Virtuoso’s Upchurch: The Definition Of Travel Agent Has Changed

by Richard D’Ambrosio
Virtuoso’s Upchurch: The Definition Of Travel Agent Has Changed

The Ritz Carlton Montreal. Photo: Ritz Carlton


Travel agents are becoming the equivalent of what financial advisors became after online trading commoditized the purchase of stocks, says Matthew Upchurch, CEO of travel agency network Virtuoso.

“When people say the era of the travel agent is over, I kind of just smile. It depends on their definition of travel agent,” he said, speaking to Bloomberg TV Canada at the end of the annual Virtuoso Symposium in Vancouver. If a consumer thinks it means “someone to pass on information that is available on line, they’re right,” Upchurch said. The era of transactional relationships are over.

But if a consumer looks at travel agents the way they do their financial advisor, the era of the travel agent is on the rise. “Stock brokers went away, but true wealth advisors are more important today than ever,” Upchurch said.

The same thing has happened with travel agents. “People who deal with true travel advisors have a relationship that is much more holistic,” encompassing every stage of a trip, from creating it, to managing it through surprises, and equally important, the discussion good agents have with clients after they return to build the consumer’s next vacation.

Upchurch said the most important thing Virtuoso customers value in their agents is the communication after a trip. “It becomes a learning relationship. Therefore we’re able to craft collaboratively.” These holistic relationships are especially important for luxury travelers.

He also spoke about how the world is realizing how far Canada has come in offering luxury travel experiences. The travel industry represents about 4.5% of Canada’s GDP, the highest it has been since 2002, according to Bloomberg TV Canada.

Bloomberg talked about a variety of travel trends, including the growth in Millennial travelers, and how the world is catching up with the reality of Canadian luxury.

“Canada has been on this meteoric rise” in popularity, said Upchurch, adding that there is “a buzz” about the Canadian culinary and art scenes. Virtuoso luxury customers are looking for the kind of authenticity that Canada offers.

He also compared Canada’s travel offerings to established luxury destinations like New Zealand, and how market perceptions and demand have caught up with what Canada has been developing for years.

Luxury travel and consumer perceptions of travel agents will be on the agenda for this year's Travel MarketPlace, in Toronto, June 13-14. Forbes.com contributor Doug Gollan and Robb Report travel editor Jackie Caradonio will take part in a discussion on these and other travel trends.

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I do think there are possibilities for traveler advisors to make money doing domestic trips. I charge a planning fee for my time and expertise, and then book commissionable hotels and activities that meet the client’s needs.

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