Amsterdam hosted the annual Virtuoso Symposium, 17-22 March 2018, and I was lucky enough to be there for the start. That first evening, Saturday 17 March 2018, began for many with a cocktail hosted at Hotel De L’Europe, where 75 delegates were staying for a night. Hotel GM Tom Krooswijk, with the help of masses of jazz-players in full chefs’ whites and oodles of free-flowing Moët, hosted a magnificent first act. Then we took the red-carpet walkway to board two canal boats for a fascinating Amstel River and Singelgracht canal trip right to the door of the Rijksmuseum.
And there, what a thrill for all 650 delegates, suppliers and Virtuoso travel advisors. The awe-inspiring complex was open especially, to allow drinks and sensible canapés – things like bitterballen beef croquettes and chicken satay – over networking and more networking before going upstairs to an unprecedentedly easy viewing of ‘The Night Watch’ and some of the other 21 Rembrandts that the museum owns (all will be displayed, alongside 60 drawings and some 300 of the 1300 Rembrandt prints in its collection, in a 2019 exhibition to commemorate 350 years since his death in 1669).
The following day, Virtuoso sessions started in earnest, first at the Passenger Terminal, a highly appropriate venue for seven riverboat companies – AmaWaterways, Avalon Waterways, Crystal River Cruises, Tauck, U by Uniworld, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection and Viking Cruises – were about to whisk everyone on to the water for the next three nights. The bosses of those companies were publicly thanked, and then GMs of the six host hotels – Amstel InterContinental, Conservatorium, De L’Europe, Hotel The Grand Amsterdam, Pulitzer Amsterdam and Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam – were called up. Swedish futurist Anders Sörman-Nilsson, in his keynote speech, urged everyone to embrace digital, and then Virtuoso chairman and CEO Matthew Upchurch similarly backed configurability, adapting to today’s life and the value of niche-interest communities. Virtuoso now has over 17,500 travel advisors, up 126% in 5 years. They are affiliated with over a thousand agencies in 45 countries, and in total, they achieve US$23.7 billion in annual sales.
Luxury hoteliers must surely be delighted with Virtuoso’s Reserve niche, a category dedicated to the highest-spending clients. Only identified so far in the USA, Reservists are on average 62 years old, but 33% of the total are under 54. They take 8.2 trips a year, spend on average US$1735 per room night with a total annual travel outlay of US$128,000.
And with that tantalising taster, I sadly left the Virtuoso family to continue on my way, while they made ready to board their boats (for an odyssey that culminated in a final gala in Amsterdam’s Maritime Museum three nights later).
I was staying, by the way, at Amsterdam’s Kimpton De Witt Hotel, the first Kimpton outside the USA, and the kind of friendly old-and-new luxury hotel that instantly appeals. It seems that brand Kimpton has got through to American travellers of all ages, but mostly child-free. Since their flights typically arrive early morning, they are delighted to find a multifunction lobby area, with lots of seating, and sockets and good Wi-Fi, and always-there boiling water in a silver samovar for make-your-own teas.
From 5 pm every night the lobby becomes cocktail-hour, or rather 60 minutes of wine-tasting, liberally poured by hotel managers. There are so many fascinating spaces in this 274-room hotel, a conversion of a Crowne Plaza. I like the deliberately industrial feel of Wyers Bar.Restaurant, a free-standing facility with street entrances, which means 90% of the guests who come in from Nieuwezijds think it is independent: hotel guests reach the area via a zigzag walkway past an inner courtyard with hanging hammock-seats. Come to breakfast and there is no buffet but you are immediately brought a blue-and-white Delft-look Villeroy & Boch plate holding glass cocottes of cut fruit and honey with granola atop.
A server in dark grey, matching the ceiling, comes round with a wicker pannier of croissants and petits pains au chocolat. The menu lists such What’s For Breakfast offerings as a cauliflower and tabbouleh salad, but I must confess I preferred my simpler order for two eggs sunny-side up which produced eggs with the crinkly-crisp edges that I just adore. Plain wood tables have teatowel-look napkins and matching wood Peugeot mills (I have only just learned that, far from being a modern diversion of the carmaker, Jean-Pierre Peugeot started by making coffee grinders in the late 18th century). I eschewed a pay-extra ginger-glow smoothie in favour of yet more excellent coffee and went back up to 622.
This, dear readers, is decidedly Best In House. 622, the Penthouse Suite, is a duplex, with 14 spiral wood stairs taking me to a living space where everything, desk and chairs, feels so silky smooth I simply, well, stroke them. Sofas are covered in soft tweed, the bathroom has a most useful electric rail and easy-pump Marie Stella-Maris toiletries. I love the bright blue floral cushions on the bed, which delightfully is not too soft. The terrace, with 270-degree views of Amsterdam’s rooftops, is big enough for cocktails for 20. Such heavy hardcover books as Amsterdam Canals, Surf Odyssey: The Culture of Wave Riding; High Tide Surf Odyssey and David Hicks’ A Private World of Interiors indicate that this is a modern-luxury hotel for Nihi-type globalists when in Amsterdam. And being 10 minutes’ walk to the station is such a plus: I got there in ample time and left town after snacking on a paper bowl of just-fried frites and a bitterballen croquette.
Mary Gostelow travels over 300 days a year, doing one-night stands in top hotels around the world. Read her daily travelogue, www.girlahead.com