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Private air travel to Mallorca, environmentalism and the future of tourism – a conversation with Clive Jackson of VictorNovember 5, 2020

Since COVID-19 arrived, private air travel to Mallorca has increased considerably, including jets chartered by clients of Victor, the award-winning private air charter company started by serial entrepreneur Clive Jackson.

Clive shared the story of how Victor came to be, his vision and his thoughts on the future of Mallorca tourism with David Holzer via a Zoom interview.

Clive Jackson, Chairman, Victor

Victor flies to more than 40,000 airports in 157 countries and is available 24/7 by phone, web or app. The company prides itself on being fully transparent, subscription-free and customer focused. It’s the only global jet charter marketplace to share operator names, aircraft details and operator cancellation terms when quoting a trip.

The thing that sets Victor apart is the fact that it’s the first private aviation business to achieve beyond Net Zero Carbon Emissions, meaning it offsets double the amount of carbon emitted as a result of its operations.

Every booked Victor flight comes with a mandatory minimum 200% carbon offset tax that Victor has committed to paying. Clients can pay to offset their flight emissions by a higher amount of 400%, 800% or more through the Unlimited Offset Program at less than 1% of the full charter cost.

Victor has won an impressive number of awards, including being a finalist in the Great British Entrepreneur Awards “Start Up Entrepreneur of the Year” competition, ranking highly in the prestigious Sunday Times Tech Track five years running and winning the Positive Luxury “CSR Campaign of the Year” award in 2020.

Heading into 2020, Victor was flying high. But, as Clive told Humphrey Carter of the Mallorca Daily Bulletin in an August interview, in April COVID-19 hit and “it felt like the whole world had suddenly fallen off a cliff. Our business tanked by around 90% so we decided we had to take a proactive approach and launched Victor Rescue. We’ve been privileged to have operated as a front-line global rescue service.”

Victor Rescue in action

As Clive told me bluntly, “As well as enabling us to focus on where we could make a difference, Victor Rescue allowed us to reinvent ourselves and kept the lights on.”

By the beginning of July this year, Victor’s business was enjoying significant demand, partly because airline capacity was reduced and there were “more new bookers looking to the efficiency and fewer touch points of private aviation.” The number of flights to Mallorca and Ibiza in June and July of 2020 taken by homeowners or second homeowners doubled to 60% of the total.

I spoke to Clive in late October.

I understand that Mallorca plays a key role in Victor’s origin story, Clive.

That’s right. The idea came about on one of the last BMI flights back to Heathrow after the 2008 financial crisis hit.

My wife and I have had a place in Port d’Andratx since 2006. I would commute to and from the UK regularly. In 2008, before we ran into the global financial crisis, I was probably back and forwards to the island 16 to 18 times.

The net result of the crisis was that British Airways and British Midlands stopped all scheduled services to the island. This left the low-cost carriers, Ryanair, Monarch and EasyJet and they cut back severely to their schedule because of the crisis.

On this particular BMI flight, I sat with a number of regular faces, people in my position who were wondering how they were going to adjust to adjust to a significant lack of mobility. We all had a bloody good moan about what we were going to do.

The gentleman sitting to my left in 1A said “Why don’t we charter a jet? That’s what I do with my family.”

“How many are there in your family?” I said.

“Four.”

The idea for Victor was born when I asked what happened to the other four seats.

I left the plane with seven business cards from my fellow passengers who’d said that if I could get a jet organised they were in. Within eight weeks, those seven other folks had mushroomed into two hundred. I knew that if I was going to propose something, I’d have to create a serious business because I’d be flying some serious people. This spawned the business plan for Victor. We launched in 2011.

Did you know much about the airline business and chartering jets before this?

You mean “why me?” as in what fool thinks they can go ahead and build a new business from scratch in an industry they don’t understand?

I didn’t know anything about private aviation other than that I’d occasionally charter my own private jet. But many moons ago I worked in ground operations and dispatch for British Airways London Heathrow, so I had some idea about airline operations and regulations. And I had started and built successful marketing, technology and communications companies.

