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Forbes Disney Launches Into The Red Hot Private Jet Tour Market

Disney Launches Into The Red Hot Private Jet Tour Market

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Forbes by: Doug Gollan

June 16, 2022

cruise • travel • media

The Walt Disney Company has entered the private jet tour market, putting an exclamation point on a niche seemingly on fire. The announcement from the Mouse came a week after Abercrombie & Kent added five new private jet journeys. TCS World Travel currently has more than two dozen Group Jet Expeditions departures scheduled, many on waitlist. Four Seasons Hotels, which typically offered one or two departures annually, has 11 Four Seasons Private Jet Experience departures scheduled between now and the end of 2023..

The pandemic presented perhaps the biggest test for the trade. First, there was the shrieking halt to all travel. Then came the rebooking cycle, again and again, often with no compensation for advisors, who are typically paid at or shortly after the client’s time of travel.

And although many signs are now pointing to a period of meaningful recovery — many agencies are busier than ever — serious challenges remain. 

First, the good news. Recent data from Allianz Partners, which analyzed over 1 million travel itineraries, found that summer travel will be up 16% this year compared with the last, and travel to Europe this summer will soar 600% year over year.

And a Travel Weekly reader poll found that more than half of respondents’ clients are planning and booking travel and are enthusiastic about traveling now. Further, more than three-quarters of respondents said they were optimistic about their agency’s future, and only 6% said they were not.

The same poll asked advisors to identify the biggest challenges on their path forward.

One simply responded, “Everything.”

From staffing issues throughout the industry, to burnout, to pricing and availability, here are the largest hurdles advisors identified for the months and, likely, years to come

The Walt Disney Company is jumping intothe private jet vacation market with around-the-world-tour.

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The Disney itinerary is limited to 75 passengers and spans 24 days visiting six countries with plenty of VIP access like a private visit to the campus of Lucasfilm and the Skywalker Ranch. You’ll see 12 Disney theme parks, plus the Taj Mahal, Pyramids of Giza and Eiffel Tower.

Even though the announcement was made earlier this week, the departure date isn’t until July 2023. The per-person price is $109,995, based on double occupancy. Single travelers can pay a $10,995 supplement. Previous Adventures by Disney and Golden Oak VIP customers get first dibs to buy starting June 20, 2022. Sales open to the general public on June 28.

“We’ve had clients who have gone on the Four Seasons trips,” says Mary Jean Tully, CEO of Toronto-based Tully Luxury Travel. “The first question people ask is what types of people will be on the trip.” She says with Disney, the biggest question is the mix of kids onboard. “There are adults who are interested, but they don’t want to be stuck on an airplane with a bunch of children running around.”

Four Seasons has scheduled seven private jet departures for 2023, the most ever.
Michale Holtz, CEO of SmartFlyer, a New York-based travel agency that is part of the Virtuoso network, says, “Private jet tours are very popular. Clients love them. We have clients who have their own private jets, have taken these tours, and told us it’s better than their own jet. On private jet tours, you have notable experts, you’re getting VIP access, and every detail is taken care of along the way.”
 
He says, “It’s a bit like the communal aspect of a luxury safari camp because you meet other interesting people,” adding, “The itineraries are complicated to put together on your own.”
 
On the Four Seasons website, a pair of 24-day September and October departures starting in Miami and visiting the Easter Islands, Bora Bora, the Great Barrier Reef, Koh Samui, Petra, the pyramids in Egypt, and Athens before ending in Madrid are priced at $173,000 per person. They are listed as sold out.
 
If you want to go, the first chance is a 21-day trip departing in late November from New Orleans to Costa Rica, Machu Picchu, Buenos Aires, Antarctica, and Bogota before concluding in the Bahamas. It still has places at $190,000 per person double, or an extra $19,000 if you plan to do the trip solo.
 
Looking ahead, Four Seasons President Christian Clerc says, “We have grown our journey schedule to accommodate seven trips in 2023 – the most we’ve ever offered in one year.”
 
One itinerary is from Kona to London with stops in Tahiti, Sydney, Bali, Chiang Mai, the Taj Mahal, Dubai and Prague. The trips will be flown on the hotel group’s new Airbus A321neo-LR with just 48 seats that convert to fully flat sleeper beds. Onboard is a dedicated concierge, executive chef and even a doctor.
 
Not all the new private jet tours jump between continents.
 
Remote Lands, which operates Aman Private Jet Expeditions, lists five itineraries between September and February. Adventures in America visits the luxury group’s hotels and resorts in New York, Turks & Caicos, Dominican Republic, Utah and Wyoming using a 14-seat Global Express at $112,888 for 14 days.
 
Abercrombie & Kent’s just added private jet departures are regionally focused, with itineraries limited to between 12 and 18 guests over 11 to 13 days, starting at $34,495. Trips visit Alaska, Australia, East Africa, India or Italy.
 
Abercrombie & Kent Vice President Stefanie Schmudde says, “Wings Over the World Journeys strongly resonate with those who want to travel in the most luxurious and seamless way possible, thanks to private terminals in most locations with expedited check-in and customs. We eliminate airport pain points by flying directly from each destination to the next on a schedule that makes sense for each specific itinerary, not commercial service, so guests are able to see much more in less time.
 
”What are the possibilities for growth?
 
Greg Raiff, CEO of Private Jet Services Group, which specializes in group, sports teams, live entertainment tours and corporate shuttle charters, says there are a limited number of aircraft that have the advanced avionics and navigation systems for intercontinental trips and remote airports. He says aircraft like the ones being used typically charter for around $30,000 to $40,000 per hour.
 
