July 22, 2024

Adventure Destinations League

Navigating Travel Wonders

Celebrity travel requests: Agent shares secrets

Touching down in a destination via private jet, helicopter or yacht – or some combination of all three. Sweeping into a five-star hotel via a private entrance – alias ready, entourage in tow. Checking into a penthouse suite decked out for every desire. Dinner and drinks at the hottest restaurant in town.

This is how celebrities travel the globe: “Seamlessly, without a stop, without an issue,” as travel agent to the rich and famous Rob DelliBovi puts it.

This ease doesn’t happen automatically. It’s DelliBovi’s job to ensure a “perfect process” – whether he’s coordinating clients’ leisure travel, orchestrating a global arena concert tour or moving celebrities from one destination to another as part of a cinema press junket.

DelliBovi manages a small team of 17 expert travel agents at his company, RDB Hospitality. And he has a network of connections across the globe who help facilitate his clients’ every need – no matter how outrageous.

“Most things are available for a price,” DelliBovi tells CNN Travel.

He’s on the go almost 24/7, keeping tabs on his clients’ travels, phoning restaurants and hotels, asking for favours, putting out fires – or ideally, ensuring there are no fires needing to be put out in the first place.

DelliBovi’s clients are big names with big demands and big expectations. And there’s big money involved – so anything going wrong is unacceptable.

This can be “stressful,” says DelliBovi.

But if you’re thinking co-ordinating celebrity travel also sounds fun, glittering, intriguing – DelliBovi says you’re not wrong.

“It’s flashy and it’s glamorous,” DelliBovi says. “It’s a little cooler to deal with clients that you hear about, and read about, and see on TV and listen to at a concert or on the radio every day. It’s more interesting than dealing with lawyers, or bankers.”

And yes, DelliBovi’s non-disclosure-agreement-ridden job comes with “tons of perks.”

“It’s just fun to be in that world,” DelliBovi says. “You’re invited to everyone’s concerts. It’s filled with perks and makes your day-to-day a little more exciting.”

And even when “clients mistreat us” or the demands seem too complex, DelliBovi thrives on the thrill of the chase.

“It’s a very, very stressful, high touch, sometimes thankless job, but at the end of the day, when we do things right, it’s the best feeling in the world,” he says.

A peek behind the curtain

DelliBovi got his start in the hotel business in the early 2000s, working as an entertainment sales manager for a string of high profile New York City hotels, including the Soho Grand, the Hotel Gansevoort and the Dream Hotel group.

Entertainment sales manager is a job that “exists at any high-end lifestyle or luxury hotel company in the world,” DelliBovi explains.

The goal of this role is to attract “celebrities, bands, musicians, athletes – people from any segment of film, television, music, sports” to your hotel. Then, when these VIPs check in, entertainment sales managers are on hand to ensure their hotel experience is top tier.

In return, the hotel reaps the benefits: a famous person snapped in its lobby can put a hotel on the map, upping booking requests from fellow VIP guests, fans and everyone else in between. If the hotel’s on everyone’s lips, that trickles down to those who’re unaware why it even started being talked about in the first place.

Working as a hotel entertainment sales manager, DelliBovi also got a peek behind the curtain, learning what’s involved in getting celebrities from point A to point B. And soon a business idea started to percolate.

Hotels like the Ritz Hotel in London are popular with some of DelliBovi’s VIP clients. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images via CNN Newsource)

“I’m dealing with these people every day, face-to-face at these hotels, and if I was representing them, and booking the hotels and flights and restaurants and all that stuff for them, I could do a better job,” DelliBovi thought.

In 2015, after over a decade of entrenching himself in the hotel business and the celebrity circuit, DelliBovi started his bespoke travel agency.

DelliBovi says the business quickly “grew and grew and grew through word of mouth.”

Today, DelliBovi still has a foot in the hotel business as a consultant, but his travel agency has almost 1,000 clients. They’re not all celebrities, but “mostly high net worth” individuals, with “high demands.” And it’s DelliBovi’s job to make sure these demands are met as his clients travel across the globe.

Flying private or commercial

Celebrities regularly travel halfway across the world and back again for awards ceremonies, film premieres, concert tours and personal vacations.

Much of this travel takes place via private jet – a fact that’s become a much-discussed topic in recent years, as conversations about the emissions of fuel-guzzling jets ramp up.

Those who defend celebrity private jet use suggest the VIPs of the world couldn’t travel commercially for safety reasons.

But it’s absolutely possible for famous people to fly on commercial planes undercover, says DelliBovi – and many do. Airports have greeter services, VIP areas and tightly run procedures for handling celebrities’ transit.

“Celebrities don’t need to be in the regular waiting area,” says DelliBovi. “Greeters can take them from the lounge or from the VIP area to the plane.”

