Bill power

SHAFQUAT ALI talks to the man who is better known as Mr Luxury Travel
Fischer … selling fantasies

SOMEBODY paid me a surprise visit on Christmas Day.

Nope, it wasn’t Santa. But, come to think of it, he was the next big thing to the man in red. It was Mr Luxury Travel himself.
Yes, Bill Fischer, CEO of Fischer Travel, is not an easy person to pin down – in fact, he’s so elusive, or exclusive, that he has even unlisted his phone number. Even though he counts the most famous in the show business and certainly the wealthiest among his clients, he doesn’t believe in including his phone number in his business card nor does he bother to advertise because he already has a long waiting list of topnotch clients.
Apparently, when Oprah Winfrey called him after reading an article on him in The New York Times, Fischer put on an annoyed voice and asked, “How did you get this number?” “Well, I have a big investigative staff and I pay them a lot of money and they got the number,” she quipped. Of course, he was only too happy to add her as a client.
Not surprising then, I was delighted when he personally invited me over to join him to a Christmas lunch at Burj Al Arab.

“I had heard so much about the hotel from you and others that I decided to come down and check it out,” he informed me over a seven-course meal. So, what does Fischer have to say about the world’s only seven-star hotel? “Hmmm… it’s good but there are a few things that need to be fixed,” he says flashing a Cheshire grin. “Well, I will write to Gerald (Jumeirah International’s CEO) and gave him my suggestions.”
Coming from a man who makes it his business to keep tabs on the world’s best hotels and to discover the next great place, these are suggestions I am sure that Gerald Lawless will not take lightly. The last time he was heard telling Isadore Sharp, the chairman and CEO of Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, that he needed to add more connecting rooms and before he walked out of his office in Toronto, Sharp did just that.
After all, when Fischer recommends a hotel to one of his high-profile clients – Calvin Klein, Sanford I Weill and Bruce Wasserstein, to name just a few – he makes sure that it’s nothing but the best. Why else do you think that each of his 500-odd members – that rarified Fischer five hundred club as it’s better known – pay him a $20,000 membership fee plus a $5,000 annual retainer? And that too just to get connected to the travel fixer!
But then, Fischer is more than a masterful marketer and promoter. What he offers his clients is unmatched service; what he sells is fantasy. And demanding his clients certainly are: one wants to have a little party at Scotland’s hyper-exclusive Skibo Castle, where Madonna got married, another wants to rent a private island in the Caribbean and yet others want to swim with the dolphins, play golf with Tiger Woods and swing a racket with Anna Kournikova… You get the drift?
But whatever it is that that his clients want, the only answer that they have come to expect from Fischer is: Done!
The only time you hear a faint no from the man who is better known as the ‘Secret Travel Agent of the Stars’ is when you address him as a travel agent. Yes, you heard that right. “Just don’t call me a travel agent,” he winks. “Call me the world’s most exclusive concierge if you please.” Or the maestro of pampering. After all, by his own admission, even when VPs of luxury hotel chains can’t arrange a room in their own sister properties, they call him!
Well, they also call him to for a pair of Super Bowl tickets or to book an appointment with the dermatologist in Manhattan with a six- month waiting list or, for that matter, to arrange a special  dinner by a top Michelin-star chef. Clearly, no job is too big – or too small – for this man who is ready to book half the camels in Marrakech and have them shampooed with Johnson’s Baby shampoo and their teeth brushed with Crest simply because that’s what a client wanted to do for his birthday bash and thinks nothing of secretly transporting an elephant in the dead of night for a doting wife who wanted to surprise her husband on a special day!
Of course, the bottom line is that all this comes for a price. And Fischer, who has clients from the Americas to Europe to Asia to the Middle East, is known for his rigid no deals, no rate concessions policy.
And the best part is that his clients don’t gave a damn. All they are concerned about is getting their work done or giving wings to their fantasy. “My clients are prepared to spend whatever they have to to get whatever they want,” he says as a matter of fact.
“Take, for instance, one of my client who was recently booked at the penthouse suite at the Four Seasons Sharm El Sheikh for ten nights and I got a call from the hotel saying that Prince Walid’s cousin was coming to the hotel and wanted that accommodation. He was willing to move my client to the presidential suite and he would pay for his entire stay and that was $85,000. I called my client and asked him what he wanted to do but, inside me, I knew his answer. And true enough, he didn’t take a moment to say no.”
Clearly, for Fischer’s client, the bill is not important; Bill is!