Luxury Travel Advisor reached out to Virtuoso CEO Matthew D. Upchurch to get the latest from him, the network and the industry. Here's what we learned:
What’s the most exciting thing that’s happened in luxury travel this year, in your view?
Matthew Upchurch: This has been a very good year for luxury travel, so it’s difficult to choose just one exciting thing. However, there are two developments that I’m particularly excited about. One is the rising demand for travel advisors, which is reflected in both the growth in numbers and the diversity we’re seeing in our members. There are record numbers of people coming into the industry, both younger people and career switchers. And I’ve also been struck by the number of veteran advisors who are ready to retire, but whose clients are begging them not to. It’s a phenomenon that reflects the value clients place on the advisor relationship. They trust their advisors and rely on them to deliver the best travel experiences, and it’s difficult for clients to say goodbye to that.
Another area that is gaining momentum, driven by clients and travel providers alike, is sustainability. As technology continues to open up the world, I believe we are realizing how inter-dependent we all are, and that awareness is sparking ever greater interest in preserving natural resources, supporting cultures and contributing to the local economies we visit. Luxury travelers are often change-makers in their own communities, and I believe they will continue to be one of the catalyzing forces behind the growing focus on sustainability. Virtuoso has increased our support in this area as well, with a goal of influencing consumer behavior to make sustainability a greater factor in travel choices.
What is the latest news at Virtuoso?
Matthew Upchurch: Virtuoso has continued to expand globally, with new agencies in every one of the markets we serve, and we have focused efforts this year on our expansion in Asia to accommodate the growing luxury market of outbound travelers from that part of the world. The growth of advisors in these markets has also spurred new supplier relationships to support that base. We have taken a look at our technology and tools as well, to ensure that we remain easily configurable to serve our members’ different business models. Through the Virtuoso Incubator we are actively encouraging new travel technology companies, which are then tested by our members to see how they meet their needs, because we recognize there is no single tech solution that works for all agencies. Our own hotel booking tool, a unique way for clients to book online and then be referred to an advisor, continues to gather steam and bring in new consumers who weren’t previously using an advisor. And we have also co-developed and customized a new marketing platform called MyMarketing, which enables member agencies and advisors to more strategically target who they market to. All of these developments are in response to both the opportunities and the challenges we see in the luxury market today, and track to our goal of making Virtuoso advisors the most successful in the industry.
Montage Los Cabos was the site of a recent Virtuoso executive team meeting. Shown here is the pool of the Presidential Suite.
What are some of the challenges for luxury travel advisors in 2018 and beyond? What can they do to overcome them?
Matthew Upchurch: It’s no secret that DIY is something travel advisors have been going up against for many years, and we continue to educate consumers on the benefits of using an advisor through our PR and marketing efforts. When research shows that a consumer faces an average of 40,000 decisions when booking any one trip, there should be no question as to why they should book with an advisor. However, you have Google, Facebook and Amazon expanding into travel and going head-to-head with every distribution channel in the industry.
Our latest challenge, though, sits closer to home because it’s a practice adopted by many of our partners, and that is the direct-to-consumer campaigns that look to drive business away from our advisors in an effort to lower the cost of sale. I call it the myth of the intermediary, though, because we know from our own suppliers that Virtuoso travel advisors provide the highest rates at the lowest distribution cost. And how can a channel that provides valuable insight on their clients that leads to better travel experiences and loyalty, one that steers the right customer to the right products, ensuring the partner has a more qualified guest, be considered an intermediary? Travel advisors are a valued extension of any supplier’s sales force, and they should be viewed that way.
Where was your last trip and where are you going next?
Matthew Upchurch: As I write this, I am on my way home from the new Montage Los Cabos, where I was attending meetings with my executive team. This resort is really something special, not that we expected anything less from Alan Fuerstman and the Montage brand. It’s in good company, too; Cabo is seeing some significant luxury development taking place.
Next up is the U.K. to interview with the BBC for a program showcasing Corinthia Hotel London, a Virtuoso preferred hotel. While there, I’ll get to meet with our growing London-based team as well. Then, it’s on to The Bellagio in Las Vegas for our annual Virtuoso Travel Week event. This is my favorite time of year because we bring together more than 5,500 of our members and partners. The energy, the human connection and the sales it ultimately drives is a testament to the incredible individuals who make up this network.”
On a more personal note, I am excited to return to Africa later this year — this time with the family. This will be the first time my two youngest boys have been there and I can’t wait to see the magic and beauty of this incredible destination through their eyes.
Matthew Upchurch says Virtuoso is expanding in to Asia to keep up with demand.
What’s your favorite hobby?
Matthew Upchurch: Travel is my hobby, my passion and, thankfully, my profession. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have built my career based on my love for exploring the world and for bringing people of varied backgrounds together for a common purpose.
With travel comes plenty of time on airplanes, which affords me the opportunity to fuel my inherent curiosity for how things —and people — tick. I read, mostly non-fiction and, quite often, books on business strategy and team building. And, I watch TED Talks, which I find informative, inspiring and often just plain cool.