Just Back: Virtuoso Symposium in Melbourne

Diane Parks, seen here with her husband, Michael Parks, was captivated by the charms of Melbourne.

Diane Parks, owner of Sanders Travel Centre in Fort Worth, TX, attended the 2019 Virtuoso Symposium in Melbourne, Australia in May. Here is a report on what she saw and learned.

Virtuoso has a knack of selecting highly desirable destinations around the world for its annual Symposium event, and 2019 was certainly no exception. From May 7 to 11, I joined over 500 of my network colleagues in Melbourne, Australia, for an immersion into the latest high-level industry trends, networking with senior executives from our preferred partners, and discovering the fabulous host city up close and personal. Symposium’s value is in the power of those human connections we forge, and our clients are the beneficiaries of these personal relationships.  

Virtuoso has three excellent properties to choose from in Melbourne, and I was delighted to be staying at the Crown Towers in the central Southbank neighborhood. The hotel is modern and luxurious with a casino attached. I loved the location and spacious rooms, which offered amazing views of the Yarra River and city. The fantastic spa featured La Prairie products and an extremely large indoor pool. We were greeted with a very cool, thoughtful gift — a chocolate creation in the shape of a suitcase customized with Virtuoso and Crown Towers logos. 

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The opening cocktail party was at the National Gallery of Victoria and sponsored by Tourism Australia. In addition to the eye-catching art exhibited, this party featured “live art” with models representing traditional Australians, such as winery employees and residents of the fabled Outback. It put us in a local frame of mind to kick off our Australian adventure, as did the local wines and spirits.   

We sampled more delicious local products the next night: Dinner was a dine-around experience with groups going to different restaurants around Melbourne. Our Australian members supplied their “best of” list to pick these hot spots, and mine was a to-die-for modern steak house, Cumulus Up. That’s quite a compliment coming from a Texan! 

We had another dine-around opportunity for lunch one day, featuring restaurants within the Crown Towers complex, and I dined at an Asian restaurant called Spice Temple. I love spicy food, and the restaurant lived up to its name with superb cuisine. In particular, the vegetarian dumpling was outstanding. Australia has a huge Asian population and it’s reflected in the number of restaurants featuring the cuisine. We enjoyed Asian food a few times during the event, which truly felt authentic.

Back in Symposium sessions, we heard about the latest travel trends and opportunities from Virtuoso Chairman and CEO Matthew D. Upchurch. New data proves the value that travel advisors bring to the table — our clients listen to us and our advice. But more than that, they trust what we have to say. Terrie Hansen, Virtuoso senior vice president, marketing, shared data that proved what we’ve known all along: Our clients come to us for advice over any other source, including friends, family and online outlets. It was so encouraging to see the actual data validating what we instinctively feel and observe in our daily lives at work.

At Park Hyatt Melbourne, attendees helped 
themselves to flutes of sparkling wine built into the 
elaborate hoop skirts of colorfully costumed servers.

That evening, Park Hyatt Melbourne hosted a wonderful cocktail party, paying homage to Melbourne’s proud sporting traditions, specifically the Melbourne Cup and the Australian Open. We were able to try on some of the over-the-top hats that are required attire for attendees at the celebrated horse race, as well as pose with the trophies. We helped ourselves to flutes of sparkling wine built into the elaborate hoop skirts of colorfully costumed servers. The impeccable décor added to the fun — and the numerous photos taken were perfect for showcasing the festivities on social media. 

Following the party, the Gala Dinner was a showstopper at Melbourne Town Hall with a girls’ choir serenading us — such a sweet performance.

The final day of Symposium, known as Design Your Day, is the highlight every year. Attendees had their choice of over 25 different experiences — everything from a helicopter ride or a round of golf to an art walk or high tea — and more. Design Your Day allows us to have the same kind of personalized experiences we offer our clients and gives us valuable insights into the destination. The torrential rains that day just added to the adventure, not fazing this group of hardy travel professionals. 

The Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary has more than 200 species of Australian birds and animals.

I visited the Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary, with more than 200 species of Australian birds and animals in pristine bush land. The medical staff there work tirelessly to help injured indigenous animals brought to them from all around Melbourne, with the goal to release them back to the wild. Seeing Australia’s iconic wildlife and some rare species in their natural habitat is a must-have experience (I was particularly captivated by the kangaroos); I didn’t realize how many species there were and how they are like deer in Australia, living everywhere outside of the city. 

Afterwards, we enjoyed lunch at a vineyard restaurant before sampling the wares in a gourmet wine and cheese tasting. The Yarra Valley is known for its exemplary Chardonnay, Shiraz and Pinot Noir, and we loved the Shiraz so much we brought some home with us.

The final night at the Crown Towers, with a theme of “The Emerald City,” ended the event on a high note. Performers and servers were dressed as if they came straight out of The Wizard of Oz. Entertainment highlights included a local opera singer and a band singing old favorites from the ’50s to the ’80s. Virtuosos really know how to dance!

The Yarra Valley is known for its exemplary Chardonnay, Shiraz and Pinot Noir.

Symposium is a high point of my year, as it provides a wonderful chance to learn about new destinations, mingle with our vendors and experience what our clients can expect on trips we design. I was captivated by the charms of Melbourne, from its vibrant street art to its live performances which are double that of New York City, and eager to promote all it has to offer to clients. Now, back at home, I’m toasting my experience in this great city with a lovely glass of Shiraz and hoping I will return soon.

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