Some years ago I was staying at the posh Hotel Hassler in Rome and was surprised to find that not only were celebrities staying at the property, but they were very much in plain sight. I passed the well-known daughter of a former U.S. president in the street outside the hotel's front door, for example, and while she may have had security personnel nearby, I didn't see them. An equally recognizable Italian clothing designer was also in residence, and I had no trouble spotting him in the lobby with his entourage.
For every famous person who doesn't mind being seen, however, there are at least as many for whom anonimity and security are paramount, and luxury hotels have a variety of methods to accommodate those needs.
"There are clearly well-known people who must have security and a very high level of privacy, and we choose where they stay very carefully," said Anne Scully, president of McCabe World Travel, a Virtuoso agency in McLean, Va. "Most five-star hotels can not only accommodate their every request ... they thrive on these types of clients."
Ideal properties should have private entrances and large enough accommodations so VIPs can dine in with guests, she said, as well as kitchens with high-end equipment for private chefs. To preclude them from having to mingle with other guests, the VIPs also usually want en suite spa treatments, a workout room with state-of-the-art gym equipment and a media room, Scully said.
"Private floors are ideal, especially when there is an entourage or security involved," said Jack Ezon, president of Ovation Vacations, a Virtuoso agency in New York. "Ideally, a hotel has a discreet driveway with a private entrance that leads to a private elevator to take the guest directly to their room," he said, adding: "It is also important to note the hotel's policy of photography in public spaces. We prefer smaller boutique hotels with discreet signs than larger, flashier hotels as they tend to attract less attention, paparazzi and other related issues."
Villas can also provide privacy and security, said Deborah Knighton, an independent travel advisor at Brownell Travel, a Virtuoso agency in Birmingham, Ala, suggesting that agents check to see if the grounds are protected by a gated entrance.
"Many [VIPs] want to fly privately, so it is important to consider access to an airport," Knighton said. "I had a client interested in St. Lucia, and Jade Mountain worked because the guest could be transported from the airport to a helicopter and land on their private helipad."
Swank hotels like Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai also greet guests arriving via helicopter to the rooftop landing area, at which point they are zipped to their suites for private check-in.
VIP guests whose need for privacy isn't that extreme can opt for penthouse accommodations that encompass the whole floor with private access elevators, ensuring that they can enter their suite without mingling with other hotel guests. Even those elevators that don't go directly to the suites will often limit access to certain floors to guests with enabled key cards.
AKA, for example, whose Beverly Hills, Calif., property just unveiled a Spago-in-Suite catering service for suite guests, is one of many hotel companies with this option.
"Most penthouse levels are key card access, and elevators are all key fob-based," said a spokesperson for the company, adding "AKA is extremely private and never reveals guest names."
But what about guests whose need for security goes beyond mere exclusivity, such as heads of state?
Some hotels we contacted simply won't talk about their procedures for publication on the assumption that doing so undermines their guests' safety.
The Hotel President Wilson overlooking Switzerland's Lake Geneva, on the other hand, trumpets the fact that its Royal Penthouse Suite boasts not only private access elevators but also bulletproof windows and doors.
In Washington, where the politicos are plentiful, the Royal Suite at the Four Seasons Hotel Washington D.C. also features bulletproof windows, while the Jefferson Hotel has multiple private entrances for VIPs wishing to avoid the lobby.
"If security is of grave concern, [guests] typically bring their own security, which often means they require an adjacent room or within the villa itself for that person or team," said Sasha Lehma, operations manager of Absolute Travel in New York. "Often aliases will be used for these clients, and it is important that the hotel make a clear distinction between the needs for their records in terms of having the passport details and the need to be discreet."
Brownell's Knighton concurred.
"Usually a security team flies into an area before the client," she said. "I often book the resort for many rooms for additional days so everything is already worked out long before the client arrives. The rooms are booked under alias and all the pertinent departments are aware of the VIP in house."