For the best part of 20 years, Global Beach, which I created, helped big ticket Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 brands including British Telecom, Sony Entertainment and Porsche go through the internet and digital revolution and succeed in an online environment. We ended up ranking number two in the UK.

Rightly or wrongly I felt I could do that with Victor.

What was the biggest surprise when you started looking into the on-demand jet charter sector?

My biggest surprise was how small the market was – the average number of aircraft in a fleet is three or four. Suppliers, most of whom don’t own their aircraft, manage these on behalf of wealthy owners, mainly individuals but also corporations who look to sweat the asset by renting it out.

The second was that the charter marketplace was basically a business network conducted over the phone. An integrated sales, reservations and availability booking and settlement platform didn’t exist.

But the most expensive revelation was realising what it would take to unify an industry that was incredibly fragmented on the supply side into a single digital platform. It was a huge, huge challenge. There were lots of different dynamics at play that made the path to digitalisation longer and more complex in an industry that was quite resistant to change.

Has your original concept changed over time?

We started out intending to offer private air travel by the seat but in 2011/2012 that was too advanced a concept. Within three months of launch, we’d pivoted from delivering what was a jet-share proposition model to simply offering the whole aircraft.

Air travel made easy. Photo Victor.

We quickly understood that if someone could afford to charter an entire jet, they didn’t want to wait for other passengers to join them to reduce their costs. If you’re flying private it’s because you want to travel when you want to a destination of your choosing at the hour and minute that suits you.

Roughly what does it cost to charter a private jet to Mallorca?

Flying from London, a jet that could either have four, six or eight seats on it will cost you between £8k and £12k.

What happens with quarantine and so on?

Quarantine rules apply to everyone and anyone unless you’re exempt. But what a private jet offers travellers is a far safer experience.

A study by Globe Air, one of our aircraft operators, found that someone travelling on a scheduled flight through a commercial airport will have a risk profile of something like 700 transmission points versus 30 if you’re flying on a private jet.

If you look at the demographics for private jet users, they tend to be wealthy older people. They potentially have more health issues and they’ve got to a point where they can afford to fly private and don’t want to put themselves at risk.

As the science behind climate change became more accessible and I was able to dig into it, I knew I really needed to put my head above the parapet and make a big statement to my industry.

The environmental aspect is a big part of the Victor difference. What motivated this?

It started with taking venture capital from BP ventures. This then exposed me to the issues that BP was facing as an organisation on a global scale, namely a huge amount of criticism from environmental activists because of their continued production of fossil fuel. I was also exposed to BP’s environmental strategy.

I became aware that while it’s easy to criticise an organisation like BP, they’re trying to make money. People, including activists, willingly consume their products. The dividends they pay tend to sit in people’s pension funds. This opened my eyes to the massive contradiction that exists where all the parties involved were talking at each other and not listening.

Mallorca skies. Photo Ida Carlsson.

And I soon saw that when people think about the emissions associated with travel they look to the skies, even though airliners only account for 2% of the world’s emissions and business aviation just 0.04% of that.

The level of carbon emissions was the elephant in the room for the aviation industry. No-one wanted to talk about it. But as the founder and boss of what was fast becoming one of the most successful aviation brands in the world, according to the Sunday Times and the FT not me, we were building a profile. This gave me an ideal platform to start talking to my industry and leading by example.

From 2017 onwards, we educated our operators about the issues around emissions. We encouraged them to take a more proactive stance by looking at how they bought their fuel and ultimately how they could address the issue of carbon emissions and climate change.

As the science behind climate change became more accessible and I was able to dig into it, I knew I really needed to put my head above the parapet and make a big statement to my industry.

Which was?

Let’s not wait for regulations aimed at the airline industry forcing us to start a carbon reduction and mitigation programme. Let’s take positive action now.

On 1st July 2019 we launched the Victor Beyond Offset campaign and became the first private aviation company to go not just net carbon neutral but carbon emissions positive because we were mitigating our carbon footprint 200% on every single flight. It became our truth.

We then invited our passengers to offset the entire carbon footprint of their flight by another 200%. If they contributed as we asked them to, they were taking four times the carbon out of the air that they were contributing to emitting.

