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Visitors Face Hurdles When Booking Hotel for Event

Visitors Face Hurdles When Booking Hotel for Event

Gold medals are one thing, but for many wealthy Americans heading to Paris for the Olympics, running July 26 to Aug. 11, there’s more to their must-dos than seeing Simone Biles, Sha’Carri Richardson and LeBron James compete — or spotting NBC Sports’ “chief superfan commentator” Leslie Jones taking in the action.

“The top request is an Hermès appointment,” says Jason Squatriglia of travel agency Embark Beyond. “It has to be a guaranteed leather goods [meeting], not just to get in the store and skip the line. They want to know they’ll be shown, perhaps, a mini Kelly or an exotic.” It’s a hint of the caliber of clients he’s sending to the Games. “These are not your traditional sports fans — these are your F1, Art Basel, Frieze clients, who want to do the best of the best and turn it into an exclusive shopping experience, like shutting Boucheron down on Place Vendôme.” Budget isn’t a barrier, either: For one family of four, a four-night stay is costing $280,000, and that’s only to cover their accommodation at Le Meurice (the Louis XVI-decorated five-star spot moments from the Tuileries), where everyone from Grace Kelly to Justin Bieber has stayed.

Paris is the latest city to see the Olympic torch arrive, along with millions of visitors — an expected 10 million, in fact, or almost 10 times as many as Rio de Janeiro hosted in 2016, for the last Summer Games to be unaffected by COVID-19. That surge is due both to pandemic-throttled, pent-up excitement and the built-in appeal of the City of Light.

“I am really looking forward to the events that are located at major Parisian landmarks. I think it will be spectacular — imagine watching an Olympic event [such as beach volleyball] under the Eiffel Tower. Magical!” says figure skating gold medalist Tara Lipinski, who will be a commentator for the closing ceremonies.

There’s continued availability at many luxe properties, note insiders. Many of the greedily required excessive minimums when bookings opened — as much as 18 nights — have since been softened, albeit not the prices; Squatriglia says that most upscale hotels are charging up to two and a half times their typical rates. Top spots include the Hôtel Plaza Athénée (where guests can find cheeky red dumbbells awaiting them in their rooms), the InterContinental Paris Le Grand, the Four Seasons Hotel George V and Rosewood’s Crillon, where Taylor Swift has stayed. It’s right by Place de la Concorde, where the 3×3 basketball competition will take place. (Many rooms are still available in Paris during the Summer Games via booking.com.)

The Intercontinental Le Grand, for one, is primed and ready. The property has kept a team of physical therapists and coaches on tap for its staff since last September, with pilates, yoga and other classes laid on so they can finesse their own fitness in preparation for the Games. “We have two sporting coaches, working in the hotel to prepare the team physically and emotionally,” says the property’s GM Christophe Laure, who’s also organizing internal Olympics between staff capped with a medal ceremony after the official Games concludes.

For the most desirable suites in Paris for his clients, Squatriglia has resorted to trading favors, such as, say, offering a hotelier some backstage Broadway access for their French travelers next time they’re in New York. Jonathan Alder, founder of Jonathan’s Travels, says his clients are budgeting $200,000 or more for their trips. One client, a family of five, is combining Paris with an adventure trip to Iceland, flying private from the Arctic Circle to the City of Light. The parents will stay at the Eiffel Tower View Suite at the Shangri-La Paris, where Jay-Z and Beyoncé have overnighted; it will set them back around $13,000 per day. “It’s non-refundable, or cancelable, for any reason, and all fully paid for the day it opened up,” says Alder.

This family isn’t alone: most high-end advisers note that this event has seen a shift in travel patterns for regulars. “I’ve gotten to know kids I knew existed but never had their information and preferences,” says Squatriglia, “I’ve been working with clients for years and this is the first time they’re going as a family unit.”

A guest room at the InterContinental Paris Le Grand with a view of the Eiffel Tower.

