How the ultra-rich are travelling during the pandemic
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By Natalie B Compton
PANDEMIC travel has looked a little different for the rich. While the every man debated whether it was safe enough to visit family for the holidays, there was the Kardashian who used a loophole to go to Paris when the border was closed or the other Kardashian who rented out a private island in Tahiti for her birthday.
But brief backlash hasn't stopped the wealthy from returning to travel. After a year of being confined to their one, two or three homes, they are spending more than ever on holidays to make up for lost time.
What does a dream pandemic holiday look like when you've been everywhere and bought everything? That's the question travel advisers for ultra-high-net-worth individuals have to ask themselves regularly.
Erica Jackowitz, the co-founder of Roman & Erica, a travel company for ultra-wealthy clients, said her clients were spending double to triple more on a trip than they would have pre-coronavirus.
"They're open to spending way more than they ever would have considered two or three years ago," said Jackowitz, whose retainer for clients starts at $100 000 (around R1.5 million) a year. "People aren't holding back from any want."
For example, clients who would have normally spent $150 000 on a ski week over Christmas are open to spending $250 000.
"I've had a client spending half a million dollars a month since last June," Jackowitz said. "And on a private island and has been travelling since then."
At the luxury travel company Brown and Hudson, founder Philippe Brown calls on the "art and science of luxury travel" to design holidays for the elite.
"We apply scientific principles to the travel that we plan – principles like hedonic adaptation," Brown said. For example, to combat hedonic adaptation, the concept of getting used to or bored of something (even a really, really good thing), Brown plans ahead to keep his clients impressed day after day. That may be as simple as changing a client's accommodation after a few days, so the view doesn't become blasé.
Brown said he was getting more clients who came to him with a desired feeling versus a specific destination, which hadn't been the norm in past years.
"Initial conversations are more interesting and a bit more fuzzy because people are talking about 'I want to feel energised' or 'I want to be vital again,'" Brown said.
"People of a certain age… want to do stuff that makes them feel like they've achieved something beyond paying off the mortgage, having a jet, a car, whatever it is."
For a client to feel a sense of adventure, Brown has planned a "luxepedition" across Madagascar. For a dad to feel closer to his son, Brown planned a US road trip that included pop-up drive-in movies in unexpected locations, and he arranged for them to meet celebrities in Hollywood.
For Jaclyn Sienna India, the founder of ultra-luxury travel company Sienna Charles, the pandemic has made the ultra-rich embrace different holiday ideas. (You may have heard of a few of her clients, including Mariah Carey and former president George W Bush. She once rented out an entire private island for Bush.)
India said her clients were no longer following the "billionaire calendar". Instead of having to go to Aspen or Switzerland's St Moritz in winter, they felt free to go heli-skiing in Iceland instead. The same goes for summer hot spots such as Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket.
"They're not just running places because they felt socially that they had to," she said.
The pandemic has changed the way her clients see social media. Holidays aren't for bragging rights, at least not online.
"A lot of our clients are CEOs, and a lot of their staff are either laid off or on unemployment or struggling to make ends meet," India said. "So we have found that every single one of our clients, even with a private profile, do not share when they travel.
"They're not going to be letting people know exactly what their moves are and how they're spending their money," she said.
With the ultra-rich spending more money on travel than ever before, there is a growing shortage of high-end travel goods and services.
"Those presidential suites and those top villas and the yachts and the planes – they're sold out," Jackowitz said.
For many clients, instead of fighting over luxury rentals, they are buying the assets instead.
"People are buying yachts and the planes and the second and third and fourth homes as opposed to renting them," India said.
They're pushing the boundaries of virtual experiences, too.
To meet the virtual travel needs of a few clients, Brown is working on with a company in the UK called Immersive to create personalised virtual experiences that are far more engaging than staring at a screen.
The plan involves hiring people to follow a client during travel to capture footage of their trip, or gathering footage that exists, that can be woven together to build a virtual experience coupled with physical stimulation delivered by haptic bodysuit.
"One client is interested in revisiting a place as they experienced it when they were young," Brown said. "So there it's a whole augmented reality experience where you're using footage of the place and turning it into an experience to live at home."
The cost of creating the virtual experiences starts at around $400 000 (about R5.9m).
Brown believes these kinds of virtual experiences will continue to appeal to wealthy clients well after the pandemic.