Just because you build it doesn't mean they will come.
That's the lesson Crystal Cruises apparently is learning the hard way.
Less than two years after announcing with much fanfare the purchase of a custom, superluxe 777 to launch Crystal-branded "air cruises" that the company said would be the largest, most luxurious private jet in the world, Crystal Cruises this week announced it is canceling its itineraries and sending the jet to its parent company in China to use for charters.
The announcement was not necessarily a surprise. There had been doubts and whispers in luxury travel circles for months about demand for Crystal's new product as well as for large group, private jet excursions by Four Seasons and others.
Crystal had seven air cruises planned for 2017 and 2018, including an inaugural trip in partnership with Peninsula hotels in Asia and Paris and two scheduled around-the-world tours.
The company's press release did not say why it canceled the trips, only that the jet would be used by parent Genting Hong Kong. It quoted Crystal CEO and president Edie Rodriguez as saying the move aims to "serve the vast luxury travel market in China and increases Crystal's brand presence in the region." The release went on to say the charters would provide "a distinct luxury option that is in great demand and is unmatched by any hotel, resort or cruise line in the world."
The move raised questions about whether there is a sustainable demand for such high-end products that offer the set group itineraries often associated with more pedestrian products.
For instance, with multigenerational one of the leading forces in luxury travel, there is growing demand for more private jet travel, but with more personalized itineraries in more intimate settings.
On the flip side, group offerings like those that had been planned by Crystal are attractive to solo travelers and couples who want people to socialize with. Small group excursions, after all, always come with the risk of being held captive by an annoying traveling companion from whom, it seems, you can never quite escape.
While there are many doubters about the sustainability of these large group, very pricey private jet excursions, Four Seasons said recently that trips on its branded private jumbo jet were sold out, and Geoffrey Kent, founder, chairman and CEO of Abercrombie & Kent, said his company continues to see strong interest in its private jet journeys, which like Four Seasons and Crystal's just-canceled products carry price tags in the $100,000 to $150,000 range. Kent said A&K is still planning at least two a year.
"We believe their smaller size (no more than 50 guests) is key, as is the access that the private jet makes possible," he said in an emailed statement. "We feature places far off the beaten path that are difficult to get to in comfort by any other means. The jet makes it possible to fly directly from one remote destination to the next, with no connections, and on our own schedule, not an airline's timetable."
Most importantly, Kent said, "is A&K's offices around the world and the experiences we deliver on the ground that really set our private jet journeys apart. Our deep roots and long-established relationships make it possible for us to offer unique encounters and inspiring experiences not available to others. We allow more time in each destination, spending three nights in most places to give our guests plenty of time to relax and explore. Accommodations are always the best available, thoughtfully selected to reflect the country's spirit and style, and offering gracious hospitality along with inspiring views."
And while Crystal's jet tour experiment might have faltered, Clive Jackson, founder and CEO of the London-based jet charter marketplace Victor, which supplies everything from jumbo jets for rock bands to four-seat Mustangs, said he anticipates continued growth in the use of charters by both tour operators and individual agents.
The difference, he said in an email, is that Victor has found that ultrahigh net-worth individuals "want to customize their private air travel in every conceivable way. They're paying for the many benefits that on-demand luxury jet charter can provide; in other words, being able to determine the route, timings, cabin and passengers, [while] having high-touch, concierge-style customer support [at] hand when needed."