Pay $220k to visit global top spots by private jet

Artists' concept of Crystal's exclusive class lie-flat seats. The company's custom-built Boeing 777 will have 84 such seats, compared with the jet's usual 350 seats. Travellers on Crystal's jet will enjoy the use of a lounge and bar on board. The pla
As part of the itinerary, guests will get off the private jet and take a helicopter tour outside Hong Kong. AirCruises' first trip, created in partnership with Peninsula hotels, departs on Aug 31 and hits all 10 cities where the Asian hotelier has properties, from Los Angeles and Beijing to Paris.PHOTO: THE PENINSULA HOTELS
Artists' concept of Crystal's exclusive class lie-flat seats. The company's custom-built Boeing 777 will have 84 such seats, compared with the jet's usual 350 seats. Travellers on Crystal's jet will enjoy the use of a lounge and bar on board. The pla
Artists' concept of Crystal's exclusive class lie-flat seats. The company's custom-built Boeing 777 will have 84 such seats, compared with the jet's usual 350 seats.PHOTO: CRYSTAL AIR CRUISES
Artists' concept of Crystal's exclusive class lie-flat seats. The company's custom-built Boeing 777 will have 84 such seats, compared with the jet's usual 350 seats. Travellers on Crystal's jet will enjoy the use of a lounge and bar on board. The pla
Travellers on Crystal's jet will enjoy the use of a lounge and bar on board. The plane has a separate dining area with an on-board chef and a full wine cellar. PHOTO: CRYSTAL AIR CRUISES

Hospitality industry players offering global vacations built around exclusive charters

NEW YORK • So you want to see many of the world's greatest sights… in 29 days?

Good news: For the first time ever, it is a realistic proposition.

But there is a catch: You will have to do it on a private jet.

And it will cost US$159,000 (S$222,260) per person.

At least that is what Mr Edie Rodriguez, chief executive of Crystal Cruises, is proposing with its soon-to-launch AirCruises.

RUBBING SHOULDERS

It's not these people's first times in these global gateways so our goal is to make the trip interesting, not just by the things they do but also by the people they meet.

MR ROBERT CHENG, Peninsula's group vice-president of marketing.

Its first Around The World: Iconic Sights tour will stop in Easter Island, Uluru, Lhasa, Jaipur, Victoria Falls and Prague (among others) - between Oct 21 and Nov 18.

Crystal is not alone.

Luxury hotel companies from Peninsula hotels to Aman resorts and Four Seasons Hotels are getting in on private jet tours. The latter has partnered with global star chef Rene Redzepi for a US$135,000 culinary dream trip that spans much of Europe and Asia.

So are safari outfitters such as Great Plains Conservation and AndBeyond, which is using private jets to link otherwise difficult to connect destinations, such as Kenya and Botswana.

The safaris are from US$75,000 to US$116,500 per person.

Top-notch operators Abercrombie & Kent and National Geographic are offering global vacations built around exclusive charters.

And the list keeps growing.

"Private jet travel inquiries have grown by at least four or five times in the last few years," said Mr Michael Holtz, a travel specialist at SmartFlyer who is an expert on complicated aviation matters.

"But up until about three years ago, only one or two companies were offering private jet trips at all, and none of them was really marketing in a big way."

And why should they?

There is no sense in turning your company into a household name if almost all households cannot afford your product.

That has started to change, though. Fractional ownership companies have put the Uber twist on the private jet industry, putting private aviation within reach for a far wider demographic.

And luxury hotel companies - all vying for a brand image that ties them ever closer to ultra high net worth spending - swooped in to capitalise on a new market and a new world of opportunity.

The first to tap the market was Four Seasons.

"We began offering Private Jet trips aboard a third party vendor in 2012," president and CEO J. Allen Smith told Bloomberg.

"The response was overwhelmingly positive but the missing piece for our guests was an end-to-end seamless Four Seasons experience."

So he led the company to create a fully branded private jet - a 52-seat Boeing 757 - in 2015, along with a custom 24-day, nine-stop, US$119,000 debut itinerary.

"It was a first for the hospitality industry and met with tremendous enthusiasm," said Mr Smith.

"Every trip sold out that year."

When Crystal launches AirCruises this autumn, it will catapult the private jet tourism business into a stratospheric new level of luxury.

Whereas Four Seasons and other hotel companies largely lease their aircraft from outside vendors, Crystal's parent company, Genting Hong Kong, is buying two Boeing planes - a custom-built 777 and a 787 Dreamliner.

The combined sticker price?

US$545 million.

Boeing 777s usually seat 350; this one will have just 84 lie-flat beds, a separate dining area with an on-board chef, a full wine cellar and the highest staff-to-guest ratio anywhere in the skies.

Its first trip, created in partnership with Peninsula hotels, departs on Aug 31 and hits all 10 cities where the Asian hotelier has properties, from Los Angeles and Beijing to Paris.

"We're extending the Peninsula experience into the actual jet," said Mr Robert Cheng, Peninsula's group vice-president of marketing.

He described how general managers will join travellers on flights to their hotel's destination, offering their local expertise well ahead of check-in.

Also part of the deal are special galas and events that put travellers in contact with local movers and shakers: gallery owners, designers, chefs and other people who "make a city tick on a global scale".

Mr Cheng put it best: "It's not these people's first times in these global gateways so our goal is to make the trip interesting, not just by the things they do but also by the people they meet."

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 22, 2017, with the headline 'Pay $220k to visit global top spots by private jet'. Print Edition | Subscribe