The Dalai Lama famously said, “Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.” Great sentiment, not pandemic-approved.
In a year filled with so much change, a change of scenery took a backseat in 2020. Air travel and hotel occupancy both plummeted early on, as COVID-19 put a continent-sized crimp in our collective travel plans.
But, as it turns out, not even a pandemic can stop wanderlust. With many traditional travel avenues roadblocked, others have, well, bubbled up.
The rise of the travel bubble
Travel bubbles — an attempt to reinvigorate business travel across shared borders — have been conceived of, scrapped, reimagined, reintroduced and delayed again during the pandemic, in places like China/Hong Kong and New Zealand/Australia. Hotel buyouts, once catering mainly to the destination wedding sector, have been one of the most prevalent trends on the high-end leisure travel side.
“We’re seeing mostly multifamily getaways,” says Misty Belles, managing director of global public relations for luxury travel network Virtuoso. “Families have been separated for longer than normal, and the getaways help them come together, especially if they do not live nearby.”
Buyout opportunities run the gamut, from domestic private residences and boutique properties to resorts in international locales. Camp Wandawega in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, is one of many stateside resorts that have become a destination for travelers “who were planning to be abroad but had to pivot, for obvious reasons,” says co-owner David Hernandez. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the camp offers “a completely private all-camp takeover” and smaller options for “a quaranteam” of up to 12 individuals.
Stays at the camp include self-guided activities such as swimming, fishing, archery, rowing and hiking, as well as counselor-led activities. “Regardless of which option guests choose, they have the peace of mind of knowing they’re coming to a place where social distancing has long been a way of life,” Hernandez says. “We are humbled by guests who were supposed to be in Malta or the Maldives but are happy to come to Wandawega instead.”
Domestic resorts have been sought after because of “the different restrictions in place, particularly for U.S. travelers,” says Belles. But if you can, in fact, get to the Maldives, you can have the run of the Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi.
“While our entire resort sits on our own private island, we have an exclusive private island that is designed specifically for buyouts,” says Etienne Dalancon, general manager, Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi. “Ithaafushi Private Island Estate sleeps groups of up to 24 guests, combining three villas, five swimming pools, an overwater spa, an entertainment center with a cinema, and a dedicated team of chefs and personal concierges. It’s the perfect locale for a socially distant getaway.”
Or you can head to Italy, where Villa La Massa offers a buyout of its romantic 51-room property on the banks of the Arno River in the Chianti Hills of Italy, five miles from Florence’s Ponte Vecchio. “Dating back to the 13th century, this architectural gem has been lovingly restored by its iconic sister property, Villa d’Este, to match the splendor of grand Tuscan villas,” says Stefano Venturi, general manager of Villa La Massa. “Guests can enjoy the iris and chef’s gardens, the Arno Spa, and several culinary options, all within a bucolic Tuscan landscape.”
Private jet travel takes off
The aforementioned restrictions have made commercial air travel challenging during the pandemic. But with greater flexibility and relaxed regulations — constraints on incoming commercial flights from the U.S. to the Bahamas last summer exempted private jets, with caveats for negative COVID-19 tests and mask wearing, for example — private aviation has been on the rise.
In 2020, U.K.-based private jet travel provider PrivateFly “saw a significant increase in demand for private jet travel,” with more flights and double the inquiries of 2019, thanks to the pandemic, says CEO Adam Twidell. Demand for 2021 is high and is divided between first-time and seasoned private aviation clients.
“Cuts to commercial services and the desire to fly in ‘your own private bubble’ have led to a rise in the number of new clients flying by private jet for the first time,” he says. “A number of our existing clients are also choosing to fly privately more often.”
Paramount Business Jets has taken private aviation a step further, creating luxury travel packages in partnership with Exceptional Villas. Travelers can hop a private jet to their eight-bedroom luxury beachfront villa in Jamaica or 16-person villa at Hawksbill in Turks and Caicos.
On the waterfront
These offerings tie into an emerging travel trend for those who are considering travel outside the contiguous U.S. “As more and more countries open their borders, especially in the Caribbean, we’re seeing the demand change,” she says. “Beach and island destinations remain a top draw.”
That puts a place like Guana, one of the few private islands in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), in even higher demand.
“With 850 acres, seven beaches and a maximum of 40 guests, Guana has long welcomed travelers who are looking for a true hideaway,” says General Manager Jason DuPlessis. And in a socially distanced world, Guana provides an unheard-of level of privacy. Here, you can spend your day on the BVI’s most pristine beach with just a few other guests or, for absolute privacy, choose one of our six other untouched beaches and have it all to yourself. We’ve seen an increase in inquiries from small groups and families who want more space without sacrificing luxury service or the stunning tropical setting.”
Even without the cost of a private jet to reach your destination, this type of travel isn’t cheap. “Hotel buyouts aren’t exactly for those who are weak in the wallet, so it’s a practice largely led by affluent travelers,” says Belles.
Is it extravagant to buy out an entire property to ensure your safety while traveling? Perhaps. But like an anonymous sage once mused, “If we were meant to stay in one place, we’d have roots instead of feet.”