In this day and age, we have taken “celebration” to a different level. With too many vendors, locations, and providers to choose from or lack of it, the first and one of the biggest decisions you need to make for your special day is choosing who your planner will be. In this episode, Andrea Soueidan and Voula Maroussis from Altitude Connections, a global concierge service for corporate and personal needs, share their journey to finding their passion for true customer service. They also tell us their strategies for making every service they provide and every event they plan a success.
Watch the episode here
Listen to the podcast here
Global Concierge And Wedding Planning Inspo With Andrea Soueidan And Voula Maroussis
In this episode, we have Soueidan and Voula Maroussis from Altitude Connections, a global concierge service for both corporate and personal needs. Welcome to the show, ladies.
Thank you for having us.
Ladies, you have been in this business for how long, how did it start, and what made you get into the event concierge business? Andrea, would you like to start by introducing us to who you are and what the business is about?
It started ten years ago. I am born and raised in Montreal. I kept connections all over the world because my origin is Lebanese from Lebanon. I lived in Chicago for sixteen years and in Dubai for five years. I got the idea mainly from Dubai where I saw a lot of people that not only do have that luxury lifestyle, but there isn’t enough time in the day to do everything, when you want to focus on your business, you want to plan an event, you want to organize the dinner, or you want to send flowers to a loved one. When I came back to Montreal ten years ago, I thought, “Let me start this business.” I started as a personal concierge, and then grew to a corporate concierge.
During COVID, we launched our event planning segment. Without any regrets, I met Voula a couple of years back. She wasn’t ready at the time. When I wanted to launch it again, she was ready. She goes, “Now, I’m ready. I have more time. My kids are older,” because it takes a lot of time. You need to be dedicated. The personal concierge was a little tough to educate people in Montreal about what it is because they thought it was maintenance and cleaning in a building. It’s not that at all. I was out and about for the first 2 or 3 years to put the name out there. Reputation is very important for both of us. In order to retain our clients, you have to make things happen. We’re going to make magic happen, whether it’s concierge or event planning.
Dubai is amazing. When you travel and you especially live in different places, you get to experience different cultures and different ways of doing things. It must be influential in the sense that we must see it when you plan your events. You must have that little extra taste and that flavor that you add to the event. Am I correct in saying that?
You’re right. We’re blessed to have that little extra taste. Even in holiday shopping now or when we send flowers, as a personal concierge, they leave it all up to us because they’ve tried us a couple of times. Now, it’s just, “Andrea, it’s all yours. It’s my son’s birthday, my daughter’s birthday. Here’s the budget. You do whatever you want.” I’m like, “Okay, great. This is fun.” We get into it I must say. We do it from all our hearts and we care. We enjoy doing what we do best.
Voula, you came into this a few years ago and you’re more concentrated on the event planning section or department in the business. How did you come in and what is it that you brought into the business?
Originally, many years ago, I was working in sales and marketing in the wedding industry with Elegance Wedding Magazine. Working with them, I had the pleasure and the honor of meeting a lot of wedding specialists in Montreal. I met Andrea there. We connected a few years ago and we kept in touch. She always wanted me to be a part of her team because knowing all the vendors and knowing their strengths and abilities gives me insight into how to plan a wedding with a budget in mind. When you know everyone in Montreal, it’s so easy to plan a wedding. I brought in that Elegant Wedding from my background.
A few years ago, I jumped in as her event coordinator and event planner. I bring a lot of insights, having already formed relationships with most people in Montreal. It’s so fulfilling to make everyone happy. As we say, in Altitude Connections, we make the budget happen. There’s not an event that we can do. 2021 was very challenging with all my COVID brides. We went through so many ups and downs together. I take all the brides personally in my heart because I want them to be happy and fulfilled that this is their dream come true.
It was very challenging. I was planning a wedding sometimes in two weeks and six weeks, where normally, you have six months or a year. We were doing it in fast-forward mode. We had some beautiful weddings and we went through the ups and downs together. I’m also there not only to plan their event and coordinate it but also to be a support system to make decisions for them.
