Historically, airlines have been the dominant force in the travel industry’s pecking order. Governments, their tourist boards, local airports and even the private sector trekked to their headquarters, lobbying airline executives to open up new routes into their backyards.
Robust flight schedules made it easier for tourists to get there. Lots of nonstop flights helped communities attract companies that needed dependable air access to conduct business efficiently.
As part of the zeal to attract major airlines, it wasn’t unusual to see marketing support in the form of cooperative advertising dollars to promote new routes. In some cases, there were even subsidies to ensure airlines didn’t lose money as they grew passenger counts.
With carriers reeling from the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, and affluent consumers skittish about being crammed into full airplanes packed with hundred of people from who knows where, the travel industry is increasingly turning to private aviation providers.
It’s an interesting twist as private aviation has long operated outside the cross-section of the travel industry’s normal ecosystem of airlines, hotels, cruise lines, car rental agencies, tour operators, and travel agents, at least when it comes to pan-industry associations and events.
For example, the World Travel & Tourism Council, whose CEO-level membership seeks to provide a unified front for the industry, has a total of zero private jet companies.
Trade events like the International Luxury Travel Market and Virtuoso’s Travel Week that draw C-suite executives from virtually every segment might have a couple air charter brokers among attendee counts that reach into the thousands.
That’s not to say there aren’t partnerships. Big players like NetJets, Wheels Up, Flexjet, XO and Sentient Jet have deals that give their customers discounts, freebies and perks at high-end resorts and top status with select car rental companies.
However, with airline CEOs saying it might takes up to three years to rebuild schedules and complaints soaring, the travel industry is apparently looking more and more to private jet providers to bring high-spending customers safely into their hotels, safari camps, and countries.
Most interesting might be Thailand’s approach. Speaking during an online panel titled, “The New Normal For Luxury Destinations and Restaurants,” Yuthasak Supasorn, the Governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, said he expects the country will open a bubble for private jet travelers when it allows foreigners to return.
In other words, if you arrive by private jet, it would matter less what country you are coming from. Yuthasak said while private jet travelers spend a lot of money – on average $85,000 compared to $156 for those who arrive on the airlines – the low volume makes it easier to ensure pre-arrival testing and other health-safety protocols.
Another speaker, Deepak Ohri, CEO of Lebua Hotels & Resorts, known for its tourist packed rooftop bars and restaurants at its flagship hotel in Bangkok, said the need for social distancing will necessitate a laser focus on the type of clients who spend over $1,000 per table at its two Michelin-awarded restaurants that carry three stars between them.
VistaJet, already known for its lavish approach to private jet travel, today launched Safe Havens, a series of partnerships with high-end travel companies. Abercrombie & Kent, Velaa Private Island, Blue Marble Private, Roar Africa, Entourage Travel and The Eden Club will offer its customers socially-distanced luxury from safaris and villas to your own private Old Western town a 20-minute helicopter transfer after your jet touches down in Aspen. Just last month, Rocco Forte Hotels and Roar Africa each announced they had contracted with VistaJet to provide priority booking of private jet charter flights for their guests.
To promote the reopening of Antigua, Barbados and the Dominican Republic to tourists, Villas of Distinction eschewed the airlines, partnering with Air Charter Service, a large broker of jet cards and on-demand charter in both Europe and North America.
In some cases, in addition to the private flights there are deals. And the deals being offered can be significant. Jet card customers of Outlier Jets get gift cards valued at up to $10,000 good at Auberge Resorts. Ani Private Resorts with locations Anguilla, Dominican Republic, Sri Lanka, and Thailand is offering customers of Private Jet Services Group $10,000 off your folio. Exclusive Resorts is offering its members who buy a 20- hour jet card from Sentient Jet (five hours less than the norm), one free hour and two bonus plan days. Total savings range from $11,220 to $16,749.
Not all the action is on land. Magellan Jets is offering the customers of yacht charter broker IYC up to $7,500 off jet card memberships. In turn, IYC is offering a $2,500 yacht charter credit towards for rentals between $100,000 and $200,000.
It’s not just tourist boards, tour operators and hoteliers seeking to leverage the demand for private jets. When luxury travel advisory Embark Beyond launched a series of private summer camps at high-end resorts, it partnered with Jet Linx Aviation to for preferred rates.
If you have to ask, well, you know the saying. McKinsey reports only 10% of those folks who have the means to fly privately were doing so prior to COVID-19. Speaking earlier today at Corporate Jet Investor Global 2020, David McCown, president of Air Partner, said new customers who spend $80,000 for a week at a 5-star resort are more than willing to fork over a like amount for jets large enough to include kids, nannies, and sometimes grandparents.
Will the new customers continue to opt for private flights when we finally put this crisis in the rear view mirror? Speaking at the same event, Patrick Gallagher, president of the world’s largest private jet operator, NetJets added, “It’s a very sticky business we’re in. Once you get a taste of flying privately, it’s very, very difficult to go back.”