Virtuoso members in Australia and New Zealand have been thrown a lifeline during the coronavirus pandemic, with the luxury travel network waiving its membership charge and accelerating the delivery of override commissions to assist with cashflow.
Speaking exclusively with LATTE, Virtuoso Asia Pacific Managing Director Michael Londregan revealed the network had established a three-pronged assistance program to help member agencies struggling during these “strange times”.
“We are in 50 countries around the world. We’ve got agency members and supply partners globally and everyone’s businesses have been devastated by the fact that no one is travelling and that the business that was on-the-books virtually had to be reworked and refunded and postponed. So everyone is in survival mode.”
Londregan is, however, optimistic, saying Virtuoso works with the best agencies and products in the world who are “more resilient and more capable to rally” in times of turmoil.
He told LATTE that the three areas of focus in Australia centred around cash flow and upskilling.
“As members have had to deal with cancellations a lot of our agencies are actually going to have negative cash implications over the coming months. We are doing all we can do to reduce the cash draw for being part of our membership, so we’ve worked and will not charge members a fee for the second quarter,” he said.
In the second instance, rather than waiting for all the previous year’s overrides from suppliers to be aggregated and then split among agencies, Virtuoso has begun separate payment tranches.
“The minute that our suppliers pay we are handing 100% of the override back to the members. We’re giving back to the members now. They are not waiting for the tardiest of suppliers to pay us before they get paid. If the supplier is paying early they are getting that money early, and that really helps with cash flow,” Londregan explained.
Virtuoso’s third initiative for members is centred around creating communities and sharing advice, and complementing best practice advice that AFTA is already offering.
“We’re trying to overlay the best possible advice for luxury and very high-end agencies. Sometimes the same advice, sometimes a little bit different.
“For our members there are really important elements – product development and making sure members are professionally using this time to train on the things that sometimes in a busy time period they just don’t get the time to focus on, such as professional selling skills, and skills around handling clients’ enquiries relating to the crisis.”
In addition, Londregan added that Virtuoso has assisted with upskilling owner/managers during crisis mode and offering best practice advice, saying “that’s really helping during this period of uncertainty”.
The luxury travel expert also welcomed the Australian government’s JobKeeper allowance, but urged members to ensure staff are using this time wisely and assigned tasks that will benefit the business post-COVID-19.
“It’s good that we’re able to keep them engaged in the agency business but isn’t this an ideal time to have a look at updating consumer databases and segmenting the information?” he questioned.
Londregan suggested member agencies should assess who in their team needs professional development, destination training and improving their selling skills.
“While the government has given us the JobKeeper allowance we don’t want them to be placeholder roles. We want them to use that time so they are actually fitter when they enter the recovery mode.”
More from Londregan in next week’s LATTE.