Inside the world of bespoke private jet tours that could rewrite how the rich travel and holiday
Inside the world of bespoke private jet tours that could rewrite how the rich travel and holiday
Charter planes, executive chefs, a fully stocked bar, and massage seats in the air; a tailor-made vacation itenerary, limited seats, exclusive access, and more, around the world—bespoke private jet experiences are taking the rich jetsetting around the world
Darielle Britto is a Special Correspondent for Forbes India, where she writes about the intriguing luxury lifestyle world and is also part of the web team. She has extensive experience in journalism focusing on long-from written features. Her work has been featured in Daily News Analysis, Hindustan Times and other prominent Indian publications. When not in search of a compelling story, she enjoys being a shutterbug.
Abercrombie & Kent, an international tour operator with more than 55 offices in 30 countries, offers three to four private jet journeys annually, limited to 48 guests per trip, which sell out within weeks of being announced.
Imagine taking a ride in a hot air balloon over the Serengeti one day, then being transported to Italy to get VIP access to Michelangelo’s David followed by holistic spa sessions in the Maldives. These are offerings that are part of around-the-globe itineraries on some of the world’s luxurious and in-demand private jet tours.
The $110,000 per person private jet tour by Walt Disney Company quickly sold out when it entered the niche market in April. In July 2023, 75 passengers will visit 12 of its parks (in addition to three iconic landmarks—Taj Mahal, Pyramids of Giza and Eiffel Tower) across six countries in 24 days with world-class accommodations included.
And established companies like the Four Seasons Jet and Abercrombie & Kent are adding additional itineraries due to the demand.
Rainer Stampfer, president, hotel operations-Asia-Pacific, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, reveals the Four Seasons Private Jet has gained popularity among guests from all over the world, including India, since launching in 2015. “We began with two itineraries when the Jet was launched, and each year, new journeys and new locations were added in response to the demand and to reflect our growing global portfolio of destinations,” says Stampfer.
Of their eight itineraries being offered in 2023, three are on the waitlist with limited availability. Some of their private jet adventures that have been added in recent years include African Wonders, Ancient Explorer and Uncharted Discover that cost anywhere between $130,000 and $190,000 per person.
Abercrombie & Kent, an international tour operator with more than 55 offices in 30 countries, offers three to four private jet journeys annually, limited to 48 guests per trip, which sell out within weeks of being announced. Its Wildlife Safari Private Jet 2023 tour ($159,950 per person) will take guests on a 24-day adventure to experience the world’s diverse wildlife—from the tarsiers and whale sharks in the Philippines to the lemurs in Madagascar.
These highly curated journeys make it possible for travel enthusiasts to experience far more than they would on a conventional itinerary. “They are the choice for those wanting to take the hassle out of international travel, removing the airport pain points,” says Kerry Golds, chief tour operating officer-the UK, Europe, US, Australia, and global executive committee member at Abercrombie & Kent. “Guests quickly transit the airports closest to each destination, often using the executive jet terminal with expedited customs and immigration.”
Life On A Jet
Life for those few weeks on-board the jet is similar to the luxury offered on ground. The needs and requirements are taken care of, top amenities are available on the craft and last-minute plans can be made before touching down at the next destination.
Abercrombie & Kent uses chartered Boeing 757 with 48 custom-designed seats equipped with a personal massage system, four-way adjustable headrests and lumbar support; they open to fully lie-flat beds that are 6.5-feet long. The Four Seasons Private Jet currently in operation is a fairly new customised aircraft with 48 seats and a spacious lounge area where guests can socialise.
Meal service onboard an Abercrombie & Kent tour; interior of an Abercrombie & Kent private jet Interior
An on-board team that includes a concierge, executive chef and physician ensure passengers are well taken care of and have a memorable time. “Guests enjoy a fully stocked, open bar featuring top-shelf wine and spirits, in addition to first-class meal service with personalised espresso drinks,” says Golds.
Guests can also make last-minute modifications to the next day’s itinerary with the assistance of an on-board concierge that can provide additional recommendations. “[Our] network of concierges across our portfolio has a wealth of local insights and knowledge at each destination to offer recommendations to each guest, whether they are looking for a specific spice in the souks of Marrakech or reservations to the latest Michelin Star restaurant in London,” says Stampfer.
A multi-destination journey, where every detail—car transfers, luggage services and visas—is taken care of, from the time of booking to the return home, makes private jet tours an attractive offer for high-end travellers across the globe.
Loveleen Multani Arun, 52, co-founder and director of Panache World—a Bengaluru-based company that offers customised travel to over 80 countries with a clientele based in India and abroad—describes people who opt for these packages as those well-travelled tourists with a heightened appreciation for the sophistication that this type of travel provides to them. “The things that excite them are uniqueness of the hotel, its history, architecture, style (minimal, contemporary), unique location etc. Rawness of nature or the destination, the people they will meet, the exceptional food they may have a chance to try,” she says.
