Business optimism among Virtuoso’s on the rise

Here is what was discussed at Virtuoso Symposium 2022 aboard Silver Dawn

Silver Dawn in Porto | Credit: Porto de Leixões/Facebook

Virtuoso has brought together key stakeholders from its travel agency members and preferred partners for this week’s 2022 Symposium. Attendees boarded Silversea’s newest vessel, Silver Dawn, for an exclusive pre-inaugural cruise: a five-day roundtrip sailing from Lisbon with two days of exploration in Porto.

The high-level event attracted over 300 of the industry’s most prestigious executives from 35 countries for networking, ideation sessions and bonding through shared experiences. The business content featured a deep dive into generational insights on traveller behaviours and workplace dynamics, as revealed through the work of Virtuoso’s Innovation Teams. This in-depth look into travellers’ habits and today’s workforce was also at the centre of roundtable discussions focusing on future opportunities and marketing innovation, all intended to further propel luxury travel across each generation.

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The event began with an Opening Session at the Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon. In addition to presentations by Virtuoso executives, including a keynote from Virtuoso Chairman and CEO Matthew D. Upchurch, the main topic focused on a generational traveller study Virtuoso conducted for more than two years. Presentations delineating the differences and commonalities between each of the three most prominent generations were followed by a Q&A session moderated by Virtuoso Senior Vice President, Network Products and Strategy David Kolner featuring Baby Boomer, Generation X and Millennial representatives.

Upchurch spoke about the inter-generational collaboration that has proven to be a great strength within the network, highlighting that mentorship and the sharing of ideas and best practices are foundational to Virtuoso.

“We have a clear advantage,” said Upchurch, “because we don’t just sell experiences. We offer the experience of dealing with us, where travellers benefit from relationships of trust.

“When the last Boomer turns 60 in 2024, it will be the first generation in history where 80 percent is expected to live an entire additional generation, about 20-25 years. Add to that the growth of global affluence that only accelerated during the pandemic and the prioritisation of spending on experiences over goods by all generations, and you have a growth industry with the value of Virtuoso travel advisors at its core.”

Michael Upchurch, Virtuoso Chairman and CEO aboard Silver Dawn

Upchurch went on to state Virtuoso’s strategy of organising efforts around three key activities: how the group connects with new travellers, how network participants connect with each other and how the organisation connects with external value-added partners.

He explained how these efforts lead to opportunities for increased growth by focusing on geographic reach, traveller passions and multiple generations. Upchurch pointed to the evolution of things like the network’s enhanced digital experiences via its website, which has led to increased traffic and greater visibility among travellers and within the media. He also highlighted the company’s dedication to elevating the B2B experience so that it equally engages its members and partners, just as it does with consumers. And he pointed to new partnerships in technology that will provide greater efficiencies and enhancements to the Virtuoso network.

Senior Vice President of Marketing Helen McCabe-Young shared the steady marketing ramp-up and positive results delivered to date by Virtuoso, which better positions the entire organisation to capture more global market share as travel recovers. She reiterated the group’s focus on attracting new travellers across generations into the network for the mutual benefit of Virtuoso, its travel agency members and its preferred partners, while also continuing to evolve and tailor its marketing vehicles to reach and inspire existing clients.

Silversea Cruises' newest ship, Silver Dawn, was the host venue for Virtuoso Symposium 2022, pictured here at Porto de Leixões | Credit: Facebook

Virtuoso’s David Kolner also presented insights that assessed the industry’s current state and outlook based on Virtuoso member and preferred partner survey insights. Showing that the rebound continues, Kolner shared that for February 2022, same-store sales are 85 percent of what they were in February 2019. Overall, when asked how they’re currently feeling about their business, 71 percent of Virtuoso members said optimistic (up from 43 percent in January) as did 80 percent of preferred partners (up from 56 percent), with the Middle East feeling the most optimistic (90 percent) followed by Canada at 82 percent (up from 26 percent).

Tapping into insights gleaned through Oxford-based Tourism Economics, Kolner shared that the industry could expect to see international leisure travel reach full recovery globally against 2019 sometime towards the end of 2023.

During the Opening Session, Virtuoso also reinforced support of its global markets while reiterating that more than half of its 20,000 travel advisors are located outside of the United States. Sharing the stage for the first time, Virtuoso shined a spotlight on the new team of general managers it has installed over the past year. Led by Michael Londregan, Virtuoso’s Senior Vice President of Global Operations, the lively discussion included Australia-New Zealand General Manager Fiona Dalton, Latin America & Caribbean General Manager Javier Arredondo, Europe-Middle East-Africa General Manager Karen Joyce, and Canada General Manager Úna O’Leary.

Credit: Fiona Dalton

Due to travel restrictions, Asia General Manager Irene Lee joined the discussion via taped segments. Regardless of their geographic representation, one central message was clear: there is strong desire to travel internationally, and advisors and partners should act now to ensure those who want to travel will have options; waiting to plan, book and even market will likely result in missing the curve. They also shared that aligning with the right network and partnerships has never been more crucial.

In addition to the thought-provoking insights that came from the Opening Session, attendees will also participate in one-to-one networking sessions as well as roundtable discussions that centre on each generation along with marketing innovation. Virtuoso also provided time for participants to bond over shared experiences, both aboard the ship and on land in Lisbon and Porto. And as is tradition, Virtuoso shared the next Symposium destination as Montréal, Canada for 17-21 May, 2023.

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