May 30, 2023: What’s trending in luxury travel this summer 

Bob.Allen
May 24, 2023
10 months ago
Luxury travel
Credit: KRISTINA RUOTOLO

Kristen_small

With summer upon us, we’ve devoted this newsletter to uncovering what’s trending in luxury travel. 

With COVID in the rearview mirror, families and ultra-high-net-worth individuals are primarily seeking out two things when it comes to travel this season: isolation and immersion. 

A hot tip from the travel company Indagare: Beware of upcoming delays and lost luggage. With summer airline strikes looming, shipping your luggage to your final destination could be the way to go. 

Also in this newsletter, we take a peek into the private aviation industry. Demand for private jets has dipped since the height of the pandemic, and looming inflation has made the “frugal wealthy” think twice about flying private. 

Given this and other trends, the industry may be at an inflection point. Read on to learn more about the nuances in private aviation today. 

As always, we appreciate any comments, ideas and insights that would make this newsletter more useful. I look forward to growing this family office community with your help. Please email me at [email protected].

 

HANDPICKED: What’s trending in luxury travel this summer 

Luxury travel

By KRISTEN OLIVERI 

With COVID in the rearview mirror, families and ultra-high-net-worth individuals are primarily seeking out two things when it comes to travel this season: isolation and immersion. 

“Last year, people wanted to return to places like Paris and Positano, where they knew what to expect and who they might meet,” said Melissa Biggs Bradley, founder and CEO at Indagare, a members-only boutique travel company. “But many found places too crowded with Americans, and so this year, they are looking for more remote places where they can get away from the crowds. They are booking wonderful mountain retreats in the Alps or lodges in Scotland or yachts in Norway or Turkey.” 

“And because of the chaos at airports last year, people are cutting down on multiple-stop trips and instead flying into one country and staying longer, with maybe a few nights in Rome or Paris and then a week or two-week villa rental where they can immerse themselves in country living.”

One of Biggs Bradley’s big pro tips — and a proactive way to prevent trip interruptions — is  limiting airport visits to avoid lost luggage and airport strikes expected across Europe this summer. 

LUXURY EXPERIENCES

What makes luxury travel unique is access, which is why many hospitality groups and hotel brands have shifted emphasis to curated experiences and personalization to attract wealthy travelers. 

Service tops the list for travelers who are demanding more from the places they stay, said Kelly Grumbach, senior vice president of Quintessentially Travel. “Service level is also extremely important for UNHW travelers, both during the planning process in response time, proactivity, personalization and on the ground,” Grumbach said. 

“Popular requests include authentic private touring experiences, access to local experts, yacht charters, ways to simplify travel, and transportation like helicopter transfers and private jet travel.”

Many luxury hotel brands and stand-alone properties have caught on with the trend by building out specialized experiences for travelers and carving out programs that incorporate wellness or the concept of eco-tourism into their offerings. 

Hyatt’s luxury properties — including the Park Hyatt, Alila, Thompson Hotels, and Andaz  — have launched what they deem “exclusive experiences” in their premier global locations, everywhere from Kyoto to the Maldives. 

For example, the recently opened Alila Kothaifaru Maldives has curated a program for guests looking to find the best diving sites, while the Park Hyatt Milano is capitalizing on Italy’s vibrant art scene. Art lovers can take a behind-the-scenes look with a private tour of its pre-eminent museums, churches and palaces, including lesser-known gems and museum houses like Poldi Pezzoli and Bagatti Valsecchi. 

“Our aim is to captivate worldly travelers who value rare experiences that are truly bespoke in nature, such as exclusive tastings with Michelin-starred chefs; private viewings with local artists; and rich, destination-inspired excursions,” said Crystal Vinisse Thomas, vice president and global brand leader for the Park Hyatt. 

Take, for instance, the Palacio Duhau-Park Hyatt Buenos Aires, which offers guests access to its subterranean gallery, immersing them in the vibrant art and culture of Argentina’s capital. 

Meanwhile, the Park Hyatt Kyoto presents a truly exclusive experience — a daily dining and tea ceremony reserved for just one pair of guests. Set within the hotel’s own Michelin-starred ryotei, this extraordinary culinary journey showcases authentic kaiseki cuisine, complemented by a mesmerizing private geisha dance performance.

Similarly, the Savoy brand has been offering the Savoy Signature premium experience since the inception of the Savoy Palace in both Portugal and Madeira but has continued to enhance its offerings in the past four years because of increased demand. 

“With summer quickly approaching, we have further developed the package of benefits and amenities exclusive to guests staying in room types to offer guests with even more luxurious amenities and preferred access to even more facilities, within not only Savoy Palace but also the remaining Savoy Signature hotels, restaurants and spas,” said Ricardo Farinha, chief commercial officer of Savoy Signature. 

A FAMILY AFFAIR

This summer, more affluent families are embarking on multi-generational milestone and celebration trips. Quintessentially Travel’s Grumbach pointed to a notable trend of vacations aligned with significant birthdays, family gatherings and special events. To guarantee both privacy and security while enjoying upscale amenities and top-notch service, clients are increasingly opting to rent private villas within hotel resort grounds.

Because of the demand for this type of multi-generational travel, Grumbach has seen popular hotels such as the Four Seasons Grand Hotel du Cap Ferrat in the French Riviera accommodate such things by building additional villas on its current grounds. 

