Scott Bloom, the owner of a Manhattan-based commercial real estate brokerage, drives a beat-up car he bought in 1999 and has no plans to shell out the cash for a new one. But he had no qualms about plunking down $10,000 with the Entrepreneurs' Organization for a two-day VIP experience at golf's Masters Tournament in Augusta, Ga., earlier this month. The hefty fee granted Mr. Bloom the chance to watch the first days of action on the golf course and, more important, provided access to the clubhouse at the moment the players learned whether they would advance in the tournament.
"The thrill I get from looking forward to going, [then] going, and then the memories I have afterwards, are more significant to me than, say, buying a new car," Mr. Bloom said. "I want to spend my money on experiences now."
Attitudes like Mr. Bloom's are growing among the top 1%. Bored by spending their excess cash on luxury goods, and still wary of being accused of conspicuous consumption even years after the financial crisis, the wealthy are looking to high-end experiences and access to celebrities, professional athletes and exclusive events to get their kicks. A growing number of small companies like Black Door Experiences and Goviva are popping up to cash in on the trend; for the right price, they are able to make people's fantasy vacations come true.
"People will spend money for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Jacob Zucker, marketing and event manager for Quintessentially Lifestyle NY, a luxury concierge service. "It's all about access."
The world's super-rich spent $1.8 trillion last year on luxury acquisitions. But according to a study by Boston Consulting Group, an estimated $1 trillion went to services like exotic vacations and VIP seats at the Grammys, not goods. A number of recently released research studies have been showing that the initial pleasure of buying a new possession fades in a relatively short period of time, but that the happy memories of an experience last longer.
That sentiment is creating a booming business for a number of entrepreneurs. Robert Tuchman launched Goviva in 2011 to provide high-end sports and lifestyle experiences. His initial business mostly came from corporations looking to entertain clients, but requests from individuals asking to buy his packages have grown so much that the company this month is launching a site targeted toward them.
A few months ago, he arranged VIP packages for more than 650 people to attend the Super Bowl in New Jersey, and his company is taking more than 500 people to Brazil for the World Cup. He sets up dinners with hot chefs like Harold Dieterle and creates personal football fantasy camps with Giants players and ESPN announcers.
This year, Goviva will rake in roughly $15 million in revenue, a 50% increase over 2013.
"There is nothing we can't create if people ask us," Mr. Tuchman said, adding that celebrities are more willing to do personal events these days because they are interested in controlling their own brands in the age of Twitter and reality TV.
Rachel McIntyre, a former assistant to Hollywood star Stanley Tucci, is also bringing in big business by creating over-the-top events. She opened Black Door Experiences two years ago, and now annually jets clients to 172 events all over the world, ranging from Art Basel to the Kentucky Derby. In addition, she creates customized experiences.
Last October, for example, Ms. McIntyre arranged for Bon Jovi to perform at a birthday party for a client's wife and 28 of her friends, an event that had a "high-six-figure" price tag. She has booked Maroon 5 for bat mitzvahs, and she is currently planning a couple's 50th wedding anniversary trip to Nashville, Tenn., complete with a private visit to the set of ABC's hit show Nashville, a hot-air balloon ride and a picnic catered by a Michelin-starred restaurant.
Some requests are nearly impossible to fill, and that's when Ms. McIntyre rises to the challenge. One client's wife and family wanted desperately to meet country music singer George Strait. Mr. Strait won't meet with fans no matter what the price, but Ms. McIntyre knew that his wife runs the Jenifer Strait Memorial Foundation. So she asked if the singer would meet the family if they made a large donation.
Now her clients are getting front-row seats to one of Mr. Strait's concerts, backstage passes and a meeting with and a signed guitar from the artist.
"We had to get creative about what would get him ticking," Ms. McIntyre said.
Not every fat cat is eligible to enjoy these experiences, however. Companies that provide them often have a strict vetting process. American Express, which has offered its Centurion Cardholders the chance to sing onstage with Sting and to go shopping with designers like Marchesa and Alberta Ferretti, is so secretive that executives would not comment for this story.
The card is invite-only—AmEx won't reveal the criteria for who is invited—and it comes with a $5,000 initiation fee plus $2,500 in annual dues.
Ms. McIntyre said she turns down interested clients every day. Her business is referral-only, and she interviews all potential customers.
"You have to have a certain caliber, a level of clout, and classiness and presentation," Ms. McIntyre said. "I won't set up a meet-and-greet with Justin Timberlake with someone creepy who will make a scene."
Zach Levow, a technology executive in Washington state, was introduced to Ms. McIntyre through his membership in a high-end travel club. In February, she arranged a trip to New York Fashion Week for Mr. Levow and his wife. They got backstage access to a number of shows and met Diane von Furstenberg and Herv� L�ger. They went to after-parties and were escorted through the crowds like royalty.
Mr. Levow declined to divulge how much he paid for the trip, but said he will definitely do it again.
"It's becoming much more interesting to get exciting experiences rather than material purchases," he said. "The value of the purchase often falls, but an experience stays with you for life."
A version of this article appears in the April 21, 2014, print issue of Crain's New York Business as "Experience preferred".