Fewer jet in privately, but tour operators bank on Art Basel
By Marilyn Bowden
Private jet travel last year during Art Basel didn't measure up to previous years, but tour operators say it remains a popular destination among serious collectors.
"It appears that last year for Art Basel, there wasn't much activity related to aircraft at our airports," said Marc Henderson, a spokesperson for the county's Department of Aviation. "It's hard to tell whether it was due strictly to a continuing depressed economy or whether there were additional factors involved."
He said Opa-locka Executive Airport only had 20 aircraft related to Art Basel last year, and so far there are only 20 reservations for this year.
Signature Flight Support, the fixed base operator at Miami International Airport, reports a drop during Art Basel week in 2008 to 432 total operations, down from 731 in 2007; in 2009, there were only 390 flights that week.
"In years past," Mr. Henderson said, "there would have been many more aircraft at Opa-locka, and Signature Flight Support would have filled its ramp space and made use of two large ramp spaces directly controlled by the Aviation Department."
Travel agents specializing in arts and culture travel say bookings for Art Basel are high.
A Portland, OR-based arts consulting and creative travel firm called The Jacobs Group has been arranging Art Basel packages for museums and collectors from all over the world for five years, said Director Jennifer Jacobs.
"We customize based on their needs," she said. "Some want everything arranged — airfare, transportation, hotels, all meals and so on. Then there are others, mostly individuals, who want help at site level to put together what they need. Normally that is an activities package, but we are there to be their total concierge and art consultant."
Demand dipped a bit in the past couple of years, Ms. Jacobs said, "but we've had more last-minute inquiries this year.
"But for our primary clientele, which is museum audiences, Art Basel is definitely on their list. And even for those who are not serious art collectors, it's a lifetime experience that can't be missed."
Pinacoteca New York, whose niche is curated art travel programs, is arranging custom packages to Miami for the third year, said founder Anna Di Spasi. Demand for Art Basel Miami Beach, she said, has been strong this year.
"We started getting requests in August," she said, "and we've been sold out for a month."
Pinacoteca's trips entail "a specialized introduction to the contemporary art scene in Miami," Ms. Di Spasi said, "including VIP previews to select fairs, invitations to special events and, most importantly, the guidance of a curator or scholar for each guest who will select those venues and galleries they believe are exhibiting the work most likely to resonate with the client.
"Many of our clients have limited time to be in Miami and prefer to do so under the guidance of someone who has done the research for them."
She stressed that the Pinacoteca's program is not just a tour of art fairs but of all things cultural.
"We have guests interested in seeing Vizcaya or the botanical gardens," she said, "and in getting a better understanding of Miami as a cultural city.
"We've had a lot of interest from South America — Brazil particularly — as well as from emerging collectors looking to learn more about contemporary art in Miami."
The tours are limited to no more than a dozen travelers.
"We travel with a number of specialists," Ms. Di Spasi said, "so we don't go beyond 12 people. We develop individual agendas, and we need to keep it small to be able to provide that."