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Virtuoso continues to grow, and is now focusing its attention on strategic markets, particularly in Continental Europe


Virtuoso continues to grow, and is now focusing its attention on strategic markets, particularly in Continental Europe

Category: North America & West Indies / Carribean islands - United States - Industry economy - Tourism - Interviews
Interview made by Vanessa Guerrier-Buisine on 2023-09-05

Virtuoso is a leader in the luxury travel industry. The agency network brings together more than 20,000 advisors, specialists in luxury and experiential travel, who maintain strong links with over 2,200 travel professionals, including hotels and luxury cruise operators.

These luxury travel professionals and specialists come together every year at Virtuoso's major Las Vegas event, Virtuoso Travel Week. For its 35th edition, the Travel Week brought together over 5,000 participants and enabled more than 180,000 one-to-one meetings between advisors and partners from 105 countries. They all benefited from inspiring conferences and workshops on the trends impacting the travel industry.

Virtuoso experts have noted a significant change in travellers' expectations. “Binge travel” is replacing “binge-watching”, with travellers wanting to refocus on themselves and return to more traditional social links rather than contacts via screens. More and more travellers wish to get out of their comfort zone, through physically and mentally intense activities such as scientific expeditions to Antarctica, which are attracting growing interest from C-level travellers.

There's also an air of renewal about destinations. While the United States, Italy and France remain on top of the destinations list for this autumn, Japan seems to be making a comeback after a long period of closure to tourism.

All these trends have encouraged the use of Virtuoso's services, with global sales in the first half of 2023 up by 69% on 2019. Growth was driven by the hotel and cruise segments, up by 173% and 122% respectively.

As Virtuoso Travel Week ended on August 18, Le Journal des Palaces interviewed Hanna Hinz, General Manager of the luxury travel network for Continental Europe. An opportunity to lift the veil a little on the trends discussed, as well as on Virtuoso's plans for the coming months.

Journal des Palaces: How was this Virtuoso Travel Week edition? Can you detail the key figures and highlights of this week? What were the main topics?

Hanna Hinz: Virtuoso Travel Week 2023 was a resounding success, as we welcomed over 5,000 advisors and preferred suppliers in Las Vegas from 105 countries, with hundreds more joining in virtually. This year was a milestone for Virtuoso Travel Week - it marked the 35th annual event for the company. With a focus on fostering genuine human connection, bolstering sales and establishing the latest trends, the event sets the stage for the future of luxury travel and firmly establishes its place as the Fashion Week of travel.

Throughout the week, highlights included the second annual Travel Tech Summit featuring established companies like Microsoft, Hopper and Deloitte, alongside 20 startup businesses specializing in various aspects of travel technology. The annual “Under One Sky” lunch further demonstrated Virtuoso’s support of sustainable tourism by uniting those who are most committed and passionate about this space, while also featuring findings from the network’s new “Virtuoso Impact Report, Sustainable Travel – 2023.”

Our keynote speaker this year was Steven Bartlett, one of Europe’s most accomplished young entrepreneurs and thinkers, who joined Virtuoso’s Chairman and CEO Matthew D. Upchurch at the event's Opening Session for a lively and informative fireside chat centred on the secrets and insights for cracking the code of professional and personal success. And as always, fostering human connection was the centre of it all. We saw a total of over 180,000 one-on-one appointments between advisors and partners to establish and strengthen relationships, increase knowledge and drive sales.

Gilad Berenstein, board member, said, "generative AI is your copilot for planning the perfect itineraries for your clients”, how do travel advisors can handle this new copilot?

Matthew Upchurch, Virtuoso's Chairman and CEO, sees AI as a tool that can enhance efficiency in travel advisors' work, but cannot and will not replace the relationships and genuine connections formed between advisors and their clients.

Virtuoso has a long-held belief that its members and partners are best served by having choices when it comes to finding the best tech solutions for their respective businesses and is continuously in search of the best tech solutions while simultaneously keeping travel advisors at the centre of its mission, enhancing the customization and configurability of Virtuoso’s operating system.

You explored the concept of “Influential connection”, could you say a few words about it?

The concept of “Influential Connection” emphasizes the value of relationships in the luxury travel industry. Virtuoso's network focuses not only on what advisors know, but also who they know. Building influential connections allows advisors to tap into exclusive benefits, access rare experiences and provide clients with exceptional value. This approach differentiates Virtuoso advisors by enabling them to offer a level of service that goes beyond traditional travel planning.

What are Virtuoso plans for the next years?

Virtuoso always has ambitious plans for the future! We aim to continue fostering partnerships with tech startups to integrate cutting-edge technologies to enhance the efficiency of our advisors' work while maintaining a strong focus on delivering personalized, exceptional travel experiences. Virtuoso's commitment to staying at the forefront of innovation in luxury travel remains steadfast.

In addition, Virtuoso has implemented international regions to help its complimentary goals of driving global consistency and regional relevancy. Our regions currently include the United States, Canada, Latin America/the Caribbean, UK/Ireland, Middle East/Africa, Continental Europe, Asia, and Australia/New Zealand. Each region is led by a General Manager and teams of Account Manager(s) for Memberships, Partnerships, Marketing, and Events.

Just in Q1 this year, the former Virtuoso EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa) region has evolved into separate divisions: UK/ Ireland, Middle East/Africa and Continental Europe, allowing for a greater strategic focus that is needed for Member and Partner growth.

Strategic expansion across key countries, such as Germany, France, Spain and Italy, will enable the Virtuoso network to grow in these markets and keep pace with travellers’ demands. Each region will also host their own events in 2024, providing partners with an opportunity to invest accordingly in targeted markets, while members receive access to more relevant, targeted insight.

What are the next big events that you would like to announce?

In the newly established Continental European region, Virtuoso's upcoming 2024 events include its first regional Forum for agency owners and managers, which will take place in Cannes just before ILTM, as well as several “On Tour” events and a “Connects” across Europe, both of which are designed to connect members and partners within the region. These events will facilitate intimate interactions between preferred partners and advisors, which are currently present in 15 countries and 40 Member locations in this region.

Additionally, Virtuoso’s annual Chairman's event, taking place in Taormina, Italy this year, will bring together top-performing agencies from around the world. We’ve also announced the location for the next annual “Symposium” event in 2024 – Dubai – further strengthening our global network and industry influence.

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About the author

As a journalist and luxury hotel expert inspired by the men and women who embody it, Vanessa aspires to enhance and sublimate the beauty and elegance of palaces through her writing. "In a palace, simplicity serves the quest for excellence" she admires.

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