Famous faces will usually board long after economy passengers are seated – in fact, they’re usually not on board until “right before the plane takes off.”  At that point, the First Class passengers they’ll be sharing a cabin with have also stopped surveying their fellow travellers. And during the flight itself, VIPs are unlikely to be noticed – upper class plane cabins, with their secluded suites, are designed with privacy in mind.

Plus, the celebrity travelling with Singapore Airlines or British Airways isn’t going to resemble their Instagram posts or red-carpet appearances. DelliBovi insists “you wouldn’t notice them” and says they’ll be kitted out with “sunglasses, hats and stuff like that.”

But while big names can travel commercially incognito, DelliBovi says one of the main reasons celebrities fly via private is because “they don’t want to be seen” – and private travel offers that guarantee.

He says the private jet experience also comes with a certain hard-to-replicate ease – “You can take off and land whenever you want, there’s less TSA and there’s no crowds.”

As a result, DelliBovi says “the majority of the big A-listers are all flying private” – although he notes there are exceptions.

“People you’d expect to definitely use a private jet are sometimes in economy plus on Delta, whereas others, where you’re like ‘That person can afford a private jet?’ have to be on a private jet every flight.”

Many celebrities travel via private jet like the Gulfstream G650. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images via CNN Newsource)

Once the flight lands, DelliBovi’s team will have car transfers waiting. If needed, police escorts and helicopters can be arranged.

For VIPs, there’s no waiting around for cars stuck in traffic, or taxis that don’t show.

“The car is out ready on the Tarmac. The talent gets out of the jet, gets into the car, the car is going to the hotel,” says DelliBovi.

Hotel 101

So what hotel is the car heading to?

It all depends on the celebrity and their preferences – DelliBovi has an encyclopedic knowledge of the world’s best hotels and if clients ask for recommendations, he’ll offer them up – but more often than not, he simply accommodates their requests.

“We’re 100% reactive,” he says. “People call us and say, ‘This is what we want. And we make it happen.”

Plus, when it comes to booking accommodation, “there’s no real rhyme and reason as to who wants what, and where everyone goes,” according to DelliBovi.

“There’s some guests we have that are wildly famous, who are like, ‘The Hilton is fine.’ And then we have some people that are not that famous, who are like, ‘if I’m not in the penthouse of the Four Seasons, I’m not even talking to you.’”

In general, the elite, glitzy hotel brands – think the Four Seasons, the Ritz, the Mandarin Oriental, the Peninsula – are always on celebrities’ radars.

But independent, boutique hotels are also appealing – they often have a more distinctive feel (think local art, striking decor) but they’re also compact.

“They’re literally smaller, so they are easier to control,” says DelliBovi. “There’s a new hotel in London called the Broadwick, which is really good for celebs.”

The Broadwick Soho has just 57 rooms, which is part of the appeal for famous faces, according to DelliBovi.

“We could buy that whole hotel out,” explains DelliBovi. “And then we own the hotel, there’s no one else that can come and see us or anything.”

Regardless of the size and the scale of a hotel, if they’re a 4- or 5-star establishment DelliBovi says they usually “have infrastructure to protect their huge name guests.”

Think private entrances, private parking garages and private elevators that deliver guests straight to their suite. Other hotel guests spend their whole stay unaware this infrastructure exists.

Hotels also cater for celebrities in other ways. Take movie press junkets, for example, when actors sit in situ for hours at a time while journalists rotate in and out of the room to ask questions. These events often take place in four and five-star hotels.

High end hotels want that business, says DelliBovi, and they’re prepared to accommodate it.

“They build a floor that’s all wired with all the power and all the lighting and everything that’s needed for press junkets when the hotel is going up,” he says.  “It’s a big asset to have these big assets.”

And in case you were wondering, celebrities checking into hotels with aliases isn’t just an urban myth. While some don’t bother (“some A-listers are like, ‘Put it under my real name and I’ll walk through the lobby, I don’t care,’” says DelliBovi) fake names are generally common practice for security reasons.

DelliBovi says if fans know a certain name is in town – whether it’s to attend an event, to perform a gig, to play a game – they might ring around hotels weeks in advance, hoping for tidbits of information.

So how does DelliBovi keep track of his clients’ various aliases? There are internal databases, he explains, and his team communicates with celebrity management via WhatsApp.

For music tours, confirming aliases is part of the far-reaching, intricate pre-tour discussion – aliases will likely be used for cars and jet bookings too.

Private jets, five-star hotels and bizarre requests: A lot of work goes into ensuring smooth travel for celebrities. (Photo illustration by CNN/Getty Images via CNN Newsource)

Bizarre requests

Once a hotel’s been booked, DelliBovi’s team works with management to ensure the chosen room’s kitted out with everything the celebrity needs.

“Everybody has their type of bottle of water, which is really funny,” says DelliBovi. “To me, there’s no difference between all the bottles of water, but what do I know?”

Temperature is also often a conversation – from the temperature of the room, temperature of the bath and shower water.

