5 ways the luxury travel industry is responding to the coronavirus pandemic

private jet

  • As countries close their borders and restrict travel amid the coronavirus pandemic, luxury travel is an industry in flux.
  • High-end travel agencies and tour operators are working to postpone or cancel trips for droves of customers.
  • Private aviation companies, on the other hand, are seeing a boom in demand from travelers evacuating hard-hit areas or trying to get around travel restrictions.
  • Many luxury hotels are waiving change or cancellation fees and boosting cleaning measures.
  • Wellness resorts and spas are catering to clients with packages for coronavirus-anxiety relief.
  • Yacht charters are being encouraged, but boat shows are being canceled.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The coronavirus pandemic has upended daily life around the globe, and travel has been one of the hardest-hit industries.

But the luxury travel industry doesn't necessarily play by the same rules as travel in general. Advertisement

While most commercial airlines are suspending or severely reducing flights, private jet companies are cashing in on demand from travelers who want to evacuate places most impacted by the virus or who are trying to get around travel restrictions.

While cruising companies are temporarily halting all cruises, yacht charters are still being encouraged - although major boat shows are being canceled.

Hotels and wellness centers are both stepping up cleaning and sanitizing measures, with many staying open unless federal or local guidelines mandate otherwise.
Advertisement

Here are five ways the luxury travel industry is responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

{{}}

1. Yacht charters are being encouraged, but boat shows aren't.

1. Yacht charters are being encouraged, but boat shows aren't.

Unlike some cruise ports, marinas have yet to be closed, Stefanos Makrymichalos, CEO of superyacht firm IYC, previously told Business Insider. That's partly because there are more passengers passing through cruise ports than marinas and more regulations for commercial vessels than private ones, according to Makrymichalos.

"Ports of entry for ships are being monitored while marinas are not, as there is no evidence of risk," he said, adding that "business in The Bahamas and Caribbean is healthy right now. Clients seem to be a bit more cautious when planning their summer vacations in the Med."

While the industry is still encouraging yacht charters, they've put a halt to boat shows. The Japan International Boat Show has been cancelled, and the Taiwan International Boat Show, Dubai International Boat Show, and Singapore Yacht Show have all been postponed. The Palm Beach Boat Show was also postponed indefinitely.

Yacht companies have also distributed press releases or guidelines addressing coronavirus concerns. Consider Ocean Independence, who has developed an addendum to charter agreements, outlining a change to the charter area, rescheduling option, or a no-penalty cancellation of the charter if agreed upon by all parties involved.

Superyachts are safe because they're extremely hygienic thanks to diligent crew cleaning, but their close quarters can increase the risk of spreading coronavirus.

2. Private aviation companies are seeing a boom in demand.

2. Private aviation companies are seeing a boom in demand.

As commercial aviation suffers due to the coronavirus travel bans, private jet companies are seeing an increased demand. Both corporations and individuals are paying thousands of dollars to evacuate and avoid areas affected by the coronavirus, reported Business Insider's Melissa Wiley.

"In short, we are booming," Justin Crabbe, CEO of private jet charter company Jettly, told Wiley. "I've never seen so much activity in our evacuation flight department."

Crabbe said Jettly has seen thousands of requests "within hours" from clients trying to arrange last-minute travel as well as evacuation requests from clients trying to avoid existing and impending travel bans, Wiley reported. Jettly is tripling its flight support staff to accommodate the demand.

Private jets are able to bypass travel bans and screenings through loopholes Crabbe explained. Private jet passengers aren't subject to commercial security and health screenings because they fly out of smaller terminals, he said.

Adam Twidell, CEO of London-based PrivateFly, similarly told Wiley that his company has also seen a rise in demand for short-notice charter over the past few weeks related to the coronavirus, ranging from the transport of medical teams to new clients wishing to avoid exposure that a commercial flight might bring.

Advertisement

3. Luxury hotels are waiving cancellation fees for certain dates and destinations and and having staff do double cleaning shifts.

3. Luxury hotels are waiving cancellation fees for certain dates and destinations and and having staff do double cleaning shifts.

Many luxury hotels have added notices to their websites that outline their policies amid the outbreak.