Many people will probably be wondering during this show, what do events with wedding planners have to do anything with retreats? I’ll tell you why I chose you to come to the show. One of the things that people need to see are different perspectives on how to make an event magical, how to make it work for the client, and how to set goals that are met for the client, for their vision. Everything has to come out in an event. I think there is no other events specialist that has more pressure on them than to create a magical day for the bride. The groom is there but it’s mostly about the bride. We all know that.
The key thing in any event planning is to listen, plan, inform, and understand expectations from your clients and vice versa.
More and more grooms are involved.
I’m sure they are, not like before, but the bride is the one.
It’s about her dream come true.
It’s a magical day. What I want to know from you because some people have a vision or they want something but they have a hard time expressing it. How do you get that vision up from the couple? How do you get it from them? How are you able to connect and realize what they’re asking for to make it and more of what they wanted? This is what I want. I want to know what your little trick is to that.
One of them is I love to meet the couple usually, sometimes it’s the bride or the couple, the future bride and groom. I like to connect with them face to face. It was a bit challenging in 2021 because it was mostly on Zoom like we’re doing now. You have to listen. What is their vision? I always ask the question. What’s the idea? What is it that they’ve been dreaming of? What colors do they love? What inspires them? There are brides telling me they love champagne and they love sparklers.
By hearing those keywords of something special to both of them, whether it’s a special cocktail drink or its flowers or colors, I listen. From what they’ve discussed with me, I take it and I turn it one more notch above what they’re talking about. I’ll show them inspirational pictures. I’ll tell them the trends and I’ll incorporate all their inspiration, likes and desires into the wedding, and to make it personalized. I think that the wedding day has to be personalized to the bride and groom. I take that whatever it could be. Whether it’s a special drink or a moment in dancing with a special song or a showcase. I’ll take their dreams and make them into a reality.
Dreams are emotions, feelings and visions. That’s what the goal is, to get that emotion out of them and out of the guests too because the guests create energy during that evening. It depends on how happy and how festive the couple is. Do you agree with that?
Yes, and I also go with a mood. When I create my timeline, I go consult with the bride and groom. What is important to them? Everybody has different importance. Some, it’s like to have speeches and has shared moments with their family and with their fathers and their mothers. Others are completely getting rid of all that traditional sectors in a wedding and they just want to party. They want to dance. I look at what the bride and groom’s energy is.
Others want to have sophisticated moments of having a long cocktail hour with champagne and singers because that’s their desire. I work off the energy of the couple. I sit down and I’m there also as emotional support to them to make decisions because sometimes, they’re very indecisive. They don’t know the reality of how long a photographer needs or what time each meal will be served. I sit there and I plan out the whole day. How do they want to feel?
That’s the most important thing. I relieve all stress from the bride and groom. I take on the stress for them. I take care of all the vendors. I’m coordinating the whole event where it’s a flawless, easy and happy moment where they could concentrate on their own emotions and the experience. We give them that experience at Altitude Connections.
What I’m hearing is to listen very quickly beyond the lines and between the lines, plan everything and then inform the clients so they are aware of everything. They feel like you’re under control of everything. They just have to show up and celebrate. The expectations are known once the wedding starts from before.
We also tell them, “You are a guest. When you’re a bride and a groom, enjoy it. Enjoy this moment. Enjoy all this planning that we did throughout the past six months or two weeks together. That day, you need to enjoy it.” We always tell them, “Your guests won’t know if there’s a strawberry missing on a piece of the pie. They won’t know if we changed the flavors of the ice cream because this remains between us.” That’s the other thing we tell them.
Does the couple ever have someone within their own party be there in between person? Let’s say the maid of honor. Can the maid of honor be in charge of certain things to be able to come up to you and say, “There’s something wrong or she needs this or the couple needs that?” Does that happen? Do they have people within their own party to help out with messaging?
I always keep in touch with the bridal party. I know the key people, which are the parents, the maid of honor, the groomsmen, the bridesmaids and the best man. I do have all their cell numbers and all their contacts. I want them to also enjoy the experience. They only come to me if there’s something that happens behind the scenes like in the limousine while I’m not there. I’m in the reception hall. I do keep in touch with the bridal party. So far, I foresee if there will be a problem and I resolve it before it becomes a problem. That’s one of my specialties. I figure in time where people don’t put in the time they need to relax and rest after their pictures. I always give them some time to rest, drink, hydrate and enjoy the experience.
