For a former bricklayer from the harsh environment of East London, it has been quite a journey to the rarified air of the handful of people who can pull off truly ultimate travel experiences.
Steve Sims didn’t finish high school and has no college degree. In the early 1980s he nonetheless became a stockbroker in London and later Hong Kong. He was fired from the latter job in five days. With no money to leave Hong Kong, Steve picked up a job as a bouncer for a local nightclub. As he began to meet and network the affluent visitors, he began to understand what it meant to be a part of this exclusive world, and from there germinated the idea for Bluefish, “the world’s first luxury concierge,” as he calls it, perhaps a bit extravagantly. Bluefish focuses on delivering the impossible. As Sims claims, Bluefish has never failed to meet a request. And these aren’t the usual tough Broadway or La Scala ticket requests we’re talking about. His highlight reel includes arranging for someone to sing live on-stage with Journey, taking a submarine to the site of the Titanic, and setting up an intimate dinner party at the foot of the immortal statue of David in Florence. With Andrea Bocelli singing for the guests.
He does, however, and admirably, draw the line at organizing a Nuclear Bomb test, which, yes, he was asked to.
You started as a stock broker, but that didn’t work out.
Yeah, that’s an understatement. No knowledge, no experience.
I was completely ignorant to the world of luxury. It didn’t really scare me because I didn’t know it existed. I did want to work with affluent people.I became a vendor for what affluent people wanted. Now my focus was always on the client. You could’ve wanted to go backstage at the Grammy’s. I had no care for that part of it. I cared about why you wanted it. A part of that was, being nosy myself as a poor lad in east London and just wanting to know, well, why do you want to do this?
So I never ever thought it was going to be a job. It was quite simply just a way for me to get to talk to rich people.
And it kind of just grew from there?
From getting people into night clubs to actually hosting parties at nightclubs, to getting people into award shows and fashion weeks. And then getting up backstage to meet famous people. It literally was stepping stone to stepping stone. If you had talked to me when I was on the door of a nightclub in Hong Kong, and said “Hey, you’re going to be working with Elon Musk.” I would be like, are you mad?
Everything just happened. I would send someone to the Monaco Grand Prix and then they would say, oh, Ferrari is doing a special party on a yacht. And then I’ve managed to get him into that, and then I’d managed to get him into a Ferrari factory. Every time you got a connection, that connection would already be there for you again. It would also become a phenomenal resource. If I needed a famous athlete or singer that I didn’t know, then I could get other famous athletes and singers to contact that person and go, hey, he’s a weird guy but he knows what he’s doing. I became a great leverager of connections.
Is it true that you are one hundred percent referral based?
Yes, you look at our website and try and find the phone number. A lot of people say they have a referral business, and I say to them, okay, does your website have a phone number and an email to contact you? And they go, yeah. And I said, well, you are not a referral business. You just happen to get a lot of referrals. But me, I don’t even have a way for you to contact me.
What is the most common, most mainstream kind of request? Or are they all unique in their own sense?
No. they’re not. You know, we do bread and butter stuff. We deal with predominantly busy people. We deal with politicians, celebrities. We deal with a wide array of people. We’ve got clients who refuse to stay in any brand name hotel, so it’s only boutique. We have clients that when they fly, they refuse to have a window seat, they only want an aisle. We build up a profile of our clients so that when they go, hey, I need to do this, we already know 80% of the answers to the questions that would normally be asked.
How does it work?
We do a full interview process. We ask some of the most random questions. The real key with us is, when you come on board as a client, you get one dedicated host and that host will learn as much about you as possible, so you don’t have to ask all the questions.
What sets you apart from American Express Travel, say, or other top level travel services?
We are independent, and we work for the client. If we can get a better commission at one hotel and then another, that’s irrelevant to us. We actually make sure all of our travel partners pay us 10%. So we’ve got no incentive outside of that. American Express works on relationships, but they also work on profit margins. Secondly, there’s no call center with Bluefish. You get an agent and when you get that agent you can text them, phone them. You can contact them a million ways. You’re dealing with one source and building a relationship with that person.
I’m 50 years old, but I remember when you walked into a store on a Saturday afternoon, and as a kid there would be a comic, and the guy in the magazine store remembered you. He knew that you like these comics and would be like, “Steve, I just got this in.” Nowadays you walk into a store to buy something, and they just look at you and they don’t get to know you. You know what they care about? If your credit card works. So it’s that old school getting to know the client, getting to know the customer. We focus on that. All of that connectivity is dying, and we want to bring you in an old school style.
What is the most absurd request you’ve had? And what’s the most absurd request that you did pull off?
For a start, whenever a client asks us for anything, we see how much further we can take it. Even if we fail on achieving what we want, we always exceed what the client requested. Does that make sense?
So we’ve never failed on a client’s request. Probably the answer to your second question is we had a client that wanted to take his fiancé to an exclusive restaurant in Florence, Italy. Instead of booking a hotel, I actually took over the Accademia, set up a table of six at the feet of Michelangelo’s David in the museum, that we cleared out on three o’clock that afternoon. At the feet of the most iconic statue, I had Andrea Bocelli come in and serenade them. If we had given the client what he asked for, he would not have been disappointed. He would have got what he asked. But that demonstrates how far we take things.