Courtesy of Subject

The experiences at the Paris Games are more tightly controlled than ever before, after IMG-owned On Location scored an exclusive contract from the International Olympic Committee to manage hospitality for Paris, the Milano Cortina 2026 Winter Games and Los Angeles 2028. The pick of the various packages is the On the Finish Line option — which can go up to around $9,225 per person, hotel stay not included — offering everything from gourmet dining to finish-line tickets and athlete meet-and-greets. On Location’s Paul Caine acknowledges it’s been challenging to help Olympic regulars understand that they can’t simply sidestep official channels as they might have in the past. “Anyone who didn’t go with us, but went with their legacy provider now? They will not make that decision for Milan or L.A.,” he says. Caine calls out the chance to experience the immersive opening ceremony, which will ditch the traditional stadium setting and instead unfurl along the banks of the Seine; On Location will host parties on some of Paris’ famed bridges for VIP viewing. Alder, meanwhile, is encouraging his clients to linger at the Shangri-La to avoid the crowds and ticket prices — he’s seen them cost up to $17,000 per person. “The hotel backs on to the river,” he says, “so with the opening ceremonies right there, you might be able to see some of it from your room, or host a party on the balcony to watch as it goes by.”

Restaurants are a particular challenge in Paris, which boasts more than 120 Michelin stars. In-demand spots have introduced minimums, agents explain, insisting that clients commit to spending perhaps $5,000 or more for supper to guarantee a hard-to-score table. “They want to know whether they’ll be ordering bottles of Macallan,” Squatriglia says. Philip Haslett, who runs French Promise, a local agency for VIPs, is fielding requests for such top spots as Girafe (overlooking the Eiffel tower) and Le Gabriel at La Réserve, which just earned three Michelin stars, as well as Don Juan II, the 36-seat river cruise with chef Frédéric Anton. “It’s a bit like ticket touters: People are booking tables in advance, and hanging on to them to sell to someone who needs it later,” Haslett notes. Entertainment industry power players will also likely be spotted at Trocadéro restaurant Gigi Rigolatto, known for its spectacular views, where Endeavor will host a hospitality lounge.

The Don Juan II on the River Seine.

Courtesy of Don Juan II

Scoring an after-hours tour of top monuments won’t be straightforward, either, as another operator explains — and all thanks to manpower: “Security is being used elsewhere, so they can’t do any VIP stuff.”

Perhaps the biggest hurdle for elite visitors to the Olympics is logistical. Parisian airspace is tightly controlled, effectively banning helicopters — the closest landing pad is in Issy-les-Moulineaux to the southwest; without traffic, that’s a 15-minute ride to downtown. Of course, there are likely to be jams, and chauffeurs are already scarce. Drivers are operating with 12-hour minimums, or triple the typical window, and though there will be VIP lanes, access remains murky. One of Alder’s clients has laid out $140,000 on cars alone, mostly thanks to a focus on the equestrian events, which are being held at the palace of Versailles.

It’s also unclear how VIPs will be whisked to and from Charles de Gaulle airport without waiting; the VIP greeter services there are notoriously unreliable. “Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t,” says one agent. But private jet bookings haven’t seen a huge uptick quite yet. David Gitman of Florida-based Monarch Air, for example, hasn’t seen significant volume, but anticipates a spike at the end of June. Fractional ownership specialist VistaJet reports stronger demand, mostly in the run-up to the opening.

The Rosewood Hôtel de Crillon, which dates back to the 1750s and underwent a radical reinvention a decade ago when Rosewood took charge, overlooks the famed Place de la Concorde

Courtesy of Rosewood Hotel Group

Jade-Li English — an agent with Klutch Sports Group who represents a number of WNBA stars who are expected to compete at the games — tells THR that she’ll be in Paris this year for a “solid 10 days.”

“I plan on doing as much as I possibly can but obviously supporting clients first and foremost,” says English. “Obviously, the Olympics are a once-in-a-lifetime type of moment.” In addition to the women’s basketball games, English hopes to be able to see the athletic stars like Biles, Richardson and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce compete. “It’s about really enjoying a truly world event,” adds English.

Some spectators though are avoiding the crowds by heading to the satellite events. Olympic windsurfing is in Tahiti, while sailing will be based in Marseille. Fraser Yachts has seen a specific request from a client for an 88-foot yacht so they can watch — and potentially follow — the action there. They insisted on a vessel outfitted with Jet Skis ready to go.

“A lot of my clients, they’re dying to go to the Olympics, and they don’t care about the prices. But even like that, they can’t get in,” says Squatriglia, noting that he’s still coming up short scoring gymnastics tickets for one client, a hedge funder, his wife and two adult daughters. “I haven’t seen this much demand in years.” The potential issues are one reason he plans to be on-site. “I might even end up driving a vehicle for them myself.”

The 270-foot Emir ship (which sleeps up to 28) is available in the Mediterranean during the Summer Games, which will include sailing competitions in the South of France. It’s bookable, at around $760,000 per week, through Fraser Yachts.

Courtesy of Fraser Yachts

A version of this story first appeared in the June 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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