Virtuoso has reported the February 26 passing of former Chairman Jesse Upchurch. Mr. Upchurch, 93, who co-founded Virtuoso in 1986 with his son, current Chairman and CEO Matthew D. Upchurch, enjoyed a career in travel that spanned more than 50 years.
“My father was a pioneer in this business, and I am forever grateful that he introduced me to the world and this industry at such an early age,” said Matthew Upchurch. “He had a nose for knowing what the luxury traveler wanted, and it wasn’t necessarily the traditional refinement found in five-star hotels or transatlantic cruise liners. He knew the world offered more than that. His insatiable curiosity about the unknown, his passion for other people and their cultures, and his tendency to question conventional wisdom with a simple ‘why not?’ opened the door for others to experience countries that were not considered tourism-friendly yet. He left his mark on this industry that he loved so much.”
The elder Upchurch’s entry into the travel industry began when he invested in Vagabond Cruises, a yacht-chartering company in the Caribbean’s West Indies islands. Realizing a market existed for both adventure and luxury travel, he turned his attention to Mexico, building the first timeshare resort in Acapulco and purchasing Turismo Antonio Perez and Hoteles S.A. de S.V., a travel company and international hotel representation group.
With the purchase of Percival Tours in 1962, Upchurch expanded operations into more exotic locales such as the South Pacific and Asia, quickly augmenting beyond more traditional European destinations. As chairman and CEO of Percival Tours, he opened up tourism in markets previously not often considered, such as Africa and India. Understanding the luxury consumer’s mindset, he introduced the first air-conditioned motor coaches so that his upscale guests could tour the areas in comfort.
A founding member of World Wildlife Fund’s 1001 Club, Upchurch was also a supporter of conservation. In an effort to help protect the endangered Rothschild giraffes, he bought land in Kenya and donated it to the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife for what is now known as the grounds surrounding Giraffe Manor. Upchurch also was a co-founder of the U.S. Tour Operators Association, where he served as chairman, CEO and president. He also held the chairmanship of the African Travel Association.
Outside of travel he held the chairmanship of the Executive Committee of Tandy Corporation for decades and was inducted into the United States Polo Association’s Hall of Fame.
The family will honor Jesse Upchurch’s memory privately, and celebrations of his life in various communities will take place in the months ahead. Details for in-memoriam gifts will follow soon.