Is there something that would be incredible but maybe unrealistic?
Well it wasn’t so much that it wasn’t realistic. We had a client contact us when we had an office in Palm Beach. He wanted to detonate a nuclear warhead. Bottom line is there are loads of testing stations all over the nation, and I’m sure that if you made a big enough donation, they would allow you to push the button. But it wasn’t something that we were keen on doing, and this guy quite simply just wanted to push the bottom on the most destructive thing in the world. So we refused it.
You worked with Trump, right?
Yes. When you are working with a man sometimes, you never look at him and think, you’re one day going to be the most powerful man in America, and possibly the world. I worked with him for, or his group and him for, two events when I was in Palm Beach. It was the Michael Milken Pro-Am tennis tournament that we partnered with and helped promote and market. I saw how he managed the crowd. He loves authority, loves being adored. As a businessman I’ve found him fair, strong, ruthless, but fair. I definitely didn’t expect that he would be the man running America.
Money alone can’t get everyone and everything lined up! Tell us about your charms…
Money is the easiest way to get a no, you need to lead with a reason and passion – get them into buying your dream and mission. Money is nothing more than the footnote then.
When you travel with your family, what do you like to do and where do you go?
I love where I have not been or have not been for many, many years, and when I go I get tour guides – I want to know what I would have walked past and not noticed
I actually love tour guides. Within the first two days, we have someone take us somewhere and teach us something. When we were in Japan, we went to the fish market before it got demolished. We went to learn how they buy fish and then we cut the fish ourselves and made sushi at 10 o’clock in the morning. But we did it.
That’s interesting — I tend to steer away from them. I think by getting away from a tour guide, I’m going to find these authentic experiences on my own, but I end up veering more towards inauthenticity.
You’ve heard of FOMO, haven’t you? I remember, and I can’t remember where it was, but I remember the moment that I came back from traveling and someone said to me, “Oh , did you see this?” And I remember turning around going, “I didn’t even know it was there.” And that feeling, knowing that you were 10 feet away from that experience, and you didn’t even know it. If you think about your neighborhood, you probably got stuff that you have no idea how culturally significant it is or what story it’s got to tell.
Have you ever gone to Rockefeller Plaza in NYC? On Fifth Avenue St Patrick’s Cathedral is across the road, facing the sculpture of Atlas holding the world on his shoulders.
Now, have you ever stood behind that Atlas and looked at the Cathedral? When I took my kids to New York, we got people to take us on a tour of the Rockefeller Plaza, and show us all the artwork and what it meant. The church was disgusted that Rockefeller had this building for nothing more than just exposure of how much wealth they had. Rockefeller wanted to put this statue of Atlas holding the world on his back, and they were disgusted by it. Okay, here’s something I want you to do: the next time you’re in New York, walk behind Atlas and look at the church. When you do that, Atlas is actually bent over with his arms out straight resembling Jesus being crucified, and he’s bowing to the church. When they designed it, they actually brought the church elders over, stood them behind Atlas and showed them how Atlas was actually bowing to the Church rather than showing off wealth. And that’s why the church elders were OK with it. Every time I go pass that now, I know that story.
Your point is about finding a different perspective.
It’s perspectives. If we are having a meal in New York, we were having a giggle. Then all of a sudden we’re having the same chat in a little bar in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, or Florence, you’re talking with different people, you’re having different vibes. You’re growing with your perspective. They say “there’s nothing that makes you richer than travel.”
How do you view the hospitality industry?
The biggest problem is that most people think hospitality is about adapting a precious attitude with whoever they’re speaking with. There is an air of arrogance about them, that you are almost disturbing them by asking them for help. Or on the other hand, they go, “Oh yes sir. It’s a pleasure sir. Oh yes, how can I help you?” People forget that hospitality should focus on just one thing and it’s the person. And how can we take your experience from really cool to exceptional. Hospitality is all about giving you an experience that will trigger an emotion anytime. Hospitality should be focused solely on creating triggers that whenever you’re in a restaurant in New York, and you smell a certain smell, it transfers you back to when you first got that smell. And I think nowadays we’re getting better at that, but we’re still quite a while away.
Do you feel you are circumventing the industry?
I don’t think I’m stirring it up but honestly I think I am what most of them should be.
What would be your Super Bowl? Is there some extraordinary experience you dream of having?
The funny thing is, I’m actually a very unexciting person. I ride motorcycles. I drink whiskey, and I barbecue. The beautiful thing about my job is that it doesn’t allow me to get bored. I’m in Vegas tomorrow, and then I fly to Thailand, and I’m giving a speech in Phuket. While I’m over there I’m going to go and ride elephants to Chiang Mai. I never allow myself to get bored and 99% of the time it’s because my clients create these things that I have to get involved in, and I never would have. As a guy that loves Queen and heavy metal and that kind of music, I never thought I’d be sitting next to Andrea Bocelli in Florence, talking about family and travel. What would excite me? Just to wake up in the morning and do some things that I haven’t done before.