Thomas Flohr, founder & chairman of private jet company VistaJet, opens up to Luxury Society about the business of luxury aviation, amidst whispers that global long-term spending on the sector has started to slow.
Yesterday, the media reported that global long-term spending on private jets is starting to slow for the first time since 2009, battered by slumping commodity prices, international unrest, and a global shifting of wealth from the previously booming BRIC regions.
According to the latest annual survey of the luxury-aircraft market by Honeywell International Inc., deliveries for the 11 years ending in 2025 will be valued at $270 billion – down 3.6 percent from last year’s comparable projection, and snapped a streak of gains since the last U.S. recession ended.
According to Brian Sill, chief of Honeywell’s business and general aviation unit, the decline reflects weakness in Brazil, Russia, India and China – the group known as the BRIC countries – and the impact of political conflicts in the Middle East and Africa, in addition to delays in some new plane models, which is also pushing back demand.
“ The key is to remain flexible during these events and seek opportunities outside of your regular markets ”
Yet, none of this seems to phase Thomas Flohr – founder & chairman of luxury private jet company VistaJet – because he knew all that already, it seems.
Speaking exclusively to Luxury Society earlier this year, citing disruptors to the luxury travel industry – with specific reference to the luxury private jet sector – Flohr noted economic crises in Europe, Ebola virus, volcano ash, political instability in certain regions, and austerity measures as hurdles his company for one, has had to deal with in the past, and present – but he always had a plan.
“The key is to remain flexible during these events and seek opportunities outside of your regular markets. VistaJet has been very successful at this,” he says.
“ VistaJet offers a completely different business model from fractional ownership or chartering an aircraft under management ”
Herein lies the ongoing success of the VistaJet operation – a worldwide fleet of over 50 aircraft – which he reveals has boasted consistent growth rates of 20-25 percent a year, since inception.
Here, he discusses his soaring business, its challenges, and the importance of staying one step ahead in order to navigate a clear path to success in the luxury aviation sector.
Take me through the trajectory of the Vista Jet business from inception to growth – and what is the size of the company now, projected growth, and target market?
As a previous customer and frequent flyer, it was clear that fractional ownership was complicated, with little transparency of what shares would be worth in the future, and chartering provided too much variation in quality. I saw the industry as something that was way too complicated. Looking at these challenges, I eventually purchased my first plane and then a second, launching VistaJet.
VistaJet offers a completely different business model from fractional ownership or chartering an aircraft under management.
We own all our aircraft – which allows us to have a branded fleet and offer an unprecedented consistency in service along with guaranteed access to a jet with as little as 24 hours notice without any asset risk for its clients.
As such, VistaJet was built with this ease of access and use in mind, in addition to offering the best possible product to fly in. It’s the closest thing to owning a private aircraft with the added benefit of access to entire fleet of jets.
“ VistaJet was built with this ease of access and use in mind ”
How has demand for your private jet services changed since inception?
By providing a fundamental financial difference, VistaJet enjoys consistent growth rates of 20-25 percent a year. Since its inception, VistaJet has been a leader in global service by focusing on emerging markets.
Over the past two to three years VistaJet has seen an increase in business travel to far flung destinations thanks to rapid expansion into emerging markets. For instance, last year alone, demand for VistaJet flights across Asia doubled.
Are there any far-flung destinations in particular that you’ve noticed have become more popular recently?
To date, our branded fleet of large cabin Global and Challenger aircraft have visited over 180 countries; landed at over 1350 airports; logged over 73,000 flights; and carried over 174,000 passengers. Our expansion into China is a reflection of the vast number of destinations small and large we were flying to in that region. We’ve noticed an increase in business travel to other emerging markets such as Nigeria, Uganda, and Angola.
“ To date, VistaJet aircraft have visited over 180 countries; landed at over 1350 airports; logged over 73,000 flights ”
The company recently announced its partnership with Apex Air to offer a new service in China – how will that work and how will it change the Vista Jet business?
Apex Air will be managing and operating Challenger 850 aircraft in China on behalf of VistaJet. Consequently, we are now the first international private aviation company to offer point-to-point service throughout the country.
Guaranteed access to VistaJet’s worldwide fleet of over 50 aircraft is also available for international flights covering all major aviation markets. Travellers from the region will have access to VistaJet’s 24/7 dedicated sales, customer service and operation teams.
On the subject of China – the uptake of luxury travel is often a good indicator of the general economic environment. Is it a concern that the economic instability in China may well affect the wealthy target market, your customer base, and impact on the business in terms of demand?
