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How the wealthy are preparing for the next pandemic, from investing in private travel and superyachts to building underground bunkers

Business Insider logo Business Insider 7/3/2020 insider@insider.com (Emma Reynolds)
a room with a pool table: The community pool in a Vivos bunker. Courtesy of Vivos © Courtesy of Vivos The community pool in a Vivos bunker. Courtesy of Vivos
  • The pandemic is causing many wealthy people to reexamine and reinvent their living options.
  • The uber-rich are chartering yachts this summer to holiday and quarantine in seclusion.
  • High-level hygienic procedures on private aircraft and superyachts help keep worried travelers at ease.
  • Luxury bunkers are on the rise, complete with gyms, wine cellars, theaters and art galleries.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

As the coronavirus pandemic sweeps the globe, some wealthy people have been able to buy some relative peace of mind with access to private air travel, secluded superyachts, and underground bunkers. 

Business Insider spoke to seven experts across private aviation, yachting, and luxury bunker construction firms to get an inside look at how the wealthy are bracing for the next global crisis — even as we still find ourselves in the midst of the current one.

The commercial airline industry is struggling, but private jet providers are reporting record-breaking upticks in new customers

As commercial airlines decrease routes and the uncertainty of COVID-19 lingers, a set of wealthy clientele is abandoning commercial travel in favor of flying private. Experts say private jet travel has shifted from a luxury option to a necessity. 

"If you are somebody who has underlying health concerns and can't risk a commercial terminal or flight, it isn't a luxury," Patrick Gallagher, President of NetJets, the largest private jet operator in the world, told Business Insider. "It's something you have to do if you want to see your grandkids or want to move between your primary residence and vacation homes."

a large passenger jet sitting on top of a runway: NetJets planes lined up. Courtesy of NetJet. © Courtesy of NetJet. NetJets planes lined up. Courtesy of NetJet.

While private jet travel hit record lows in March and April, some companies saw a significant increase in flights in May and June, many of which came from new entrants.

Andrew Collins, President and CEO of Sentient Jet, told Business Insider that the company saw a spike in new customers in April.

"In a given month pre-COVID-19, about a third of our business would come from new clients," Collins said. "More than 50% of incoming business since early April is from new clients." Collins also predicted this will hold true for the foreseeable future. 

Anthony Tivnan, CEO of Magellan Jets, described a similar pattern. Per Tivan, Magellan Jets  saw a 117% increase in new customers between March and early June compared to the same period in 2019. The majority of these customers were high-risk passengers or families fearful of crowded airports. 

VistaJet, a global aviation company that operates in more than 187 countries, also reports existing clients are turning to private travel more. "Our current customers, who used us only for a percentage of their flying in combination with commercial flights, are moving to 100% of their flying being private," said Ian Moore, Chief Commercial Officer of VistaJet.

a room with a couch and a chair: The interior of a VistaJet plane. Courtesy of VistaJet. © Courtesy of VistaJet. The interior of a VistaJet plane. Courtesy of VistaJet.

This increased demand has also created changes within the private aviation industry. Companies have implemented increased hygienic procedures that include sanitizing all touch points after a customer flies and ensure crews are properly quarantining, undergoing temperature checks, testing and wearing proper PPE. Gallagher told Business Insider that NetJets is spending more than "$1 million per month just on aircraft cleaning." 

Moore of VistaJet says that he predicts the "private" aspect of private aviation will take on an entirely new meaning due to COVID-19.

"Now, private travel is knowing and being in control of who you connect with and who you touch along the way," Moore said. "People also ask, 'If something goes wrong, how do I get back?' There's a lot more thinking going into each flight than ever before."

Superyachts offer isolated escapes on the high seas

While crowded cruise ships were epicenters of early COVID-19 outbreaks, superyachts continue to serve as a form of isolation for the uber-wealthy.

Burgess Yachts, a global leader in yacht brokerage and charter, organized a number of isolation charters during the early days of the crisis.

a large ship in a body of water: Courtesy of Burgess Yachts. © Courtesy of Burgess Yachts. Courtesy of Burgess Yachts.

