Travel preparation and assistance for VIPs
Travel assistance and medical repatriations need to be smooth as silk for the VIP set, so how can seamless service be achieved? Rodger Cook from World Travel Protection shares his insights
As the world starts to open to the fully vaccinated, international travel is becoming a reality again. However, throughout Covid, business travel has always continued for those deemed essential, and leisure travel continued for those unhindered by financial constraints and government restrictions.
For the most part, wealthy or high-profile individuals have been seen to follow government rules and quarantine if required. Special treatment, if discovered, is normally called out and negative media attention ensues. However, high net worth individuals can take advantage of travel options that allow them to follow the local government requirements but avoid some of the restrictions imposed by commercial airlines or shipping companies. But what special requirements do they have and need?
We support many VIPs. These ‘Very Important People’ manage large companies, have high profiles or significant wealth, and tend to fly business or first class. They expect to be met with limited interruptions during their journey because they have the right support measures in place and their trips are well coordinated. In normal times, for instance, their entry and exit through airports or harbour side is facilitated with minimum fuss.
The ‘Very Very Important Person’ (VVIP) manages larger companies, has a higher profile and even more wealth. They could be politicians, movie stars or the head of a multinational company. They do not fly business or first class. They use chartered aircraft, and every aspect of their trip is arranged to the last detail. Some VVIPs are household names and others you may know from reading the financial papers, but one thing they have in common is that money buys them conveniences.
When we consider the support required of these high-net-worth VVIP travellers, we take into consideration a number of factors. We assess the risk associated with the individual, the destination and the activity being conducted. The traveller may have a pre-existing health issue that requires monitoring, they may hold contentious views which makes them a target of issue-motivated groups, or their infamy/popularity could attract the media.
When assessing the destination, we need to take into consideration numerous factors that may impact the traveller. We need to limit the impact on their freedom of movement, identify and mitigate any security or health risk that are inherent to the country they are travelling to and identify anyone or anything that could adversely impact the task at hand.
The last risk factor we consider is the activity being conducted. Some people like to have adventurous holidays and there may be a level of risk associated with the leisure activity in question. If the traveller is a diver, for instance, it is imperative we know where the nearest medical facility is, with the appropriate equipment, should someone get the bends. All activities, from sailing and driving to bush walking, have inherent risks and it is our responsibility to mitigate these, and if something should go wrong we need to chart the best course of action.
Buying convenience is evident in the growth of a high-net-worth individuals’ (HNW) use of private or chartered aircraft or the hiring of luxury yachts.
HNWs and corporate-executive travellers are demanding a way to mitigate the risks and restrictions imposed by Covid protocols. When flying business or first class, even if everything is planned meticulously, once the traveller steps onto the airport kerb, the controls and isolations put in place disappear. Using private or chartered aircraft, the traveller not only gains an end-to-end Covid safe plan, but they enjoy privacy, expediated customs and dedicated facilities.
In the first months after the pandemic lockdowns entangled the world, Sentient Jets of Massachusetts, USA, reported in June 2020, that 50 per cent of its business was first-time customers, a 127-per-cent growth in new customers since 2019. Par Avion Ltd of Houston, USA, which specialises in private aviation, saw May, June and July 2020 as their highest flight volumes on record.
This end-to-end solution is likely to become a greater consideration as the world reopens. There are a number of ways to access chartered aircraft, with ownership being the most expensive but still popular route while fractional ownership, i.e. time share in a jet, has become more common.
A recent survey, conducted by Private Jet Card, claimed that 50 per cent of private aircraft users had more then one option available to them to access seats as required. The survey also went on to say that only three per cent of private aircraft utilisation was purely business, the remainder mixing business with pleasure.
In addition to the increasing use of chartered aircraft, the superyacht industry is seeing a marked increase in activity. Already this year more than a billion pounds has been spent on superyachts as a means to avoid travel restrictions and in some cases land altogether. Luxury yacht company Heesen reported a recording breaking 2020 and the options for entry into this market is as varied as the private aviation sector.
Boat International reports that sales of superyachts (vessels longer then 24m) increased by 46 per cent in the first quarter of 2021. Customers are also requesting a change in the facilities that the vessels carry to reflect the longer period of time they are spending at sea. In addition to the usual destinations frequented in Europe and the Americas, we are seeing some adventurous travellers opting for the South Pacific, in particular the island nation of Papua New Guinea.
Working from home takes on a whole new meaning when you are dialling in from your chartered superyacht somewhere in the Caribbean.
There is always a level of complexity when planning activities for HNW individuals and every facet needs to be considered. There is a global network of fixers and facilitators who work with governments, elite travel companies and boutique providers to ensure the ultimate convenience and stress-free experience money can buy.
At World Travel Protection we have a global network of trusted professionals who we support to provide this unique service. We provide strategic intelligence and security support as well as medical escalation and response capability, not only for the people being supported but also for the teams of people providing the support.
Due to the high profile of some travellers, there may be a requirement for specialist support in the form of executive protection. The best executive protection teams work constantly, leveraging their network to ensure there is always someone on the ground with the local knowledge to provide seamless support to the travellers.
Executive protection teams are often misunderstood and there are many different facets to consider when selecting the right organisation. Local knowledge is imperative, and we wouldn’t expect that our partners in Europe would fly to America to support a client, instead they would hand the client to someone in their network, to leverage their intimate knowledge of the area.
If the pandemic has given us no other takeaway, it would have to be the irreplaceable value of time. If your time is being spent waiting at airports, dealing with administration, or navigating unfamiliar cities, then that is time wasted. If it is an executive protection team that is needed or someone on the ground to facilitate entry paperwork, these requirements need to be identified during the planning phase.
As Benjamin Franklin famously said, ‘time is money’. For those people with a lot of money, they can’t buy ‘time’ but they can choose how they spend it.
Having the means to travel the world during this time is a privilege that some people are fortunate to have, and for the rest of us it is hopefully just around the corner.