It used to be that private jets were for celebrities and those rich enough to buy the exclusivity of them.
Going ‘private’ was a thing of glamour, more than utility. These days, it’s the opposite.
“People charter their own plane because they want to create their own schedule and they want privacy. It’s a boardroom in the sky,” says serial entrepreneur Clive Jackson.
Jackson knows the industry intimately, from both personal and professional experience.
Frustrated by insufficient flights from Palma de Mallorca to London, Jackson took his years of expertise developing innovative digital services for leading luxury brands like Bentley and Jaguar and established Victor, a private jet booking site and app. Convenience wasn’t the only driver for Jackson; transparency – until recently a concept largely unknown in the private jet industry, was crucial.
Historically, private jets have been booked through brokers – brokers who aren’t regulated, and can double-dip, earning commissions from the supplier and the customer.
Brokers have maintained their monopoly thanks to an unwitting acceptance of an opaque system that keeps clients in the dark, preventing them from making their own bookings. Clients haven’t had a choice until now.
“I was looking to change the way it’s been done over the last 20 years. In the world of private jet charter, there’s no regulation over commissions. The way Victor changes the model is through disclosure.”
Victor caps commissions at 10 percent – a stark contrast to brokers charging between 20 and 25 percent. Jackson says what he and other clients want, is to know the breakdown of costs.
“As a consumer, I want to know what they’re making and be able to make a value judgment call. When we provide a quote we tell you the provider, which aircraft, how old is the aircraft, the safety rating and what it really looks like inside. You don’t go into hotels.com and book a 4-star hotel in Paris and only find out which one or what it looks like once you’ve turned up on Eurostar.”
That’s how the industry has worked for decades. Jackson believes most consumers make the decision to fly private based on the same, simple set of factors: convenience – after all, the primary reason for paying extra is because there isn’t a suitable scheduled commercial flight, privacy – it allows busy people to take advantage of in-flight time for high level meetings, and finally, a cost benefit analysis– because nobody, no matter how wealthy, likes throwing away money and those who can afford to, probably own the aircraft.
“Those who are servicing the customer have always had the belief that because the customer was so wealthy, they didn’t care how much they spent. That’s wrong. Value has always been important. Until now, the ability to determine the value hasn’t been available. Of course they care.
The affluent and ultra-high net worth’s today, more often than not, are self-made, and they’ve got there by being in control of their own destiny. They want to and wish to maintain that level of control over everything in their life.”
Like other startups disrupting decades-old, shadowy practices, Jackson is finding that providing the customer with information is increasing sales, rather than pushing those empowered clients away from his site.
“We give them the ability to do an off-book deal. That has singularly led to 146% annualized growth year on year for the last three years.”
The sea shift is not just in the transparency, but Victor’s anytime, ease of use proposition. The website and app allow users to search open leg flights and custom journeys around the world with specific dates, destinations and capacity, as well as update schedules immediately.
The private jet industry is valued at an estimated $14 billion USD, with the US making up half the market. Southeast Asia is second and Victor will expand service to the rest of the region, from Shangai to Hong Kong, Bangkok, Melbourne, Sydney and Darwin.
The future for others to disrupt traditional businesses is bright, Jackson says.
“It’s about how to combine high tech and still maintain high touch for the high net worth customer when they require it. Certain bits of information can be delivered digitally and take massive cost out of the service industry. We give them the choice to interact as and when they like.”