Prices can start from a few dollars for a bouquet of flowers to US$250,000 for a private charter of a yacht for an idyllic one-week sojourn that LesConcierges once organised.

And though Valentine's Day scrooges may say that leaving it all in the hands of a "cupid concierge" may reek of insincerity, most concierges - of course - disagree.

"Most people have no problems engaging a wedding planner to ensure their wedding turns out perfectly. No one would ever think that the man or woman lacks sincerity in this case. The same mindset should apply to cupid concierges as well," retorts Aspire's Mr Quake.