Yachts, Gowns, and Helicopters, or, Just Another Day at the Office for This Cannes Concierge
What's it like to cater to the whims and wishes of the world's biggest movie stars and most demanding clients? When your motto is to never say no to any request and to always surprise and delight? We caught up Gilles Bastoni, the head concierge at Hôtel Barrière Le Majestic, the super chic French Riviera hotel in Cannes, to find out.
For Gilles Bastoni, the head concierge at Hôtel Barrière Le Majestic in Cannes, celebrity demands and last-minute requests from the yacht set are nothing out of the ordinary. The Cannes film festival, which returns to the Riviera this May, is Bastoni’s Olympics, the event he and his team of eight spend all year preparing for. But for Bastoni, arranging a surprise party overlooking the Mediterranean or helicoptering in a gown from Paris are just small parts of another day at the office. Cannes — and all that goes with it — is in his blood. He was raised in town and spent his childhood popping in and out of the concierge desk which his father ran for decades beginning in 1975. When Bastoni assumed the role of making the impossible seem possible, vowing to never say no to any guest’s (legal) request (and there are upwards of 500 requests per day), he was not only stepping into storied role in the world of luxury hospitality, but carrying on his family’s legacy in Cannes. We caught up with the tight-lipped Bastoni on a whirlwind day in the weeks leading up to the festival and asked about growing up in Cannes, never saying no, and how we can get into the invite-only festival.
Tell me about growing up in Cannes and at Le Majestic.
I was born and raised in Cannes; my father was the head concierge at Le Majestic from 1975 to 2018. As a kid, I have memories of coming in and having breakfast behind the desk with my dad. So my history with Le Majestic started quite a long time ago. When I was a bit older, I would come to the hotel often and say hello with friends. I’ve known a lot of people who worked here, even before I started. Basically, I'm a Majestic child.
What inspired you to continue in your father’s footsteps?
I first I wanted to be a professional golfer. (I stopped when I was about 21 as I was turning pro.) One of my sponsors, who had a big yacht company, asked if I could take care of his guests and everything during the film festival. I said, yeah, okay, why not? It's a nice thing to do during the festival. This was the first time I really had contact with the clients — not in the hotel, but with clients. And it seemed quite natural. I already had the language skills because I spoke French, English, and Italian, and because I was having fun with the people and trying to help them as much as I could, it was a job without being a job. That's where I really began, and when I had the opportunity at Le Majestic, I jumped in.
What’s a typical day like?
I arrive at a hotel around 8 a.m. and make sure everything is okay at the concierge desk. I check if anything happened during the night shift or if there is anything urgent to do. Then I check in with the doormen and the porters. Around 9, I have a morning briefing to talk about the day, the arrivals, what happened the day before. I also take care of guest relations, so I see if there have been any problems, if I need to contact any guests, if we are expecting big arrivals. During the summer and high season, the whole day is spent responding to demands and requests. It’s a lot: The concierge desk gets 500 to 600 phone calls and 150 to 200 emails every day. Guests want to enjoy their day and look to use to tell them what they can do. They want us to book restaurant dinners, parties, excursions, help them rent boats, whatever they're going to do. Most of time, it’s last-minute. We often have three people working the concierge desk and more in the back office. It’s crazy. There’s no time to think, really. We don't have the time to get bored.
How does the work change during the film festival?
It’s the same job with different requests. Guests who are trying to find tickets to go to the red carpet, which is invitation only — that kind of thing. Or trying to get in a restaurant when they’re all booked. The phone keeps ringing. It’s exciting because there are lots of challenges, and it’s very important to satisfy everyone. We want them to keep coming back year after year.
I’ve heard that your goal is to never say no. How do you do that? Let's say I'm staying at the hotel, just a normal person, and I want to go to the film festival, and you have absolutely no tickets.
Once you get to the hotel, every guest is going to be considered the same. I'm going to try and do my best to satisfy your request. If I cannot do it for today, I'll try and do it for tomorrow. But I want you to leave the hotel with a smile and be happy. I'll find the solution.
What are some of the more difficult things you've had to arrange?
You know, the most difficult thing is always the amount of time you have to arrange the situation. Sometimes something very stupid — like buying something on a Sunday with all the shops are closed — is as difficult as getting a guest into the toughest party in town. It really depends. A few years ago, during the big amfAR event, we had a guest who really wanted to go to the after party. The thing is, the tickets are really expensive. Let's just say that we tried really hard to make it happen. And we did. One time, a dress that was forgotten in Paris had to be in Cannes for 6 p.m. for the film festival red carpet. So we rented a helicopter. There are plenty of little things like that. You need to find a solution to anything.
How do you prepare for the high season? Is there anything you can do during the winter to get everyone in shape for the summer?
What is very important for the concierge desk is having the same staff all year. We are a team of eight; we know who we're working with and we're confident with each other. We're really a big family and we know what we have to do. Most of us have worked here for 10 to 25 years. It’s always a challenge and always exciting when the film festival arrives.
How have things changed at the hotel and in Cannes since your father was concierge in the 1970s?
Cannes is a special destination. The main thing that has changed is that we used to be busy between the festival and the end of September. Now there are attractions all the time, which has made Cannes a year-round city.
The hotel has changed totally. We built a new wing in 2009 and added spectacular rooms. The guests have also changed. What's funny is that we have the children and grandchildren of the people who used to come 50 years ago. These guests have pretty much the same story I have: They grew up here during the summers. Because we see them year over year, we form real relationships.
Have the demands changed?
The demands have changed and the way of asking has changed because now we have many ways of communicating — WhatsApp, emails, phone, guests in the lobby. The level of service has also evolved. We need to change with the times to make things happen. We have to stay focused, stay guided, and work to solve what they're looking for. So, yes, demands change, but we change, too. We have to stay on top of everything new so we can propose new solutions for guests. We need to finds new things to offer a guest who has been coming to Le Majestic for twenty years and offer suggestions to make the trip exceptional for them.
What are you looking forward to this season?
We know that people are happy to travel this year — happy to rediscover their real life — and they all want to enjoy it. We are really looking for a big season and a big film festival, this year celebrating its 75th anniversary. A big American production is coming because Top Gun II is premiering on the second night. Is important for the festival and for the season to have international films and an American blockbuster.
We know our guests are looking forward to coming back to Le Majestic. The hotel is like their summer home. Because everything pretty much stopped for two years, I think it will be very emotional this year. That’s what makes the Le Majestic different from other places. Our guests are always happy to see us.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.