NEW YORK — Virtuoso members got a look at consumer travel intentions, potential future travel trends, the latest stats and more at the luxury retail travel organization’s first event of 2021, the annual US and Canada Forum, Feb. 2-4.
The live, virtual event sold out with more than 350 attendees, and more than 2,745 one-to-one networking appointments.
A live address from Virtuoso’s Chairman and CEO Matthew D. Upchurch provided the keynote speech, plus there were presentations on the company’s forward plans from Virtuoso’s executive team.
Upchurch said the event, which brought together the owners and managers from Virtuoso’s travel agency members in Canada and the U.S. as well as preferred partners from around the world, was met with optimism for travel’s future as pent-up demand within the leisure travel sector becomes increasingly apparent, along with a more conscious perspective for building back better.
“As an industry, we’ve been through the toughest days we’ve ever faced, and we know to get to the other side, we have to work together; ours is an interdependent business and we need each other,” said Upchurch.
“If you look beyond the challenge, the opportunity ahead of us is immense, to come back stronger. As always, the customer sits at the centre and determines our fate, but all indicators are that people want to travel again, with 93% of our clients saying they will never take traveling for granted again. And whenever there is a major disruption, it actually helps our profession. People refocus on the value of working with a travel professional, and we’re seeing more consumers than ever seeking out Virtuoso advisors as a result,” he added.
Looking at a financial snapshot of U.S. clients, Virtuoso’s senior vice president of global partnerships, Albert Herrera, noted that while service spending in 2020 fell by $575 billion, an 8% decline, it has been reported that Americans’ personal savings have increased 173% over 2019.
Herrera also noted a significant increase in consumers seeking out advisors via the network’s Virtuoso.com website, with inquiries doubling from June to September 2020.
Virtuoso agents are feeling more optimistic too about the days ahead. In a recent Virtuoso survey, when asked when the network anticipated feeling comfortable or confident about business returning, 80% of respondents said that it will be this year. Virtuoso advisors said almost half of their daily business is new bookings, with only 10% using travel credits and 38% being business with full revenue.
Virtuoso bookings began to pick up during the last quarter of 2020, across all partner categories. Durations for booked vacations are getting longer too.
In 2020 Virtuoso welcomed new agencies from every region to its network, with attrition of 2%, largely due to the pandemic.
Virtuoso senior vice president of marketing, Helen McCabe-Young, laid out the group’s strategy around building strength in the Virtuoso brand and products for the benefit of the entire network, as well as increased emphasis on global public relations efforts. Building on its customer-centric marketing with measured results, McCabe-Young said 2021 marketing will focus on enhancing data and insights, segmentation, targeting and reporting to deliver marketing programs that support member and partner business goals.
The organization will further optimize content that connects and resonates emotionally with consumers such as that featured in the network’s magazine, Virtuoso Life, as well as its newly redesigned Virtuoso.com site.
At the same time, Virtuoso will evolve existing products, like its legendary Best of the Best hotel guide which will launch digitally in 2021.
Meanwhile the luxury travel specialist’s free travel dreaming and planning social website, Virtuoso Wanderlist, rolled out in June 2020 and remains at the heart of the group’s consumer engagement. Current top Wanderlist destinations are Italy, France, Japan, Australia, Greece, South Africa, Spain, US, Iceland and the UK. Virtuoso says analysis indicates that travellers remain interested in experiences that are more isolated and off the beaten path, or that revolve around wellness and culture, all of which echoes what Virtuoso is seeing in bookings: sustainability, ski and wellness remain steady, as does adventure, beach, golf and seclusion-oriented travel.
Virtuoso’s US and Canada Forum also looked at the company’s core pillars. Amid reports that during its meetings with members and partners over the last year, a common theme emerged around the desire to use this time of change to not just rebuild businesses, but to improve the travel industry, starting last summer, Virtuoso began the important work of addressing diversity and inclusion in the Virtuoso network and in the travel industry at large.
Diversity and anti-bias professional development training with Tony Chatman was featured during Virtuoso Travel Week. Additionally, in 2020 a working group of partners, members and Virtuoso staff was formed, and facilitated by the nationally acclaimed business coach, lecturer, and motivational speaker Ellen J. Burton. The group identified three areas of focus:
- Committing to anti-racism as a core value and supporting diverse employment
- Education by promoting resources to help its network learn
- Empowerment through intentional networking and relationship-building
Another core value and strategic tenet within Virtuoso, which began more than a decade ago, is sustainability. Virtuoso’s Vice-Chair and Sustainability Strategist, Jessica Hall Upchurch, calls it “the conscious comeback” – ie. how the past year has made travellers more cognizant of their place in the world.
The three key pillars Virtuoso identified in 2017 remain the company’s guidepost: travel that protects the planet; supports local economies; and preserves cultural heritage. Poll results show that 75% of Virtuoso clients say the pandemic has made them want to travel more sustainably in the future.