The economic change in China has had an impact on business aviation, particularly whole aircraft sales. However Chinese business leaders and entrepreneurs still need to fly on a regular basis, both regionally and internationally and are increasingly turning to services like VistaJet as maximizing agendas and saving time remains a priority.
VistaJet’s expansion was a result of an increased demand for private jet travel from clients based in China as well as international travelers increasing both the number of flights they take to the region and the number of destinations they are flying to within the country. As we have seen an increase in demand across the entirety of the Asian market, not just in China, we are confident that this is an area of growth where there will continue to be an increased demand for our services.
On the subject of disruptors, is the entrance of Privatefly and other low-cost carriers, which rent empty legs out as private flights, on your radar at all?
We definitely keep abreast of all the latest trends in the industry so it’s certainly on our radar but not a trend we foresee interrupting our business model in any manner. These options would not be operating with the same product consistency and availability on a global scale that most frequent private jet users need.
Are there any possible disruptors you see ahead that could affect the luxury travel industry?
Of course, there are always factors that arise, either known or unknown. For instance, in the past two years we’ve been challenged with economic crises in Europe, Ebola virus, volcano ash, political instability in certain regions, and austerity measures, just to name a few. The key is to remain flexible during these events and seek opportunities outside of your regular markets. VistaJet has been very successful at this.
“ VistaJet is the only service of its kind ”
How does Vista Jet differentiate itself from other luxury private jet providers?
VistaJet is the only service of its kind to offer one way pricing to its customers on a fleet of branded large cabin, long range aircraft. We also have the largest and youngest all Bombardier Challenger and Global aircraft fleet, with an average age of 18 months.
Additionally, when flying VistaJet travellers can expect unparalleled quality as we offer a branded fleet equipped with the latest in-flight amenities and technology. We offer our passengers exclusive options from the ground to the air through a series of partnerships with global brands.
For instance, we’ve worked with Nobu to create an exclusive VistaJet menu, collaborated with Heywood Hill on curated in-flight libraries and partnered with Body Deli on our Ultimate Sky Sleep experience. In addition, we have a number of creative initiatives and artistic partnerships focusing on the VistaJet lifestyle including custom crew jackets from Moncler and collaborations with artists Jean Philippe Delhomme, Ian Davenport and RETNA. We pride ourselves on ease of access to flights and our unrivalled point-to-point service– we can take travelers anywhere they want to go in the world at just a moment’s notice.
“ Technology has revolutionised customer interaction at every touch point in the private aviation industry ”
How is technology changing the Vista Jet offering?
Since we maintain a fleet of new aircraft, equipped with the aviation industry’s latest technology, we also have the ability to offer the industry’s leading onboard experience including WIFI throughout the cabin. We truly want the aircraft to feel like both a home away from home and a fully functional flying boardroom.
On the whole, technology has revolutionised customer interaction at every touch point in the private aviation industry over the past 1-2 years. To visit more than 1,300 different airports in more than 180 countries and fly more than 174,000 passengers on more than 73,000 flights technology is critical to the facilitation of this from booking a trip to landing the aircraft.
Examples of this are a crew customised back office application to sync a cooperation where essentially more than 50% of the employee base does not sit in an office and our entirely customised IT software, namely Global View, which churns statistics on a daily basis to aid with logistics and fleet optimisation.
Back to consumers, you obviously have a very specific target market for your services – and these customers are clearly mobile – how do you then choose your marketing mix to ensure you’re capturing them effectively?
VistaJet is all about building a brand through exceptional quality and service. We engage with existing and new consumers through a mix of traditional marketing and public relations as well collaborative partnerships with other influential brands in various sectors including: fashion, Moncler; home furnishings, Christofle; custom scents, Le Labo; cosmetics, The Body Deli; and of course gastronomy, Nobu. We also have regional marketing teams in place in North America, EMEA and Asia to create intimate social events so that we get to know our clients better.
We continue to increase our social media presence both as a means to engage with clients and expand brand recognition.
“ The best form of marketing is happy customers that recommend VistaJet – our referral network is very strong ”
At the end of the day, the best form of marketing is happy customers that recommend VistaJet to their friends. Our referral network is very strong. This is a testament to the entire VistaJet team working together to make every flight a positive and memorable experience for our customers.
Which marketing tools have you found to be the most efficient?
A variety of tools are required in order to make the most of an opportunity, it all depends on the objective. The aircraft and crew are definitely our best marketing assets. A VistaJet experience flight is our ultimate marketing tool.
Looking ahead, what are the emerging growth areas and opportunities that you would like to capitalise on in the future?
We recently expanded our service into China and the United States and are focused on growing our market presence in these countries.