He adds, “In the good old days, everyone used the same plane and just changed the stickers on the outside. You had older L-1011s that would be used as troop transports, and they would switch out the interior to 70 standard first-class seats with a bar area. What you see today is a much higher level of customization.
 
”For providers, Raiff says the key to profitability is scheduling and itinerary. That means minimizing the length of flight legs to reduce expenses like fuel and packing in as much as possible in the shortest window so the airplanes are available for other customers and not just sitting on the ground between stops.
 
At the same time, Tully says the itineraries can be an obstacle. “Many of the places you visit are bucket list destinations, and a lot of people want more than two days here and a day-and-a-half here,” she says.
 
Still, SmartFlyer’s Holtz says demand is strong. Whereas in the past the multi-week trips limited the pool of prospects, he says, “It’s a new world. Work from home became work from anywhere, so trip length is no longer a barrier.”
 
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‘Overpriced and understaffed’

Staffing issues in destinations have presented their own challenges. Properties are also having issues ramping up, and staff levels are lower than they have been historically.

“Things are so overpriced and understaffed,” Ezon said. “Setting expectations for clients is challenging when they’re spending $2,000, $2,500 for a room that three years ago went for $400 or $500, and there’s half the number of staff. They can’t even get a drink by the pool.”

Kimberly Wilson Wetty, co-president of Frosch company Valerie Wilson Travel, agreed that prices are, in some cases, “dramatically inflated” compared to pre-pandemic.

“And is the service and experience matching the price increase?” she asked. “In some destinations, not everything is open yet, and there are reduced service levels, yet the pricing is high. Travelers want to travel, and they are happy to pay, but at some point, will you be priced out of the market?”

Securing decent rates, or even space, this summer in Europe has been next to impossible, according to Tully Luxury Travel founder and CEO Mary Jean Tully. 

Airfare in particular is “outrageous,” leaving consumers “absolutely shocked,” she said.

But even hotel pricing is inflated. Tully cited a hotel she often books in Florence, which was typically around $800 per night pre-pandemic. Now, that same hotel is $3,000 per night.

Adding to the complexity is dynamic pricing, coupled with inflation. Prices are jumping, Ezon said. A quote given to a client today might be significantly different just a week later.

Concerns about changing protocols, testing

Though many Covid protocols, especially in the U.S., have been rolled back, there are still changes advisors need to keep track of. And when they sell the entire world, it’s a lot to keep straight.

“As the world emerges from the last two years of a global pandemic and shifts to an endemic mindset, we still need to have accurate information on testing, vaccination status, and travel restrictions,” said Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg, co-president of Valerie Wilson. 

“Some days it feels like looking at a fortune cookie or a magic eight ball might be just as accurate, scary as that sounds.”

Not only are the changes a lot to keep track of, but they present a challenge to advisors, who are seen as travel experts by their clientele, said Jennifer Doncsecz, president of VIP Vacations. 

Even if an agent waits until two weeks prior to a client’s departure to share important information on entry requirements, everything could change after that.

“Many times it changes for the better, but it’s still, like, we want to come across as being the advisor and knowing everything,” Doncsecz said, “and it’s this continuous cycle.”

Testing to return to the U.S. remains a hurdle. The industry has been lobbying for months to have the requirement rescinded, but as of press time, international travelers still had to present a negative Covid test taken within a day of travel to return to the U.S.

It presents more work for the advisor, Doncsecz said, especially if the client isn’t in a sun-and-fun destination where testing is readily available at many properties.

It’s also an inhibitor for some travelers.

“It’s not the fear of getting Covid, but rather testing positive while traveling, requiring quarantine and a delayed return home,” Valerie Wilson’s Wetty said. “Many clients factor this concern into their travel decisions.”

Advisor burnout

After more than two years of dealing with a pandemic and its associated complexities, many advisors are feeling stress and burnout. 

“Even though the pandemic may be coming to an end, and it’s moving to the next evolution, the fact is travel is still more complicated than it’s ever been to book,” Licea said. “It still takes a lot longer to produce a transaction than it used to.”

‘Thought the pandemic may be ending … travel is still more complicated that it;s ever been to book.’ Angie Licea, Global Travel Collection.

Cancellation fatigue has also set in, especially as labor shortages fuel continued airline cancellations.

Travel Hub 365’s Scott said it’s left advisors with few options for clients in some cases.

“You’re in a situation where the value proposition of using an advisor gets reduced,” he said. “And even though we are incredibly valuable to the client when things occur, the problems we encounter are that we’re stuck. We can’t fix catastrophe. We normally can fix catastrophe, but lately it’s been hard to fix problems that just didn’t exist before.”

‘Even though we are incredibly valuable to the client when things occur, the problems we encounter are that we’re stuck.’ Stephen Scott, Travel Hub 365

Travel may have begun to meaningfully recover, but Azure Blue’s Schreiner still preaches flexibility and preparation to her peers.
‘We’re not out of the woods just yet. We’re in recovery, but we’re not recovered.’
Suzy Schreiner, Azure Blue Vacations
“We have to be prepared because we may see that all change and have to adapt again to travel restrictions come the fall and the next flu season,” she said. “We have this cloud following us that we have to be ready to adapt to at any time, because it’s just not smooth sailing yet. We’re not out of the woods just yet. We’re in recovery, but we’re not recovered.”

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