Corporate travel is an integral part in every sector and is a major contributor to the aviation sector. The past few months seemed bleak for the progress of this segment of travellers. Gerald Lawless, Ambassador WTTC – Former CEO – Jumeirah Group, converses with three industry professionals to know more about how this segment of travel will change its course.
Gerald Lawless & Adel Mardini
Q If, for example, I’m a travel manager of a large corporation, how would I be persuaded to allow private jet travel as opposed to commercial travel for my executives?
I believe for the first time we started seeing there is no availability on private jets due to high demand in the market. 70% of the customers who are flying in private jets are coming from first class and business class. Mackenzie made a study about touch points; If you are flying in commercial airlines, you are exposed to 720 touch points and if you are in flying in a private jet you are exposed only to 30 touch points. All these indications convince the people, the large corporate companies and the big groups of people to find a private jet. The advantage is an aviation business jet is much better compared to flying in commercial airlines.
Q Do you see then that when the health and safety part eventually goes away because we have a vaccine or because the virus eventually fizzles out, how do you see being able to protect this new business that you’ve got and being able to ensure that it doesn’t leak back to the commercial airlines?
I had this discussion with our customers here, passengers and travellers, and all of them showed me that they would keep flying in a private jet because they realised that right now, how important it is to find a private jet, again, it’s a different budget. I will not say 100%, but I expect more than 70% of the people to be flying in a private jet because they realised the difference. It’s a big difference. You come in 15 minutes before departure time and it takes you maybe 20 to 30 minutes to be out with the luggage. For 15 minutes you will be exposed to only two persons who handle all your stuff.
Q Typically, what is the size of the aircraft?
We have 6-seat, 12-seat, 18-seat, and 24 seats, it depends on the group. We had one group who flew to Beirut with 18 passengers. So they chartered an 18-seat aircraft. We can see right now a new business. There’s a new aircraft coming in, which has 50 seats. It’s all business class right now, which I will not say is a schedule flight, but they are planning for a tour in Dubai and Maldives and Seychelles during this pandemic. This is kind of a tour travel and they will also be sharing the hotel.
Ross Veitch & Adel Mardini
Q What percentage of your bookings do you find are coming in via the web or mobile?
Since the last two months, more that 35 to 40% is coming from digital marketing and social media.
Q Do you have a mobile app you can use to book a plane once you onboard?
We don’t have a mobile app because mainly we are focusing on the private terminal and the private jet is a part of the service that we are doing for our customer. We do a concierge service for the airplane and the passenger.
COVID-19 has changed people’s travel habits. It’s about less flights, less exposure, less frequency. All of this has recalibrated the world in which we live and by implication the world in which we travel. It is interesting how your segment is a direct reflection of how travellers are now relooking at how they choose to travel. For those who have an opportunity to do it by a private jet, I think the staycation element is important from the point of view of governments around the world. Encouraging domestic travel first is the best way to get the supply chains mobilised. Our world needs travel and our world of travellers need to be able to run around the world and create opportunities, create unity, create understanding. We have just started the development of our regional office in Riyadh. It’s going to serve 13 countries of the region.
I think with the rapid testing taking place and the vaccines, the next normal will bring in new protocols, people will adjust. Once the vaccines get rolled out, that will take us to the next normal. Our world needs to travel. Aviation will be the ultimate mobiliser.
Gerald Lawless & Ross Veitch
Q Ross could you tell us about the trends, how do you see things moving, and what’s going to happen in this particular area?
In March, basically over a period of two weeks, our revenue fell to about a minus 98% of what it was a year-over-year. The airlines in the Middle East park, the jets on the runway and the airport shut down as people stopped traveling. It was like that all through Q2 and Q3, we’ve seen some business begin to come back. Bookings out of the Middle East for us are at about 30% of where they were in 2019.
I think for leisure as soon as we are past COVID, that is we’re either vaccinated or we figured out how to deal with the new normal, people are going to go back to their old travel trends.
Also, sometime towards the end of 2021, business travel will be somewhere back to where it was. I think the catalyst will be the rapid antigen testing before you step foot in an airport or before you check-in, that’s going to be the new normal probably before the end of this year.