It’s no secret that air travel throughout the United States has slowed substantially in recent years. Whether it’s the economy, technological advancements or simply passenger frustration, the industry has seen smoother days. But according to local travel experts, air travel among Utahns is beginning to pick up, especially with the state’s executives.
Mike Cameron, CEO and president of Christopherson Business Travel, says the all-inclusive business travel agency has seen an increase in executive bookings, despite increased ticket costs. “We have seen a strong rebound in [executive] bookings for 2010,” he says. “While we are not back to where we were in 2008, in terms of transactions we are making great progress. Our transactions are up 10 percent for 2010 versus 2009. Our dollar bookings are up 24 percent this year.”
Alan H. Hess, president of Hess Travel, says the Bountiful-based agency has experienced a similar comeback. “Recent months have continued the trend for modest growth in travel bookings for many of our business clients,” he says. “I would say that the growth is not accelerating, but remaining steady.”
Though executive air travel has increased, Hess and Cameron agree that Utah execs remain conscious of cost, still refraining from purchasing first or business class tickets. “I would say that senior management is more cost conscious and that they are less likely now to purchase full-price first class domestic and business/first class international tickets,” says Hess. “Executives are certainly flying, especially on long international flights, in elite classes of service, but they are generally getting in to those classes of service by buying discounted tickets or upgradeable coach tickets.”
At Your Service
While flying commercial airlines makes sense for many executives, others are finding nontraditional air travel methods work better for their business needs. Chartered air travel has become one of the fastest-growing trends in executive travel, according to Bill Haberstock, CEO of Million Air - Salt Lake City. In fact, while commercial air travel has slowed significantly in recent years, Haberstock says chartered air travel actually grew during the recession. “Many companies took advantage of the recession to make those important sales. They realized the value of meeting face to face.”
Million Air is a full-service aviation company operating at the Salt Lake International Airport and Provo Municipal Airport. The company operates more than 850 flights each year, 80 percent of which are conducted for business purposes.
“Innovative companies realize that they can efficiently transport employees, customers and suppliers [with chartered travel]. They’re moving people around strategically and efficiently to benefit their business,” says Haberstock, adding that it’s not just large corporations utilizing chartered services. “The vast number of businesses that use charter services are small- to mid-sized businesses. Most have between 25 and 500 employees,” he says.
Haberstock explains that though chartered air travel is generally more expensive than commercial air travel, the savings associated with efficiency and conveniences outweigh the seemingly high costs. “Business aviation and aircraft charter is intrinsically valuable in that it allows a company to capitalize on two of its most valuable resources: time and people,” he says. “Business aviation allows its passengers to take the time to connect, communicate and interact with their customers face to face.
“When using business aviation and aircraft charter, you are able to adjust your schedule based on your needs,” he adds. “It allows you to ensure that the client is satisfied and the job is done correctly. In today’s increasingly competitive global economy, the need to establish and nurture a personal relationship with the client has never been more critical.”
Sky’s the Limit
Similar to chartered air travel, private plane ownership offers efficiency and convenience unmatched by traditional air carriers. But while private plane ownership is not a viable option for many corporations in today’s economy, some executives are turning to the trend of fractional plane ownership.
“Sharing the cost with other companies and individuals, you can now have access to your own airplane, complete with a professional pilot, anytime you have the need,” says Gene Curtis, CEO of G&B Aircraft Management.
According to Curtis, fractional plane ownership provides the private air travel experience associated with owning your own plane at a relatively inexpensive cost. “The operating costs of fractional plane ownership are comparable to that of an automobile, and shares can be purchased ranging from $5,000 for a modern single engine airplane to $29,500 for a pressurized, six-seat, cabin-class aircraft.
“Private air travel is now convenient, economical and available,” he adds. “A small investment in a professionally managed, fractionally owned airplane provides a system for private air transportation, where you always travel first class. Your business will be more competitive, your lifestyle more versatile, and you can provide your family, friends and associates with a convenient option.”
Time savings is also key with fractional plane ownership, Curtis says. “Have you ever missed a commercial flight? Have you ever been forced to kill hours waiting for a scheduled flight? When you own the airplane, you make the schedule. Your flight leaves when you say it’s time to go, and not a minute sooner,” he says.
Private air travel also allows executives to reach numerous destinations; both Haberstock and Curtis say their pilots are able to fly to more than 5,000 airports that commercial air carriers cannot reach.
“Imagine starting at your own office, then spending the day visiting clients and job sites throughout Utah and surrounding states, and still you are home in time for dinner,” says Curtis. “You cannot do it in a car, and you cannot do it if you fly commercially. You can do it in your own airplane.”
Make the Connection
Regardless of which air travel method
is right for your company’s needs, experts agree that making a personal con-
nection is vital for successful companies in any economy.
“Travel is essential for business even with today’s communication technology,” says Curtis. “Company executives and employees must visit their factories and suppliers, attend regional conferences, make sales calls, transport employees between different facilities, send their associates to trade shows and merchandise buying trips, and for hundreds of other business reasons.”
“The assumption by some was that conference calling, fax and e-mail would reduce or eliminate the need for travel,” adds Hess. “What really happened is that the number of contacts between business associates grew exponentially, and travel remained just as important. … Customers’ expectations are rising, along with the need for significant in-person contact. It makes little sense for companies to save money by simply not traveling.”