This was the commitment I made. Not singly and in isolation, but with some of the world’s leading environmental activists who were very anti private aviation but acknowledged it has a part to play in keeping the world turning. They couldn’t find fault with our commitment.

Doesn’t the fact that you can do this simply demonstrate that private air travel is extremely profitable?

No. Contrary to what people believe, private air travel is not extremely profitable.

We’ve adopted a bold, brave approach and I believe it favours us.

There’s a sacrifice to be made. You’re not going to be able to take your company down a path of sustainability or lowering your emission footprint without it costing you money. Yes, you can ask your customers to shoulder the full cost, but to get the ball rolling and set an example, the more progressive companies must be willing to take on the cost themselves. It’s a big ask and most executives won’t make the decision to place short term corporate profits ahead of their environmental stance, as they fail to see how they can use it to enhance their brand proposition to their consumer.

Ultimately, success in business comes down to intuition and luck.

You’re also a very clever marketeer.

A marketeer reads the mood of the consumer. And if I get it wrong, my business suffers. Victor was my 14th company. I’m not a hired chief exec who does a four-year stint and moves on, this is my life, this is what I’m made of.

It helps that you’re your consumer.

Certainly. But also, for me, it was never about making a fortune. It was about understanding the minds of the consumer, getting inside their heads.

How do you see the immediate future of private air travel?

I don’t have a crystal ball, but I think we’ll see demand for many years to come. Purely because of the desire for safety and the fact that airlines are reducing scheduled services.

Victor flies NHS nurses to Gibraltar.

For example, just last week I discovered that BA has stopped all direct flights from London to Palma. If you have a home on the island like me, you can put off travelling to it but at some time you’re going to want or need to travel. I don’t want to considerably increase the odds of catching the virus by being on two flights and having to circulate around Madrid airport.

Proximity, duration, and the size of the enclosed space you share with someone all leave you vulnerable to catching the virus from someone that’s infected. Of course, door handles, surfaces and hands can be sanitised. That’s something we can all control but ingesting someone’s exhaled breath is where you are most vulnerable to picking up such a contagious virus.

Trust me, I know this from first-hand experience. I’m currently recovering from COVID-19, having picked it up over a business lunch last week.

What are your thoughts on the future of tourism to Mallorca?

I look at it purely from a business perspective. Mallorca’s economy is built on tourism. We all know that. But tourism puts a significant strain on the environment and the island’s infrastructure, from raw sewage leaking into the sea and the police and ambulance services having to deal with people falling off balconies when they’re drunk.

It’s absolutely fair enough for tourist authorities to think in business terms – the average revenue per tourist versus the cost of facilitating them on the island – and figure out ways to improve turnover, margins and profits. This goes hand in hand with delivering an exemplary tourist experience. Therein lies the rub.

In the past, the average spend of holidaymakers in Mallorca has been very low but they’ve created a huge added cost in terms of policing. If I now contextualise that in terms of a post-COVID world, it’s going to be much harder for the island and the tourist industry to subsidise the remedial actions they’re going to have to put in place. They’re going to have to adjust their business model.

Pure Mallorca

“Fewer, better” becomes the mantra. That is, fewer people spending more and making fewer demands on the infrastructure.

If you then consider it from the point of view of local residents and the overall tourist experience, better-behaved, well-mannered and more considerate visitors to the island are exactly what it’s looking for.

Thinking post-COVID again, with not so many people travelling, you want the people that are to make a significant contribution to the economy.

At Victor, we’ve seen that during periods of lockdown, the average spend of ultra-high net worth travellers who can reach a destination by private air travel and hole up with their family or entourage is off the charts compared to a standard tourist, let alone a budget tourist.

When we talk about the future of tourism in Mallorca, we’ve got to look beyond the end of our nose, beyond the headline, at what’s really happening. As a business leader and entrepreneur, I’m trained to do that.

Perhaps now is the best time for Mallorca to seriously rethink its approach to tourism.

David Holzer

David Holzer

A freelance writer for many years, David is the author of a number of books and magazine articles, mainly on the subjects of the Beat writers and yoga. He is fascinated by the remarkably rich cultural history of Deia, from Robert Graves to the present day.

David also teaches yoga for writers.

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