Charter jets and yachts are having a moment—or rather, a year. While private aircraft and watercraft were in demand pre-Covid, the industry continues to receive a spate of requests, with clients asking for bigger and better itineraries than in previous years.
“We’ve seen clients booking some of our luxury adventures—like witnessing the solar eclipse in Patagonia or swimming with Sperm Whales in Dominica—using private charters,” says Mark Allvey, co-founder and CEO of Untold Story Travel, a team of travel specialists focusing on private travel and over-the-top journeys to every corner of the world. “These are places that are ordinarily difficult to access commercially, so here, the real luxury is saving time and avoiding crowded airports when connecting.”
The London-based tourism company has organized many exclusive programs in recent months. These include a private jet itinerary chasing blooming cherry blossoms from Japan to Korea to Canada, and a private yacht charter sailing the Caribbean, featuring clues leading to a buried treasure.
According to Allvey, the Balearic Islands is currently the company’s hottest destination, due to the lowered restrictions and the ability to travel without quarantine. “The islands offer everything, and yacht charter expeditions have been especially popular as travelers are reuniting with friends and family, traveling in small groups.”
Because of travel disruptions, for travelers with means aircraft charters are a more appealing way to fly. “There’s no risk of a last-minute flight cancellation with private aviation,” says Andy Christie , Group Private Jets Director at Air Charter Service , a global aircraft charter company. Private flights can also accommodate a shift in plans, a necessity during a global health crisis.
“Throughout the pandemic, the flexibility aspect of private jet charter has been particularly useful for when travel restrictions suddenly change, as we can bring a return flight forward or even rearrange a flight to a different destination on short notice,” he adds.
But beyond itinerary charges, Christie says it’s the increased personal space on charter flights, the privacy, control, and ability to fly in and out of smaller airports closer to home or the destination that attracts flyers. These conveniences aside, folks can also embrace stress-free travel to the most off-the-grid spots on the map.
“You can visit extraordinary destinations in a shorter space of time, but in a more comfortable, direct manner,” he says. “There are also many remote locations across the world that are only accessible by private jet.”
This year has been like no other for EYOS and its luxury yacht bookings to Antarctica. Offering superyacht expeditions, the Isle of Man-headquartered company recorded a 300% rise in charter activity, with last season’s cancellations due to the pandemic partly responsible for this year’s upswing, and excursions originally planned for 2020 taking off this season.
“Antarctica is quite simply the ultimate escape—there's a non-stop show of incredible scenery, wildlife, and ice,” says Ben Lyons , CEO of EYOS. “This season, we will see the greatest number of superyachts in the region.”
But parts of Europe are getting in on the boom, too. Specifically, EYOS has noticed a rise in interest for Iceland after the country moved to open its border early. It’s also easily accessible for Americans.
However, far-flung places such Papua New Guinea are garnering loads of attention. Known for offering 5% of the world’s biodiversity, the island nation entices jetsetters. “There’s a continued uptick with Papua New Guinea bookings, even before Covid,” Lyons adds. “It calls to people looking for an exotic and eye-opening destination in the tropics. There are areas with very little conventional infrastructure—particularly in the luxury space—so a chartered yacht provides the comfort the high-end traveler is looking for.”
Sparsely populated Greenland and the Northwest Passage––the sea route between the Atlantic and Pacific––are also sought-after destinations. Lyons explains that many people associate this region with climate change, and that piques their interest. “It's an education process for many, and hopefully they return as enthusiastic ambassadors for these pristine environments.”
Beyond exotic destinations, yacht charters are also trending in more mainstream places. Camper & Nicholsons, a U.K.-based yachting company in business since 1782, reports that New England, Alaska, and The Bahamas are seeing increased bookings by U.S. travelers. The Greek Islands––also one of the first in the Mediterranean to open borders—were in the midst of a boom pre-pandemic, and the yacht charter business is exploding there too.
“Chartering a yacht gives you the freedom to explore an area at your own pace,” says Eduardo Valfré, a retail charter broker at Camper & Nicholsons. “You can decide where you want to go, when—it’s an experience tailored entirely around you and your guests.”
Some charter vessels feature every unthinkable luxury and have become destinations in their own right. The perks range from crew doubling as massage therapists and yoga instructors, to captains offering lessons in navigating the night sky, not to mention the incredible cuisine curated by Michelin-trained chefs. Guests don’t need to leave the ship if they don’t want to.
But Valfré says perhaps the greatest allure of private yacht travel is the capacity to discover a different place every day, visiting multiple cities and countries in a single trip.
“After so many months of being unable to travel, people are so keen to go on holidays,” he says. “They are realizing that we have to live life and what better way to travel than a yacht.”