Journeys like these also provide travellers an opportunity to explore remote locations across continents—Asia, Africa or South America—that are not easily accessible. “Two to three bucket-list destinations get combined with ease of travel with no inconveniences of busy commercial airports,” says Arun.
Then there are curated experiences with extraordinary guides and surprises along the way, such as insider access across locations to reveal the character and traditions of each destination. “For instance, in Kyoto, guests can opt for samurai sword fighting lessons with the head choreographer of the movie Kill Bill,” says Stampfer.
Take off delay in India
Mature international markets and companies operating in them do so in an ecosystem that is highly developed and conducive to private jet travel, according to Ruchi Kohli, 48, chief of experience at Away&Co, part of the Creative Travel family of brands, which focuses on cultural immersion and insider access trips.
The Four Seasons Private Jet in operation is a customised aircraft with 48 seats, and includes a spacious lounge area for guests to socialise
Certain things need to be put in place before Indian bespoke travel companies can facilitate private jet tours from the country.
“Accessibility and availability of private jets in the international market are not as challenging as they are in India,” says Kohli, whose company has had several guests request and book private planes for leisure trips. “Only Delhi and Mumbai have dedicated terminals for private aviation.”
Interiors of the Four Seasons Jet
Another problem that needs to be addressed, Arun says, is that there are few companies with aircraft designed solely for recreation. “In India itself, the popularity of these tours would probably see more investments in small aircraft that can be chartered,” she says.
“Currently, these are privately owned aircraft that are mainly used for business, but in their free time pushed into leisure tours.”
Kohli believes the government’s private aviation policy needs to change. “While the government is investing in infrastructure and the new Udaan scheme helps regional airlines, it doesn’t sufficiently address the requirements of private plane operators,” says Kohli. “Once this ecosystem becomes more favourable, there will be a much higher uptake on private jet trips.”
Private travel: The next step
While private jet travel is still at a nascent stage for affluent Indians, there is huge potential ahead as private travel experiences have gained ground in the past decade. “It is a segment that will see double-digit growth over the next decade,” says Sanjar Imam, 54, co-founder and director, Panache World.
The number of Indian dollar-millionaire households, Imam says, is estimated to increase by 30 percent over four to five years.
“That would take the total number of dollar-millionaire households to well over 500,000,” says Imam. “That’s a lucrative market size for any destination in the world to want to target.”
Between 2019 and 2020, Away&Co managed trips for over 2,000 guests. “During the past two years of the pandemic, Dubai and Maldives were serviced by a large number of private planes for people not wanting to travel by commercial airlines,” says Kohli. “All our guests travel either first- or business-class, and as private jets become easier to access, the next progression will be to travel private.”
Ashish Chadha, founder of Delhi-based Leisure Ways, a luxury travel company, created customised trips for his private jet clients when travel was reopening in the midst of the pandemic. Travelling on a private jet was more of a necessity for many, among the multitude of restrictions. That little adventure alone, Chadha feels, can influence how people think about the experience of getting to a destination rather than seeing it as mere transportation. “That allowed people access or taste of what hiring a private jet entails,” says Chadha.
Popularity: Driving change
While private jet tours are yet to make its way to most Indian outbound travellers, they can drive change in the luxury travel industry that global high-end travellers can take advantage of.
“Experiences such as private jet tours encourage people to plan for more remote locations,” says Arun. “This will enhance investments by hospitality and travel companies into these destinations, thereby taking some pressure off the popular hotspots.”
During the pandemic, Dubai and Maldives were serviced by a very large number of private planes for people not wanting to travel by commercial airlines
In the Indian outbound travel market, companies are also seeing how their customers have evolved to acquire a taste for private travel immersive experiences and are ready to pay for it.
“When we first started handling such clients back in 2007-08, luxury extended to booking an odd €800 a night hotel here and there,” says Arun. “Ever since, they have become more and more refined in their demands—from the type of food they want, the hotels they choose, the destinations they want to go to and the kind of experiences they want to indulge in.”
Eighty-five percent of Panache World’s clients are either repeats or referrals whose plans are curated according to their needs, whether it is an individual or a group, such as a multi-generation family vacation. The cost of each curated travel varies.
“Broadly speaking, for a family of four, $10,000 per day could be an average spend,” says Arun.
An average tailored journey with Away&Co, on the other hand, can start at $1,000 per person per day, depending on the destination.
A sea-bound experience with a fourth-generation oyster farming family in France, a day in vintage Alfa Romeo cars in Puglia, after-hours private visits to the Vatican and exclusive visits to private vineyards across Europe are just some of the itineraries created for clients of Away&Co.
South America and Kenya are popular destinations for clients of Leisure Ways, and include training with Masai warriors for those looking to participate in a unique workout and a private yoga retreat on Mount Kenya.
Exclusive and rare travel experiences that are transformative have become major requirements among affluent Indian travellers.
Arun feels that customised private jets are aligned with that goal and over time could gain popularity among Indian travellers. “So, I would assume a group of friends, or a large multi-generational family, may want to do a similar or even same tour, but on their own dates and customised to their tastes,” she says.