"We chartered two or three different families who decided, rather than spending eight or 10 weeks in New York City, they would spend it on a yacht somewhere in the Caribbean," said CEO Jonathan Beckett, adding that the ships are completely self-sufficient and able to hold months of provisions if need be. "It wasn't your normal cruising around, eating, drinking and having fun, but it was probably more educational. With one charter, the crew were helping to educate the kids, and the chefs were teaching them how to cook."

Meanwhile, Stephan Makrymichalos, CEO of IYC, a global firm that operates yacht charters and facilitates yacht sales around the world, spoke to Business Insider about the measures the firm has taken to vet its clients' health. That involves giving all guests a questionnaire to assess whether or not they have been "unnecessarily exposed" to the virus.

a boat sitting on top of a building: Africa, an IYC yacht, is a popular charter choice among celebrities. Courtesy of IYC yachts. © Courtesy of IYC yachts. Africa, an IYC yacht, is a popular charter choice among celebrities. Courtesy of IYC yachts.

"In some cases, the captain of the yacht will demand that guests fly private," Makrymichalos said. "Should the guests require crew members be tested, that's another process we will follow to give guests reassurance before they board the yacht."

In fact, IYC and Magellan Jets recently partnered to help reduce exposure for clients chartering a yacht. People can fly into the closest private airport, go through customs and drive straight to the yacht without "unnecessarily" coming in contact with anyone. 

Although the superyacht industry was negatively impacted by COVID-19, Makrymichalos says IYC has a high demand for transactions of large yachts to first-time buyers, which could indicate that a wider clientele is seeing the benefits of owning a yacht, especially during a global pandemic.

Makrymichalos said it's too soon to determine a long-term pattern, but he sees clients chartering yachts for up to a month at a time, compared to the average week-long charter. Beckett says Burgess Yachts is also seeing some clients book longer durations of three to six weeks, mostly in European countries, like Greece and Croatia, as well as the Bahamas.

Underground private bunkers are akin to superyachts, with every amenity you could imagine 

In the event of a global disaster or future pandemic, the wealthy are seeking more permanent living options to protect themselves from outside threats. 

Robert Vicino, CEO of Vivos Group, told Business Insider bunker sales were up in response to COVID-19.

"I think the virus was a wake-up call for people that were saying this sort of thing will never happen in our lifetime," Vicino said. "Despite the fact they have it all, they don't have it all if they don't have a survival solution."

a bedroom with a large bed in a room: The bedroom in a Vivos bunker. Terravivos.com © Terravivos.com The bedroom in a Vivos bunker. Terravivos.com

Vivos Group has a variety of bunker options, ranging from 10,000-person underground communities to private bunkers in a client's location of choice.

"I've had very high-net-worth individuals contact us and say they have everything for their families, like trusts, insurance, and houses, but they don't sleep well at night knowing they don't have a 'life assurance' plan for them, meaning something that will help them survive whatever is coming," Vicino said.

Vivos' bunkers are the opposite of roughing it.

Vivos' bunkers are the opposite of roughing it.

The company offers private bunker creation in your location of choice, but if you prefer luxury community living, you can apply for a coveted spot in Vivos Europa One. Situated inside a Soviet-built bunker dating back to the Cold War in Rothenstein, Germany, the 250,000-square-foot complex hosts just 34 private living quarters, each nearly 2,500 square feet and priced at £3 million ($3.3 million).

Vicino said clients are responsible for hiring their own designers and architects; he recommends the same people who designed their yachts or private planes to create bespoke furnishings. He also noted that the benefit of a community bunker versus a private bunker is around-the-clock security and a community of like-minded individuals (who are heavily vetted based on tolerance and open-mindedness), not to mention more space and amenities. 

a display in a room: A pub in a Vivos bunker. Terravivos.com © Terravivos.com A pub in a Vivos bunker. Terravivos.com

Amenities at Vivos Europa One include miles of underground roadway, restaurants, coffee shops, private wine cellars, temperature-controlled art galleries, a DNA storage vault, swimming pools, a hospital, gyms, security quarters, theaters and even gardens with simulated sunlight.

"The solution is and always has been underground," Vicino said.

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