Like racehorses storming out of the start- ing gate, travelers are making up for lost time due to the pandemic and, in many cases, treating themselves to trips of a lifetime. Whether it’s friends heading to far-flung places or couples finally taking that special anniversary trip, travel experts are seeing a surge in splurging on luxury vacations—and an uptick in private travel and all the perks it offers. “There is pent-up demand but there is also pent-up spending,” says Laura Davidson, president and founder of her own public relations company in NYC that specializes in travel. Here are the trends that pros in the business are seeing when it comes to private travel.
BRINGING THE WHOLE FAMILY
Big family trips are making a comeback and by traveling privately, it helps to alleviate Covid safety concerns—and enables large groups to focus more on spending time together than worrying about logistics. Davidson shares a story of her client Abercrombie & Kent, who worked with two Virtuoso luxury travel advisors to help them plan an eight-family trip to Egypt with 17 teenagers. “The multigener- ational trip included a private plane and chartered boat down the Nile,” she says. The group got a private presentation on antiquities from a renowned Egyptologist.
STAYING IN LARGER SPACES
“The love affair with Italy and Western Europe is in full bloom,” says Kimberly Wilson Wetty, co-president of Valerie Wilson Travel in New Canaan, CT. “The Caribbean, Mexico, Hawaii and Tahiti are fantastic for the ‘fly and flop’ R&R experi- ence.” When it comes to accommodations, travelers want to carve out their own exclusive space by booking larger suites, villas and homes, says Wetty. African safaris are also popular and more pandemic-friendly, with so much time spent outdoors.
SAILING IN STYLE
The desire for private yachts and smaller cruise lines is also trending. “The Ritz- Carlton Yacht Collection is an example of smaller ships that are higher service and have bigger rooms,” says Juan Fernandez, operating partner of Elli Travel Group in Larchmont, NY. “Because they are small, they can go into really great ports.”
Hurtigruten Expeditions specializes in smaller-ship excursions, which include but aren’t limited to places like the Galapagos, where bigger cruise vessels can’t dock. Anders Lindstrom, Hurtigruten’s head of PR and communications for the Americas, says this fall, the expedition company is also launching “the first-ever commercial Pole-to-Pole sailings, taking adventurous travelers from Alaska via Greenland and the Panama Canal down to Antarctica. We’ve noticed travelers are seeking impactful experiences.”
There’s also been an uptick in private air journeys. “This has exploded over the past two years,” says Wetty of Valerie Wilson Travel, “and we don’t see that slowing down. If you have the means to fly private, going back to commercial isn’t an option, except on some long-haul flights.” Another perk is the luxury comfort of an FBO (fixed base operation) like Million Air’s West- chester terminal. The 16,000-square-foot space allows families waiting for their flight to spread out and, says Lauren Rones- Payne, general manager of Million Air Westchester. “We have a golf simulator where you can get a little exercise. It’s lively here; you hear dogs barking and laughter.”
Want to fly to Florida for a long weekend? Try the Blade One experience from Blade Aviation: Blade has taken a commercial-sized jet and retrofitted it to a spacious 16-seat plane offering full meal service including caviar and a dedicated crew. “The service is attentive to every client and it’s a great experience,” says Brady Miller, manager of sales and flier experi- ence for Blade.
TURNING TO THE PROS
Travelers had to change plans due to Covid, and travel agents became more essential when navigating trips. “Luxury clients want expertise and advice,” says Wetty. “They want private access and secret finds. But they also want reassurance and to know they are being serviced and handled with care.”