That’s where usually some meltdowns happen before the grand entrance. I’m there with a bridal party to make sure everybody is on time. If there’s something specific they want, they could text me. I’m a phone call or text away. I’m waiting for them at the bridal suite. Yes, I do keep in touch a little bit but generally, no. Usually, if everything goes as planned according to my timeline, they enjoy the experience as well. They’re enjoying the party and enjoying the moments with the bride because these are the special people that they have allocated to be part of their journey.
I feel always very honored to be part of that. That’s what I think gives me so much happiness. It’s a rite of passage that they begin in their life and I’m there by their side as their consultant, as their coordinator, but mostly as a best friend to make sure they get the best moments possible.
That’s what a planner should be.
I would tell them, “I’m going to become your best friend.”
Andrea, tell me. You say that the company is global. How are you global? What do you do internationally with the business?
For our clients, the ones that are regulars, if they need travel and they need restaurant reservations or they need tickets for a concert in other countries, we do contact the other countries. We contact other concierges. We collaborate or we call accounts. We do help them with that.
Do you help them with any events internationally as well or is it mostly reservation tickets to events? Do you prepare events globally for them?
Not yet, but we’ve had destination weddings where we collaborate with people like you and other companies. We don’t say no to anyone for any requests. We find a way. Even in the states, there were two weddings in 2021 and we were able to find the right planners that fit the client’s profile.
There’s a lot of trust between you and your clients. You can’t break that trust.
It’s very important. Have you ever been to a specific country? It’s impossible to have been everywhere around the world. People have to understand that. When you’re in the concierge or event industry where it’s global and international, it means you have people that you will either have on the ground or you will find the people on the ground and make sure they’re qualified.
There’s a lot of trust between you and your clients. You can’t break that trust. Therefore, we do our homework to make sure the referral or the reference that was given to us for another city or country is to par.
The thing is you have the tools. You have the expertise to know what to look for, who to speak to and where to go. It doesn’t matter which country it is. There is more red tape in other countries sometimes but it doesn’t matter. You still know who, what, where, and how. It doesn’t matter which country, especially when you’re doing anything in the destination.
You have to know the profile of the client. Even the planners there or the concierge in the other city will call us and ask us for more feedback. They will have more questions to know. There’s a difference between one spot and the other or one restaurant to the other. We give more input.
If somebody wants to create a retreat internationally and wants to hire you as someone who will find local activities, restaurants, chefs, whatever it may be, would that be something that you do?
The key thing in any event planning is to listen, plan, inform, and understand expectations from your clients and vice versa, what you need to expect from them. You got to assess their characters. How much do you do of that? When you meet a client, are you able to assess their needs by the type of character they are or their wants and needs and their demands? People are dynamic. Everybody is different. Not one person is the same. How do you assess the situation and the person within the situation?
When we get an email or when I get an email from the concierge service, I always ask the client the first time, “Can we jump on a call briefly?” I’m a people person and I need to feel you. I’m gifted for that. I feel people and I can assess them after twenty minutes to half an hour of conversation.
It’s very important. The assessment part is the key thing where you understand a lot of things about the client, and a good thorough assessment is needed. That way, there are no surprises later. Also for pricing. That’s how you know what you’re going to price the client. Am I correct? Is it at the time of the first assessment or do you wait to see everything else that they need?
I wait and see what they’re looking for. The consultation, whether it’s with me or with Voula, for event planning is complimentary. We say half an hour but we always exceed because you need a full conversation to know their likes, dislikes, how they are, and the plus and minuses. We’re very generous in our time, and then we assess the pricing.
What’s fantastic about you girls is your local to where I am as well in Montreal. I’ve seen a lot of the events that you’ve done and the things that you do. You’re very professional. Anybody would be very lucky to have you as their planner or concierge within the area or across.
You’re welcome. For anybody looking, whether it’s even a destination or a concierge within the destination that you’re at, and you’re not doing it yourself, then you want to hire it out. Why not hire a concierge like Altitude Connections? Thank you so much for being here. Is there a place where we can direct the audience as to where they can find you and reach out to you?
What’s your website?
Thank you, ladies. For anybody who’s reading, it’s Altitude Connections. Thank you. Have a great day.
Have a good day. Thank you so much.