Virtuoso Travel Week, currently taking place in Las Vegas, is buzzy with excitement with 5,000 in attendance and more attendees tuning in virtually. There’s an optimism for the continued growth of travel that is palpable throughout the hallways, meeting rooms and convention spaces of Bellagio Resort & Casino, ARIA Resort & Casino and Vdara Hotel & Spa.
Recommend got a front row seat to all the action and we’re happy to report that travel is not expected to slow down, at least not among affluent travelers. And who’s at the forefront of that momentum? You. The conference, of course, delved into ChatGPT and AI and how it’s a tool that’s here to stay, but the point is, it’s a tool and it can’t replace the travel advisor. Why? Because, as Matthew Upchurch, chairman and CEO of Virtuoso, said during the standing room-only general session and the more intimate press conference, it’s all about “the human touch,” noting that nothing can replace that. To that point, the organization has released a consumer-facing “So Virtuoso” campaign that aims to attract travelers to the network. It showcases Virtuoso travel advisors who have gone the extra mile for their clients. One story focuses on a travel advisor whose husband flew halfway across the globe—from Australia to Buenos Aires—to bring her clients a very important item they had forgotten at home and which they could not sail without (by the way, it wasn’t travel related, so outside her responsibilities).
The importance of human connection kept popping up in the many conversations Recommend had with suppliers, travel advisors and media colleagues. So, yes, AI will help travel advisors gain expertise in their skills and perhaps create outstanding itineraries, but it’s picking up the call in the middle of the night, making sure your client can check into the hotel they have their heart set on for a celebratory getaway or even flying halfway across the world that keeps your clients coming back again and again.
And if the numbers released during the conference are accurate, those affluent clients are going to continue coming back for many years. According to the Credit Suisse World Wealth Report 2022, the long-term growth, through 2026, for Virtuoso’s target traveler is growing by 16 million or 34 percent in markets across the globe.
“We’re so excited at Virtuoso because of the market opportunity of the target traveler of Virtuoso,” noted Virtuoso’s executive v.p. David Kolner. There’s continued “creation of additional high net worth and ultra-high net worth.
“We’re also super excited about the growth of the travel industry,” he continued.
Before the pandemic, travel represented one out of every 10 jobs in the world and one out of every $10 that was spent, and even though the industry took a huge hit during the pandemic, stats from the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) show that in 2023 it’s almost back to one out of every 10, while for 2033, it’s set to grow twice as fast as the global economy and generate 110 million new jobs.
In terms of how Virtuoso travel advisors are feeling about their business right now, in the U.S. it looks like 88 percent are optimistic, with only 1 percent pessimistic and 11 percent neutral/not sure. Virtuoso dug a little deeper and provided information on members by type, whether they’re a frontline advisor or hold an administrative role, etc. “We had thousands of respondents on this,” noted Kolner, “and 100 percent of administrative and operations people are very optimistic.” Ninety percent of owners and managers as well as frontline agents were also quite optimistic.
Virtuoso Builds Up Tools for Its Travel Advisor Members
To help keep optimism strong among its members, Virtuoso continues to create opportunity for growth. Among other things, they’ve initiated quarterly peer panels, because as Kolner said, “what our members say they want to do is learn from each other, not just from experts, and hear about best practices.” They are also refreshing Virtuoso’s Community space, which breaks down the “entire city of Virtuoso into smaller villages where advisors can work together with shared goals with preferred partners around areas that are passion points,” said Kolner. The changes for 2024 include the Sustainability Community becoming a full-fledged community that includes marketing and professional development, and they’ll be debuting a new New-to-Virtuoso community. According to Virtuoso data, being involved in a Virtuoso community increases sales, increases traveler satisfaction and loyalty, and adds to an advisor’s professional growth. “It’s a great tool for advisors who want to delve into a new passion or double-down on a current one,” said Kolner.
Next year, Virtuoso will be offering new 1- to 3-day events in 15 cities plus one cruise ship as well as half-day events in 25+ cities around the globe. Virtuoso data shows that travel advisors who attend events increase their annual production. Attending one event can increase production by 20 percent, while attending six+ events can increase it by 63 percent. And what happens at events? Human connections.