Luxury travel in a post-pandemic world
As the luxury travel industry rebounds from the ravages of the pandemic, new trends and shake-ups reflect the changing attitudes of wealthy travellers.
Planes were grounded, hotels shuttered, and staff furloughed during the pandemic. But as borders slowly reopen, pent-up demand and shifting priorities are driving industry-wide reform and a comeback of stellar proportions – especially across the luxury sector. This is a whole new era of travel.
Offering safety, privacy, ease, and access, it’s no surprise that private aviation usage soared during the pandemic, but even as we come out from the other side, rates continue to rise. In short: once you fly private, it’s hard to go back.
NetJets, the world’s largest private jet company with fractional aircraft ownership, private jet leases, and private jet card programmes, is still on an upswing: “Flight demand is currently exceeding all other highs in our 57-year history, and we have seen daily flight demand increase by about 30% compared to pre-pandemic volumes,” the company says. In response, the company committed to a multibillion-pound investment. “[In 2021,] our industry-leading fleet surpassed 800 aircraft worldwide. By the end of 2023, our worldwide fleet will be approximately 25% larger than it is today.”
It’s not just first-time private flyers who are contributing to the continuous growth: “Numerous people and companies who owned their own jets before the pandemic have come to realise they aren’t now worth the extraneous expense and effort when they discover the ease and value provided by fractional jet ownership,” says NetJets. Demand has also bred disruption in the private aviation space: Semi-private jet travel – where individual seats are booked on private aircraft – has taken off, especially among leisure passengers looking to travel for specific events, like Fashion Week or the Monaco Grand Prix.
Semi-private aviation brand Aero, which first launched in 2019 with routes from London Farnborough to Ibiza and Mykonos, has tripled the leisure destinations served: “Since 2020, Aero has added nine new destinations across four new countries,” says Aero’s CEO, Uma Subramanian. This past winter, Aero introduced winter flights from London to Geneva to target winter-sports enthusiasts, and this summer the brand has also added new routes to warm-weather hotspot Nice. “We have a unique model that allows us to be flexible when introducing new routes. We can quickly meet customer demand as and when it’s necessary and offer routes seasonally or event-specific,” says Uma.
The pandemic also brought about a heightened focus on climate change. While the luxury travel sector is not known for its sustainability credentials, it does not mean that improvements can’t be made. Today, it is very much expected for luxury travel brands to be environmentally sensitive – and this is not just about the bare minimum, such as providing paper straws and no-single-use plastics. In a recent survey conducted by Virtuoso, a global travel agency network specialising in luxury and experiential travel, 82% of travellers said the pandemic has made them want to travel more responsibly, and 78% said it’s important to choose companies with strong sustainability policies.
The travel industry is seeing an emergence of cross-sector initiatives designed to give consumers these kinds of guarantees. One example is Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency, a collective of hundreds of tourism-related brands working together to deliver action and accountability across the industry by measuring and then reducing each member’s carbon footprint.
There is also a strong trend for more conscientious travel from a social perspective. “With many communities relying on tourism that has been largely on pause the last two years, our clients are interested in knowing more about how their trip gives back, whether that be through their choice of hotel, local experiences, or community-based initiatives,” says Angelee Rathor, founder of SevenTravel, a new positive-impact luxury travel company, created during the pandemic.
Critics will say private and semi-private aviation can never be sustainable, but there is movement in the right direction: Aero was one of the first companies to switch to sustainable aviation fuel and partners with non-profit One Tree Planted. NetJets has been carbon neutral since 2012. It has recently signed an agreement with Lilium, makers of futuristic all-electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) jets, to purchase up to 150 aircraft. It’s slow but crucial progress.
Bigger and better
After almost two years of international travel restrictions, this is the year of the bucket-list trip. Wealthy travellers are making up for lost time and cashing in on pent-up savings with ultraluxe experiences like around the world jet itineraries, buying out entire hotels for exclusive use, mega-yacht charters, and private-island getaways. Luxury travel company Abercrombie & Kent’s private client division is reporting the quarterly average price per trip is higher than 2019 figures. Europe continues to be the top enquiry for the US, UK, and Australia markets. The company also predicts that clients will be travelling more and for longer periods.
Even Russia’s invasion of Ukraine isn’t making a noticeable difference to the industry’s bottom line. “Any availability in key destinations that is normally taken up by Russians, is easily being covered by European and American tourists,” says Peter Anderson, managing director of Knightsbridge Circle, an exclusive travel and lifestyle service. “All in all, it will be a very busy summer in Europe.”
"We are seeing larger groups travelling together, from friend groups to multi-generational family travel."
The desire to travel in bigger groups is also driving up spend and causing brands to rethink future design. “We are seeing larger groups travelling together, from friend groups to multi-generational family travel,” says George Fleck, vice-president and global brand leader of St. Regis Hotels & Resorts. “The number of guests per booking has increased, and we are also seeing more multi-room bookings, especially at our resort properties. You will see hotels with a higher number of suite offerings. [And at resort properties,] we are placing an emphasis on increased villa offerings,” says George. “As guests continue to seek out access to nature and space, we are also being much more considered in how we approach the design of our outdoor spaces, really working to give them purpose and a sense of place.”