And sometimes requests verge into more surreal territory. DelliBovi recently made headlines when he appeared on his friend Joe Pardavila’s Good Listen podcast and revealed a former client used to request a “medium-sized dog” be ready and waiting in every hotel room.

This was a “fun, harmless thing – the guy played with a dog for two hours,” says DelliBovi. Still, it was often complex to orchestrate. DelliBovi’s team had to find an appropriately sized, appropriately behaved dog at every destination. They’d usually start with the hotel staff, offering dog owners payment, or concert tickets, in return.

On the less wholesome end of the spectrum, DelliBovi gets asked for “a lot of illegal things.”

“I’m just too scared about getting involved in that stuff,” he says.

But any client request “within the realm of legality”, DelliBovi will work to make a reality. And after all these years he’s “immune to the absurdity.”

He’s been told “cheese is my favourite food” and asked to “create a three-foot long cheese board.” He’s separated many packets of M&Ms by colour, a common request from musicians (“That’s one that’s kind of passed down through many acts,” he says. “Some might argue they do it to mess with us.”)

One client who “doesn’t like to pack clothing” asks “for new underwear and socks and shirts and everything” to be waiting for them in each hotel room.

“New clothes are being bought in every city,” explains DelliBovi.

DelliBovi also gets clients front-row seats at sports games. He ensnares reservations at restaurants that are booked up weeks in advance – think the Polo Bar and Carbone in New York City, for example, or Dishoom and the Chiltern Firehouse in London.

Sometimes celebrities want to go to a restaurant to be seen, other times they want “a little corner table, so nobody can see them.”

Whatever the request, DelliBovi phones managers, publicists and local experts, and barters with them, “giving a little to get a little.” He’ll offer to send clients to a restaurant during a slow period if they can secure him an impossible-to-book table on a Saturday night.

In some cases, his request is met with an automatic yes.

“We have enormous ‘A-list’ names that if you call and say who it is, you’re going to get the reservation – they want that person at their restaurant,” says DelliBovi.

You may assume celebrity meals and drinks will be comped, but DelliBovi says the belief that famous people “never want to pay and get it all for free” is a myth.

“These people are spending enormous money,” he says, adding large tips are often involved too.

But even with big price points on the table, sometimes ensuring a reservation just isn’t possible – if the restaurant is booked out for a private event, for example, there’s nothing DelliBovi can do.

That’s where his network of experts across the globe is essential.

“I don’t know what’s going on in Melbourne, Australia – I’ve been there, but I don’t know the market. But we have people on the ground there,” says DelliBovi.

These “people on the ground” will be fellow travel agents, hotel concierges, celebrity publicists, restaurant managers.

And sometimes these connections help DelliBovi out in a tit-for-tat kind of way – they know he’ll have their back on another occasion. Other times he’s offering up concert tickets or movie premiere invites in return for their assistance.

Other restaurant reservation options secured, DelliBovi presents the alternatives to his client.

“In most cases people are like, ‘Oh, great – somewhere equally as cool and as exclusive, let’s do that instead,’” he says.

But some celebrities don’t handle “no” well.

“We do have a few clients that kind of go bananas when things don’t go their way,” he shrugs. “But, you know, that’s showbiz.”

Going wrong

Another travel agent, Erica Wilkinson, who once worked as part of a team handling travel for a celebrity tech entrepreneur, also spoke to CNN Travel about her work.

When asked about what happens when things go wrong that are outside of an agent’s control – Wilkinson cited the scene in 2004 movie “The Devil Wears Prada” where imposing big-name magazine editor Miranda Priestly, played by Meryl Streep, is trying to fly home in a hurricane.

“Her assistant is like, ‘It’s a hurricane, we can’t get out.’ And she’s like, ‘It’s a sprinkle, it’s a little bit of moisture in the air,’” recalls Wilkinson.

This, Wilkinson tells CNN Travel, is an accurate portrayal of how some VIP clients view travel issues – they will not accept any excuses, even inclement weather.

This can be frustrating, but sometimes it’s these moments – not the big glitzy gets or the bizarre requests fulfilled – when celebrities most appreciate their travel agents.

“You never have to wait on hold with an airline for three hours,” says Wilkinson. “That’s my job. And I usually don’t have to wait on hold for three hours, most of the time, as well – because I have access to these back-end lines.”

DelliBovi echoes this.

“People always say that every mistake is an opportunity. But it’s literally, for us an opportunity to showcase,” he says – saying that 99 times out of 100, he’ll fix a cancelled flight “in two seconds on our system, put them on another flight.”

People appreciate when everything goes smoothly, he says, “but the value isn’t thrown in their face until something goes wrong.”

And as an agent, he enjoys fitting together complicated puzzle pieces, ensuring things go smoothly, against the odds.

Sure, there are difficult characters, but on the whole DelliBovi says it’s “fun” to make the impossible possible for the 1%.

“It’s a pleasure to take care of these people and make sure that they’re living their best life on the road,” he says.