Our Ambassador Elena Torres is flying high in more ways than one

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Another of our members has enjoyed success in the press with a feature in Business Herald, the Herald’s monthly business supplement. ?Elena Torres who has been an Ambassador in the WeDO Executive Team since inception, has flown (pardon the pun!) in the face of diversity in the luxury travel market due to the recession. We wish her all the very best with her new venture Xclusive Travel Club as well as continued success with Execair. ?You can read her inspirational story below.

by Colin Cardwell – Business Herald – March 2012

For most of us, boarding a plane and turning left into business or first-class instead of automatically veering right with the common herd is very much the exception rather than the rule.? Once in that exclusive zone the curtain is firmly pulled, champagne is poured and the generously-sized seats recline into an improbable expanse of leg-room.

In these straitened times, though, you are increasingly likely to rub shoulders with corporate lawyers and CEOs in the rough and tumble for any available seat on a budget airline.? Last year Director magazine reported that 49% of business had implemented economy class only seating as company policy, regardless of the length of the journey.

Edinburgh based Elena Torres has targeted a different level:? the haute monde who don’t balk at ?16,000 for a long weekend in the south of France – the type of person who is largely immune from the inconveniences of recession.

Torres set up Execair, a private and corporate jet charter company in 2006, is expecting a turnover of ?750,000 in 2012 and plans to grow that to ?1 million next year.? It’s a bold statement of intent from the Stirling University graduate who was born in Paisley, lived in Spain as a child and is determined to compete with the best the worldwide market can offer the private traveller.

“My family worked in the hotel and restaurant industry.? We have always worked for ourselves and to me it was a very natural step to be self-employed” she says.? After university, she applied for a graduate scheme job at Edinburgh airport and worked for a handling agent dealing with the the private planes using the airport.

“We did all the operations work but I discovered that there was a demand in Scotland for private air charters.? People were calling us with enquiries and we were directing them to London.? It struck me that there were no private charter brokers here so I left, obtained some funding from the Prince’s Scottish Youth Business Trust and that’s when Execair Charter Ltd was born.”

Initially there were challenges, not least the dramatic economic downturn in 2008.? Torres had been approached by an angel investor and concluded a joint venture but with the recession making it increasingly difficult to realise increased funding she decided to go back out on her own and when approached by a competitor company to take up a consulting role she agreed.

“They brought me down to London and I got to know some major companies and get my foot in the door.? The networking opportunities were excellent and I built up new contacts so that when I returned to Execair I was in a much stronger position for the long term.”

“These contacts included such heavyweights as IMG Worldwide, the sports, fashion and media company, which has some 8,000 employees in 80 countries and Sony, which employs nearly 170,000 people globally.

Clients included golfers, footballers and celebrities.? Charters can range from flying an entire football team to arranging a helicopter for a few people travelling to a race meeting or golf event.

“We’ve even flown orchestras from Hamburg into Scotland” says Torres.? “Whatever the request is we will the appropriate aircraft, source it and negotiate the rates.? It obviously makes sense to source the aircraft from as close to home if, for instance, we’re flying the customer out of Glasgow, and we have software to identify the range and specifications of available aircraft in a given area from thousands of operators worldwide.”

The company had a recent coup, sponsoring Paul Lawrie, the former winner of the Open at Carnoustie who last month won the Qatar Masters Tournament for the second time.? The golfer wears the Execair logo on his clothing which Torres says is great exposure on international golf tours.? And last week Execair said it had been asked “to assist with the air logistics for a visit to the UK by a globally-known religious leader in June.”? While the company is under strict instructions not to diverge from that statement, it has been widely reported in the press that the Dalai Lama will visit three Scottish cities this summer.

Understandably, Torres is keen to maintain confidentiality over her client list, which began with two well-known Scottish entrepreneurs travelling to their homes in Monaco, Kevin Costner and Simon Cowell have been among less coy passengers and while in London Torres mixed with rarefied company such as Elton John and George Clooney – but while the business is sprinkled with glamour, that alone doesn’t pay the bills and they business is tightly run out of her George Street office, with few costs and overheads.

With hundreds of brokers in London alone, the competition is fierce although she points out that a broker can be based anywhere in the world, so geographical location isn’t a major factor and Execair does not have to market itself as one might imagine.

“We are a small business based in Edinburgh but are also a boutique consultancy and prefer being recommended by satisfied clients;? we don’t have to sell ourselves too much and it has worked well.”

There is a regular client base, though the business has seasonal peaks.? “Golf begins in March and runs to the end of the year, during the summer we fly people to second homes in Palma or southern Spain and Monaco and in winter we have travel to the Alpine resorts” says Torres.

Much of the demand is currently coming from outside the UK, running at some 80% and driven especially by Russians travelling in Europe and particularly the Mediterranean area.

So on the off-chance that I might want a private jet configured for VIP travel (everyone’s allowed to dream occasionally) what will Execair do?? “I will ask where you’re flying to, for example the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, contact all my suppliers of planes with your specifications, negotiate with them, establish costs and availability and arrange for extra VIP special requirements if requested,” says Torres.

The idea might seem implausible but the cost, she says, is not stratospheric.? “For a flight to New York you would have a jet that can seat up to 16 passengers at ?90,000 – ?100,000 for three days so the price is between ?5,000 and ?6,000 a head which is at a premium to flying business class on a commercial airline – but not by a significant amount and it gives you flexibility and none of the headaches of going through security at the major airports.? For instance, a lot of clients from London like to fly from Farnborough.”

While continuing to grow Execair, Torres is also in the process of setting up Xclusive Travel Club “This dovetails with a lot of what we are already doing:? luxury travel consultancy, including ski chalets and spas, travel management and offering commercial business and first-class tickets.

Spare time is at a premium for Torres as she launches the new business and plans her forthcoming wedding.? No prizes for guessing who is arranging travel for the honeymoon.

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