Four Seasons is waiving cancellation fees until April 15, 2020 for guests who have reservations at one of its locations in the Asia Pacific region or Europe, excluding the UK, according to a statement posted to its website.

The luxury hotel chain is also waiving fees for those who are traveling from Europe, Iran, South Korea, China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan at any Four Seasons hotel globally.

Mandarin Oriental is waiving change or cancellation fees for guests traveling to or from a travel-restricted area for bookings made before March 12, for stays until April 30, Shevaun Leach, Mandarin Oriental's vice president of marketing communications, told Business Insider.

If the reservation was booked through a third party, guests should contact that platform directly.

Luxury hotels also say they're boosting cleaning and disinfecting measures.

At Mandarin Oriental hotels, these measures include double cleaning shifts, screenings of employee and guest temperatures, distribution of information concerning the outbreak, enhanced health safety training for employees, and preventive measures distributed to suppliers and contractors, according to Leach.

Here's a running list of all the hotel change and cancellation policies due to the coronavirus pandemic, including Hilton, Marriott, and Airbnb.

4. Luxury travel operators are allowing customers to postpone their vacations for up to a year — but many aren't offering complete refunds.

4. Luxury travel operators are allowing customers to postpone their vacations for up to a year — but many aren't offering complete refunds.

As Skift reported, it's difficult for travel advisers to get refunds from airlines and other travel providers, so most agencies and trip operators are offering to postpone customers' trips rather than outright cancel them.

Black Tomato, which organizes bespoke luxury vacations and adventure expeditions that average $10,500 for a seven-day trip, is offering to reschedule trips planned through the end of April to destinations most impacted by the virus, in particular Japan and Italy.

For other destinations, the company told Business Insider it's dealing with postponing trips or offering refunds on a case-by-case basis.

"That said, the vast majority of our clients have been much more inclined to postpone their travel dates and not cancel outright, preferring to find an alternative time later in the year or in 2021," Black Tomato cofounder Tom Marchant told Business Insider.

Luxury travel company Abercrombie & Kent is temporarily suspending all trips for guests scheduled to travel on or after March 17, 2020, according to its website.

After April 30, travel will resume, with the exception of trips to China in the month of May, which will remain canceled. Abercrombie & Kent isn't offering refunds for cancellations at this time, but money put toward canceled trips will be applied to a future booking made up to 12 months from the original departure date, along with a 10% discount.

While some customers rush to cancel trips to Asia and other destinations most impacted by the virus, Black Tomato has seen an uptick in domestic travel inquiries and increased interest in travel to Scandinavian countries, Iceland, North America, and South America, according to Marchant.

Marchant says that most of Black Tomato's clients aren't so much worried about contracting the coronavirus as much as they're concerned about getting stuck somewhere for an indefinite period of time.

"The reality is many of our clients are busy, in-demand urban professionals with full work calendars, so the uncertainty of being quarantined is something at the forefront of the conversation," Marchant said.

Advertisement

5. Many high-end spas and wellness centers are staying open, catering to clients with coronavirus-anxiety relief packages.

5. Many high-end spas and wellness centers are staying open, catering to clients with coronavirus-anxiety relief packages.

Some spas have chosen to close amid the outbreak, but many others are staying open but stepping up cleaning measures.

Luxury wellness resort Canyon Ranch issued an update announcing that they were continuing to stay open while prioritizing "the well-being of all" and taking thorough precautions to clean and sanitize. However, they have closed down three locations across the US in accordance with local or federal guidelines. They declined to comment when Business Insider reached out to them.

Some spas are trying to cater to clients by promoting stress relief from coronavirus. The Stanford Inn and Resort in Mendocino, California, is offering an Immune System Boost vacation package to escape coronavirus anxiety, according to American Spa. And a spokesperson for Carillon Miami Wellness Resort told Business Insider that as people cancel flights and look for driving destinations, they have a BOGO offer for nearby Florida and Georgia residents.

But other places are taking more precautionary measures. Dubai has ordered all its spas and massage centers to close through the end of March. And Nao Wellness in New York City is offering remote immune boosting sessions and remote reiki options to help keep clients mentally well during the coronavirus pandemic.