But however the well-to-do plan to savor the summertime, Indagare’s Biggs Bradley urges them to heed this, her biggest piece of advice: Don’t wait to book. 

“Book it yesterday. The pandemic rewarded last-minute bookers, but those days are over. Many of the best spots have been booked since last summer.”

 

Private jets, hot off pandemic surge, face new hurdles and fewer customers

Private jet

By BLOOMBERG NEWS

Jim Segrave has provided private jet services to wealthy clients for decades. He chartered flights through the financial woes of 2008 and through hurricanes that slammed his home state of North Carolina, forcing him to salvage equipment from his flooded office building using a canoe.

But Segrave’s biggest test yet may come this summer as he pushes forward with a public listing of flyExclusive Inc., which operates more than 90 private jets, through a special purpose acquisition company that values his business at $900 million. Private flights in the U.S. have declined from their pandemic highs, with takeoffs and landings dropping 4.5% in the first quarter from a year earlier. The drop accelerated to 9.3% in April compared with an 8.6% decrease in March.

Besides the demand decline, the industry is also grappling with inflation, especially around a lack of maintenance technicians and pilots. The aircraft market remains tight as a lingering supply-chain shortage impedes plane makers from ramping up production faster. Over the long term, the industry is under growing pressure to mitigate or offset its greenhouse-gas emissions. 

Flexjet, the second-largest U.S. operator of private jets behind NetJets Inc., shelved its SPAC listing last month, paying $30 million to call off the deal. Wheels Up Experience Inc., which went public in 2021 via SPAC, has struggled to turn a profit even as sales have grown.

Segrave said he isn’t worried. FlyExclusive does its own work on airplanes except for engine maintenance and is investing in simulators to train its own pilots.

“Our customer base is fairly insulated,” said Segrave, who founded flyExclusive in 2015 after selling his first private-jet business to Delta Air Lines Inc. in 2010. “They generally are going to continue to travel.” 

Private flying is still more popular than in 2019, according to Federal Aviation Administration data. While many first-time private fliers return to commercial airlines, others stick around as they get a taste of the speed and convenience of private travel. Those new customers — often described as the frugal wealthy who beforehand never had motivation to try private aviation — will result in a slight increase of private fliers compared with the pre-pandemic market, said Brian Foley, an industry consultant. 

There’s also evidence of stable demand for private aviation. Aircraft makers, which underpin the health of the industry, have raised prices ahead of inflation, and deliveries are expected to increase to 722 business jets this year from 614 in 2022, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co. Next year, those deliveries are expected to rise to 750, the highest since the 2008-09 financial crisis, according to JPMorgan data. 

Still, the mood at the annual European corporate jet conference in Geneva, which began Tuesday, may be tinged with trepidation that the industry could be rocked by a recession. Plane makers continue to face production delays, and a deep recession could throw the whole market off-kilter, Foley said.

Segrave, who is an active pilot, said flyExclusive wants to buy more of Textron Inc.’s Cessna planes, but the wait time is three years or so from order to delivery.

Flexjet, a larger competitor, also seeks to increase its aircraft orders from Embraer SA and Bombardier Inc., but production is being held up by jet engine supplies. 

CHANGING WINDS

The end of the flying frenzy is a major headwind for charter companies that match available aircraft to passengers in the spot market. But for companies such as Flexjet, which own their own fleets and cater to more stable customers who buy chunks of flight hours, the surge during the pandemic brought new problems, including having to purchase expensive aircraft capacity from other operators to meet clients’ needs, said Flexjet Chairman Kenn Ricci.

“Thank God it’s not what it was last year,” said Ricci, whose company saw annual flight hours under management jump to 145,000 from 90,000 before the pandemic. “It’s hard for me to see anything bad in the market right now because I’m so looking forward to it slowing down.”

That surge tightened inventories and sent used-aircraft prices soaring. Less than 3% of pre-owned aircraft were up for sale during the height of the pandemic. The market has loosened up but is still tight by historical standards, with about 4% of the fleet up for sale, less than half the rate before 2020.

The average asking price for used aircraft fell 1.2% in March from February to $12.8 million, according to a JPMorgan Chase report, showing some easing of the tight pre-owned market. Still, that average asking price was 7% higher compared with a year earlier. 

Companies, especially smaller ones, are slower to pull the trigger on plane deals now, said Janine Iannarelli, who helps clients buy and sell planes. 

“The winds of change in our economic and political environment are making people maybe step back a little bit,” she said. “We’re in this period where people are wait-and-see.”

Investors may be wary after private-jet operator Wheels Up reported rising net losses in 2022 even as sales have grown. The stock has plummeted more than 95% since going public in July 2021 through a SPAC, and company founder Kenny Dichter stepped down as CEO on May 9. 

Kinston, North Carolina-based flyExclusive is expected to have operating cash flow of about $64 million this year and sees that doubling to $130 million next year, according to a May proxy filing. The company’s sales jumped to $320 million last year, almost triple 2019. Segrave expects to double last year’s sales to almost $730 million in 2024. FlyExclusive plans to begin trading as early as this summer. 

"We’ve grown it in a very methodical, smart, disciplined way, and now we’re taking this company public," Segrave said. "We’re going to continue being disciplined."

 

LOOSE CHANGE

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Help us with a story: We’re working on a story about the art market and how to make sure that families make smart decisions when handing down those assets to the next generation. If you have any comments on the topic, reach out to [email protected]