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How Suite It Is: Traveling as a VIP in Asia

Illustration for TIME by Harry Harrison

Not only are the rich (and famous) different from you and me--they are pampered, coddled and wooed in ways most folks couldn't even begin to imagine. Catering to the whims of celebrities, tycoons and other VIPs is big business for Asia's deluxe hotels and resort hideaways, long a playground for the world's weary wealthy.

Case in point: Seoul, where the Shilla and Grand Hyatt hotels vie for the city's VIP visitors. When Michael Jackson stayed at the Shilla last month, the pop star and his children spent four nights in the presidential suite (at $4,300 a night), while his entourage occupied an additional 48 rooms in the five-star digs. For this, his third stay, the staff donned black jackets and white gloves (two, not one), set up TV monitors in the lobby playing his videos round-the-clock, commissioned an ice sculpture and a cake in Jackson's likeness, supplied his favorite computer games and arranged for local kids dressed in Korean costumes to greet him with traditional songs when he stepped into his suite. A nearby hospital was also put on 24-hour standby in case his two-year-old son Prince took ill. Nancy Lee, a Shilla spokeswoman, says Jackson's visit was a triumph for the staff, particularly in the wake of the "great regret" she says they felt when Queen Elizabeth chose the top suite at the Grand Hyatt Seoul for her four-day visit in April. That's the same $4,600-a-night spot where Charles and Diana decided to call it quits in 1992 and where Bill Clinton stayed last year.

Hotel perks don't begin to compare with the lengths to which resorts go for famed guests. Forget limo pickups; Amanresorts' Asian properties offer chartered helicopters and private planes for discreet arrivals. "We even arranged for one guest's car to be flown in so he could drive his own car from the airport," says Trina Dingler Ebert, the group's marketing director. Four Seasons' two resorts in Bali (where villas run up to $2,400 a night) and its property in the Maldives are frequented by supermodels, sports stars and Hollywood escapees. Julia Gajcak, public relations director for the three resorts, has heard it all. She has been called upon to find a Harley Davidson motorcycle for an actor and to fly in all manner of goodies, including an actress' favorite brand of cigarettes, a Hawaiian surfing instructor to teach a British royal and an engagement ring for an entertainer's impromptu proposal. "We love to be challenged," Gajcak says, adding that meeting such requests "is what makes this business so great."

Hoteliers will also go to great pains to protect the privacy of their famous guests. "As much as we strive to make this a home away from home for heads of state and return guests alike, most of them just want to be left alone to enjoy all our hard work," says Jeanne Datz, director of communications for the Hilton chain, which now uses VIP guests in its ad campaigns. The ultimate mark of a great hotel? They kiss but don't tell.


July 19, 1999

Off The Shelf
Thom Henley's decade of leading eco-tours in the region has taken him well off the beaten path

Short Cuts
More stringent restrictions on luggage being checked in at Singapore's Changi Airport

Chichin Island is an ice-cream cone's throw from Taiwan's southern port city of Kaohsiung

Web Crawling
Avoid faux pas abroad by ordering a "Culturgram" before you go

Main Feature
The ultimate mark of a great hotel? They kiss but don't tell

ASIANOW Travel Home | TIME Asia home



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