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Luxury concierge clubs cash in on Chinese elite

By Angus McNeice in London | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2018-05-31 01:46

Luxury concierge clubs that deal with extravagant requests for their clients, including such things as the hiring of a private island in the Maldives and bidding for a $2-million sports car at a London auction, are quickly becoming indispensable among the Chinese elite.

British luxury club Quintessentially was founded in 2000 and serves 250,000 clients around the globe – making it one of the oldest and largest luxury lifestyle management services in the world. However, 10 years ago, it had no clients on the Chinese mainland.

All that has changed as China has opened up and the nation’s crop of affluent money-makers has swollen. The company currently has 37,500 Chinese members on its books.

United States-based concierge club John Paul opened an office in Shanghai in 2013 to cash in on a growing taste for bespoke lifestyle management among the Chinese elite.

The company is available to its Chinese members, via WeChat, 24 hours a day, and recently hired an island in Dubai and arranged a wedding in Antarctica for Chinese clients.

Annastasia Seebhom, chief executive of Quintessentially, said Chinese clients are among the most demanding.

“Our China offices have our highest engagement rate with clients,” Seebhom said.

Quintessentially employees based in Shanghai and Beijing deal with more requests on average than any of the other 1,500 “lifestyle managers” that serve the wealthy in 190 countries around the globe.

Clients pay up to $50,000 a year for full membership of the club, which grants them round-the-clock access to a lifestyle manager, and which puts the world at their fingertips. British commercial photographer Martin Wonnacott describes the service as “like having your mum on speed-dial as a toddler”.

Chinese philanthropist Johnny Hon, founder of Hong Kong-based venture capital fund the Global Group, says the service buys him “complete peace of mind” when booking local restaurants and family holidays in Europe.

Lifestyle managers in China have catered to wildly extravagant requests. One Chinese member recently hired an island in the Maldives for a family vacation at a cost of $2.7 million.

And a Quintessentially employee was left scrambling when a client said he wanted to pop the question on the rooftop of a 5-star hotel in Shenzhen after giving only 24-hours’ notice. The entire floor was booked off in time for the proposal, complete with 1,000 red roses.

At an auction held by British auction house Christie’s two years ago, a Quintessentially employee helped place a bid for a Chinese client who wanted to buy a $2-million Aston Martin car that featured in the James Bond film Spectre.

Beyond expensive toys and extravagant experiences, Seebohm says Chinese members often use the service for guidance when embarking on a new life abroad.

“When we look at our Chinese audience, it’s a heavy focus on education, property, and health and wellness,” she said. “One of our Chinese clients may call when they are looking to have their children educated in the UK, though they don’t know that much about the school system and the process here. So, we hand-hold them through that.”

Quintessentially will organize private tutoring to help Chinese children gain entry to Britain’s most elite schools, or arrange apartment viewings in the UK for wealthy Chinese university students. The company recently arranged the purchase of a $2.39-million house in Central London’s ultra-expensive W1 area code, for the daughter of a Chinese member.

Seebhom said requests that focus on education have increased by 45 percent among Chinese clients during the past five years, while health and fitness requests have increased by 25 percent. Request for DNA profiling have increased hugely, by 188 percent. And one of the fastest-growing categories among Chinese clients is philanthropy, which increased by 108 percent.

Seebhom said the Chinese elite, which is widely known to be avidly interested in “luxury shopping”, is now seeking ways to “give back to the community” and is keen to connect with non-profit organizations.

“Chinese members are now more interested in the experiential – in more meaningful, enriching, and engaging experiences – alongside the latest Hermes handbag,” she said.

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