VistaJet Courts Corporate Clients With New Membership Program
As commercial airlines are forced to restrict routes and travelers remain nervous about exposure to COVID-19 in airport terminals, the private business aviation sector is attracting significant levels of new business.
But how to turn these newcomers to private aviation into regular, repeat customers?
“I have absolute confidence that once a prospect gets onto one of our aircraft, we will nab them as a long-term customer,” says Ian Moore, chief commercial officer of VistaJet. “Once you’re in there, in our cabin, we’re very difficult to let go.”
The Malta-headquartered company operates a global fleet of more than 70 business aircraft it offers to customers under a membership program where, in exchange for an up-front commitment, short-notice availability is guaranteed. The firm also makes its aircraft available to the ad-hoc charter market.
It is now launching a third product, called Dynamic Corporate Membership, which gives corporations access to the company’s jets on a short-notice, as-needed basis, but with a much-reduced minimum cost, and the ability to pay for hours flown in arrears. Customers of this program will benefit from dedicated cabin crew and, potentially, having a VistaJet staff member embedded in their flight or travel department. The per-hour costs are higher than for the company’s standard membership program, but customers are able to transfer across if they wish to make the longer-term commitment.
The program has been in the works for some time, but Moore says VistaJet has brought its introduction forward in light of increased recent demand and inquiries from corporations.
“Almost 50% of the increase in interest we’ve had over the last six months has come from the corporate market,” he says. “We’ve been listening and talking to them about how to get started, and the biggest issue is how to do that without having to put significant amounts of money in.”
Moore believes VistaJet’s offer—which, he argues, combines the flexibility and responsiveness of whole or fractional ownership without the up-front costs or balance-sheet issues—is one that corporations will find particularly compelling in the current moment. Uncertainties—around the virus and the associated travel restrictions, but also over geopolitical issues such as the U.S. presidential election and the UK’s protracted exit from the European Union—mean companies are particularly eager to avoid making long-term commitments until they have greater clarity over future operating realities. Yet those businesses still need to be able to respond quickly to opportunities amid the pandemic.
“Businesses that are going to be the new leaders over the next decade are the ones that are doing deals today,” he says. “Bold companies of today are making moves, and we want to work with those companies now. They could be customers for 10 to 15 years.”
There is clear evidence of growth in the high-net-worth-individual (HNWI) market. Hong Kong-based Apertus Aviation has just opened an office in the UK, citing heightened interest from luxury travel agents and founder Ringo Fan’s connections to the Asian HNWI community.
Sentient Jet reported on Oct. 7 that 50% of its jet card sales have been to new customers—up from 30% pre-COVID—and that the majority of flights have been for personal travel.
VistaJet’s observations tally, but Moore says the company—which he says has always appealed to the HNWI sector “mainly because of our sort of maniacal focus on service”—needs to increase its presence in the corporate market. He acknowledges that the launch of the Dynamic Corporate program reflects a drive to increase the utilization rate of VistaJet’s fleet. He also argues that the investment necessary to deliver the new product makes more sense than spending money on marketing.
“You need a healthy balance of HNWIs and corporations, because leisure and business flying are usually diametrically opposed in terms of days,” he says. “With the two together, you can get to that high utilization on a per-day basis. Our numbers are pretty impressive compared to what the world’s restrictions are right about now. But I’d be missing a huge opportunity if any spare capacity that I have isn’t being used to advertise ourselves to the corporate market. I would rather have a lower bar of entry to get some of the biggest companies in the world to start flying with us than spend a large amount of money on an advertising campaign.”