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The importance of the mysterious UHNWIs

When was the last time you went to a fashion show after-party and the models or designers paid for: drinks, apparel, accessories or jewelry? Many would think these kinds of personalities are the best example to frame a picture of the Ultra-High-Net-Worth individual.

UHNWIs can be the people who probably just nailed a juicy contract to be in the new Louis Vuitton or Hermes Campaign. Others would define the UHNWI simply as a wealthy person with more than 30 million USD ready to invest or spend, and according to some estimates there are almost hundred thousand of them worldwide.

It seems to me, based on my experience from various industry related shows and conferences, that the prevailing sentiment in our industry is to target the UHNWIs. We seem to assume that every person with more than 30 million USD of disposable capital needs an airplane.  And so we focus on them. Common sense after all says that hedonists, whether they are rich businessmen or models with new contracts, make good luxury buyers. But is it the right decision to define our industry by the number of UHNWI we fly per year?

Epicurus the philosopher was a hedonist, but not in the popular modern sense. In these days we tend to associate hedonism with excessive pleasure-seeking or with refined selective experiences. What Epicurus meant, though, was something more subtle; he certainly didn’t think the road to happiness was paved with luxury or material wealth. What he emphasized was the idea of being ‘untroubled’. Epicurus also saw the absence of pain as a pleasure in itself.

Many of us focus on those who can afford a plane, but the real question is do they really need it? Or even better put – do they really want it? If Epicurus would have lived nowadays he probably would ignore all the celebrity endorsed fractional ads he gets in the Wall Street Journal, the luxury fantasy of an in-flight Jacuzzi he just saw on Fashion TV and he probably wouldn’t even consult a huge pile of Luxury magazines to pick the best Golf resort in Cabo San Lucas.

“That some should be rich, shows that others may become rich, and, hence, is just encouragement to industry and enterprise”

Abraham Lincoln

Epicurus would, like other celebrities, secretaries, UHNWI, athletes and agents, just click on the top two results (maybe even the third), the search engine would yield. He would probably check online reputation of the provider, maybe he would ask around about the brand just to double check that the offer is solid. The point is that all of this would be at the reach of his hand, simple and, above all, ‘untroubled’.

The clash between the modern and the Epicurean definition of the word hedonist illustrates the different approaches of the industry representatives in the Eastern and Western markets.  I was not therefore surprised, when this graphic, comparing the east and west industries, showed up at the EBACE conference. The reason why the curve in Russia goes that ‘seasonal’ is because they are taught to market private aviation as a luxury, while in the west it is mostly promoted as a business-saving-time-tool-with-a-style.

There are many UHNWI in Central Europe but the market is simply not ready yet. We need to work on the infrastructure of the market and we must keep explaining the pros and cons. We also have to allow people to choose at their own, sweet time. Only then can our market start growing again and those clients, who will need an airplane, will follow. With growing business, more UHNWI will develop and then we are here, ready to help and provide professional service.

We should help the market to develop in recession times by building alliances and investing in the future. We should focus on helping banks and insurance houses to understand the constantly changing, specific conditions of our industry. Instead, we wait till the market takes its own dynamic and then act accordingly.  We wait until it is safe to make the next step… However, waiting too long for the next step might give the competition a head start.

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