Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan, Italy
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan, Italy.

Affluent travelling in droves, Italy #1, New Zealand up 196% – Virtuoso

LAS VEGAS — If there is one group that can show you what’s trendy in the world of travel, it’s people with money.

Leading luxury travel network Virtuoso, harnessing data from its worldwide travel agency members, revealed where the affluent will be venturing for the remainder of 2014, including the crucial holiday time and winter months.

Announced during the network’s annual Virtuoso Travel Week event, taking place at Bellagio Resort & Casino in here, Virtuoso shared the top destinations for travel overall as well as those spots that are seeing the fastest growth, while also sharing insight on how and why consumers are making travel decisions.

Results show a surge in demand for Down Under, some surprises in Central Europe and the next evolution in family travel – global citizenship.

Virtuoso Chairman and CEO, Matthew D. Upchurch, shared insights on the buying habits and motivations of upscale travellers. He noted that the same consumer is buying travel in two polar opposite ways: planning upwards of a year in advance for certain trips while also booking close-in, impulse trips to round out their travels.

Several factors are driving the high demand, most notably the massive rise in tourism with more than one billion people now crossing international borders as tourists, the rise in affluence throughout the world and the 78 million Baby Boomers who are now travelling.

These factors also have led to an evolution in family and multigenerational travel that Virtuoso has identified. While the trend line for more than a decade has shown that consumers want to travel to connect with their love ones, using travel to supplement traditional education for children is a new philosophy Virtuoso has termed the ‘Journey to Global Citizenship’.

“One of the smartest things you can do, if you have the means, is take your kids to China or India or Brazil,” says Upchurch. “These countries will influence much of the business being done now and in the future, and kids who have insight into these cultures, who learn to adapt in unfamiliar surroundings early on, and who gain an understanding of the world around them, will have a certain advantage when it’s time to enter the workforce.”

Upchurch also shared how travellers are approaching many of these destinations.  For the tried and true places, people are looking to experience them in a new way, visiting lesser known sites, absorbing more of the local culture, looking for anything not found in a guide book. His other observation is that travellers are on a hunt to “collect countries”.

“There is a race towards trying to get to some of the more pristine places because of the rise in mass tourism and globalization. The opening up of some of the new, non-traditional destinations that we’ve identified, offer even more incentive for travellers to explore.”

Drawing upon its data warehouse of more than US$32 billion in client transactions, then Virtuoso shared that international (non-U.S. countries) travel is up 21% compared to the same time last year. Travel to Virtuoso’s 10 most popular destinations are averaging an 18% uptick:

1. Italy (+6%); 2. United Kingdom (+30%); 3. France (+23%); 4. Canada (+9%); 5. Spain (+20%); 6. Germany (+31%); 7. Mexico (+17%); 8. South Africa (-5%); 9. Netherlands (+ 18%); 10. Greece (+57%).

Only Greece also made the top 10 list among the countries seeing the largest year-over-year growth:

New Zealand (+196%); 2. Chile (+103%); 3. Indonesia (+103%); 4. Hungary (+86%); 5. Hong Kong (+72%); 6. Croatia (+68%); 7. Australia (+58%); 8. Ecuador (+57%); 9. Greece (+57%); 10. Norway (+54%).

The group also revealed that Central Europe is experiencing a surge: Hungary (86%), Croatia (68%), Austria (48%), Poland (48%) and Czech Republic (23%). Russia, however, has seen a sharp decline, down 69%. Overall, travel to European countries is up by 23%.

Virtuoso also provided a glimpse at the network’s typical client, sharing that the median age is 56 years (53% are age 35-64) and 70% are married or partnered. They are affluent with $200,000 median household income and a net worth of $1.75 million. And, they are well-travelled with 95% owning a passport and 47% prepared to take 4-7 or even more trips this year.

Virtuoso counts 340 agencies with more than 620 locations throughout North and South America, the Caribbean, Australia and New Zealand amongst its membership. All told, that represents more than 8,900 travel advisors and upwards of US$12.5 billion in annual sales.