This week, over 5,000 attendees in person traveled to Las Vegas, including people from over 100 countries, to celebrate Virtuoso Travel Network’s annual Travel Week conference. This year’s edition was marked by continued optimism from the luxury travel network, and questions about just how long this wave of high-travel demand can last.
“The term ‘sustainability’ typically pertains to sustainable tourism, but in this case, the real question is not about sustainable tourism, but if the demand for travel and experiences will continue at the frenetic pace we’re seeing,” Virtuoso’s Vice President of Global Public Relations Misty Belles told reporters during a press conference this week.
The first half of 2023 brought record sales to Virtuoso members—the group recorded 36% higher sales in 2023 than in 2022 and 69% higher than the same period in 2019, its pre-pandemic high mark. Those numbers were buoyed by the full return of international travel, which has caused some of its domestic travel to slip.
According to Belles, the amount of international travel that members are booking is “on par” with where it was in 2019 now, marking a full recovery.
That recovery is happening even with rates up significantly in almost every major city for Virtuoso clients—the top city for the fall globally is Paris, with rates up 11% over 2022, followed by London (up 16%), Florence (up 37%), Rome (up 19%), and New York (up 16%).
Some niche travel segments are up even more, including culinary travel, which is trending among baby boomers, along with experiential travel that “pushes travelers out of their comfort zone, both physically and mentally,” Belles added. Other ultra-luxury experiences, like private aviation, are also trending.
And with all that has come an improving appetite among consumers for the use of a travel advisor. According to Belles, Virtuoso has seen a 50% increase in consumers coming to Virtuoso.com to look for a travel advisor.
A lot of the optimism from the Virtuoso team comes from the fact that its target traveler market is growing—the amount of high-net-worth and ultra-high-net-worth individuals is expected to grow by 35%, by 16 million people total, by 2026. That, coupled with the fact that the travel industry is also expected to grow almost twice as fast as the global economy over the next ten years, makes for a lot of optimism.
“We are so excited because of the market opportunity of the target traveler of Virtuoso,” Executive Vice President David Kolner said.
There’s also growing optimism from its members—according to its Global Pulse Survey from July 2023, 88% of U.S. members, and 84% of Canadian members, are optimistic about their business. Globally, that goes up to 90% of advisors in its network and 85% of ICs.
That optimism is coming across market segments—future cruise sales are up 106% compared to 2019 and 44% compared to last year, and even with hotel rates up 47%, hotel bookings are up 36% compared to last year.
Of the reasons that advisors end up becoming a Virtuoso member, the biggest is the brand. Kolner said this week that “we hear this again and again from our members who are new. Access to this shared brand that is Virtuoso is an immediate mark of validation for an agency or for an advisor.”
After that, Virtuoso tries to differentiate itself with what it provides and what it represents to its members.
In terms of what it provides, some of the highlights includes:
- Access to Virtuoso.com, including its lead generation and advisor matching system, as well as the usage of profiles, and the potential for consumer leads. That website is expected to get more detail and design over the coming months.
- Access to Virtuoso’s Preferred Partner Portfolio, which grew with the addition of 170 new members over the last year, including 16 new preview partners and 50 new regional partners.
- Professional development and training, including new peer panels where members learn from each other and learning paths that follow a U.S.-university 101, 201, 301 system. Also, Virtuoso Communities, where members with the same targeted focus on a specific sales niche can communicate. 2024 will bring several new communities, including adventure, cruise, culinary, family, wellness, and a full-fledged community for sustainability.
- Virtuoso events, including Travel Week, and three-day Virtuoso on Tour event, along with half-day Virtuoso Connects events, which are coming to 25 cities in 2024. There’s also a new event for Virtuoso coming this year called Virtuoso Advance, a three-day advance professional development event that will be held in Austin, Texas this October. That event will be available exclusively to Virtuoso Travel Advisor graduates and Ultraluxe Community Top Producers.
All of that is aimed at helping advisors increase sales. “Events do work,” Kolner said, adding that those members who attend events tend to improve sales more than those who don’t. Data shows that, too, with the average annual production increasing 20% for those who attend one event, 45% for those attending two, 49% for those attending three, and more than 60% for those who attend six or more Virtuoso events annually.
Marketing and resources
Just as the high-net-worth and ultra-high-net-worth population continues to grow, so do Virtuoso’s resources to help members reach and engage those travelers.
The highlight of these resources is Virtuoso’s Wanderlist, a consumer-facing program that allows consumers to create a roadmap for their own vacation futures that Virtuoso advisors can use to plan their next trips and communicate. Think Pinterest but for planning vacations, with actual itineraries available to be added to the list and a connection to a real-life travel professional that can make dreams and visions a reality.
Virtuoso launched a new app for Wanderlist during Travel Week, which Kolner said is “a great tool for advisors to use with their current clients and to use with new clients as an introduction.” Kolner added that advisors can use it to qualify a client, allowing a client to download the app and go through the destinations and experiences that he or she is seeking, and the advisor can see those selections.
There’s also an expansion of Virtuoso, The Magazine, the group’s award-winning print publication, and Virtuoso, The Book, which will launch in Latin America.
Virtuoso is also gearing up to launch a new film series called So, Virtuoso, a series of six films that it has created for its members to use in their marketing. So Virtuoso is a global consumer-facing marketing campaign with the goal of attracting the right high-value client to the network.
The first phase of the campaign was launched this year and achieved over 7 million impressions. It will be initiated in Australia and Canada this year, before possibly going international after, executives said, and a toolkit for in-network use launched this week.
“The whole campaign is really designed not just to buy ads, it’s designed to be amplified by the network itself, have the network participate in its propagation,” Senior Vice President of Marketing Helen McCabe-Young said.
Virtuoso’s marketing resources have made a significant difference for its advisors—the group has tracked a client’s spend versus an advisor’s usage of the resources, and each year, outside of 2020, those advisors who opt to receive the resources see an average annual spend of at least 37% higher than those who don’t. Last year that number hit a high mark at 38%.