As lockdowns are gradually lifted around the world, luxury travel is all set for a bounce back, various industry data and studies are indicating. The private jet sector, in particular, is showing a surprisingly strong recovery and a rise in bookings for larger cabin private aircraft.
Adam Twidell, CEO private jet booking service PrivateFly, a Directional Aviation company, comments: "The April to June period really was a rollercoaster ride with activity at a historic low at the start, followed by a surprisingly strong recovery in June - when we were back to over 75 per cent of our expected demand in Europe, and closer to 100 per cent in the US. This upward trend is continuing into July."
The bounce back is being fuelled by very strong demand from new entrants avoiding the additional exposure of airlines, particularly from family groups travelling to second homes or on holiday. "We are also seeing more requests from those flying with pets than usual. Dogs, cats and other domestic pets can travel in the cabin with their owners on a private flight, making it a higher-welfare travel option for those relocating or planning longer periods away. There’s little business travel taking place yet, so most of our flights are for personal travel – and our Q2 report findings reflect that in a number of ways."
More of PrivateFly’s flights contained children, with under 16s representing 18 per cent of passengers (versus 12 per cent last year). The average passenger age was 36 (versus 41 the same period last year), and the proportion of female passengers was higher than usual (67 per cent male versus 71 per cent in 2019). More flights were on larger aircraft, with 48 per cent on Long Range & Super-Midsize aircraft and the large cabin Challenger 350 the most-flown aircraft type.
Adam Twidell continues: "To what degree business travel will return in the autumn is still a big question mark and clients are not committing very far ahead. But while the risks from the pandemic persist, we’re expecting to see strong demand from families and groups of friends to continue throughout the summer."
"We see an opportunity for travel agents to innovate and create new tailored products to sell to customers who have the means to travel privately for leisure or business."
– Caron Gledhill
Closer to home, Caron Gledhill, Director of Marketing, Empire Aviation Group, tells TTN: "During the pandemic, Empire Aviation has been able to continue flying some charter missions, where aviation and other restrictions have allowed. Around 90 per cent of charter requests were for repatriation purposes or for medical emergencies/transfers, with the balance for leisure or business."
Regulations are changing daily and flights are always contingent upon the availability of permits, including landing permissions. "These flights have ranged from larger aircraft chartered from carriers for the repatriation of large groups of people, or the use of business jets from our own managed fleet. Enquiries are coming to us directly from clients or through charter brokers and, in some cases through agents, especially for leisure and business travel."
"The benefits of private aviation are becoming more broadly recognised and, as destinations open up and international commercial aviation comes back online, will continue to offer a potentially attractive option for leisure and business travellers looking for the additional comfort, security and convenience on the ground and in the air," says Gledhill.
"Looking ahead to the key summer leisure travel months, we are already getting enquiries from leading international luxury hotel chains and premium property owners, who are interested in looking at how we can partner together and package products for high end travel customers. We see an opportunity for travel agents to innovate and create new tailored products to sell to customers who have the means to travel privately for leisure or business. The customer attractions are obvious – privacy, security and safety, quiet and relaxed private terminals and transfers, and of course all the benefits of a private jet cabin environment."
"Based on our experience in the retail travel industry, we have a clear understanding of how we could work with agents, including some of the smaller agents, to design and package new tailor-made products specifically for the premium travel market, for smaller more affluent groups, for leisure and business."
"We are already looking at developing luxury lifestyle partnerships that could combine travel, lifestyle experiences and luxury brands, together with private aviation. This is an area we have explored in the past and we are revisiting this, as interest grows in luxury hotels in high end destinations where there is a good fit with private aviation. These hoteliers are interested in bringing guests and small groups into their properties by private jet. At this time of year, we would normally be taking summer charter bookings for the Indian Ocean islands, which are perennial leisure favourites for travellers flying out of the GCC.
"The reality is that, with our global capability, we can organise private aircraft charter anywhere in the world and so private aviation can be an option for agents to consider."
The larger picture of luxury travel is also showing green shoots of recovery.
ILTM, the world’s largest portfolio of luxury travel events, revealed the results of international research among their global luxury travel agents. Over 50 per cent of all the planners and agents surveyed said they were confident the industry will rebound within a year. Since the outbreak of Covid-19, two-thirds (64 per cent) of those surveyed said they had taken travel bookings from their clients, while over 50 per cent of these bookings are due to take place before the year is over.
Alison Gilmore, ILTM Portfolio Director, says: "These first trips will be closer to home as families start to come together again, and the research also showed a preference for private villas too. Shorter trips were also preferred meaning there could be more of them as the opportunity to "catch up" occurs. The use of private jets is also high up on preferences so that their trips can be taken at short notice and allows for group travel to be within their own family and friends."
Of those considering other kinds of travel, 25 per cent are considering cruises for their clients. These include river, sea and international trips. The need to not take unnecessary health risks is key for high end travellers wanting to spend their first leisure time with family. More than half have already booked family travels, as some occasions for travelling include visiting relatives and family celebrations. Key shifts in behaviour include almost 73 per cent planning to stick closer to home.
Over half – 57 per cent - are also wanting their personal travel agents to look for luxury private villas – another indication of family and small close groups connecting again. As destinations start opening up this early research showed a cross-section of choices for international travel with Greece, Italy, Maldives, Caribbean, and Europe as the most popular destinations.
The survey also outlined how agents believe the keys to encourage client bookings are: the availability of a vaccine, the lifting of travel bans and borders opening, health, security and safety standards (both in flight and at hotels) the relaxation of quarantine/self-isolating, and the flexibility of booking and cancellation terms.
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