Attendance at Virtuoso Travel Week, held in Las Vegas August 11-15, drew nearly 2,000 travel advisors, a figure that pleased CEO Matthew Upchurch tremendously. That 18 percent of those advisors were first-timers to the event was especially encouraging.
“They come from two major areas,” said Upchurch. “Career switchers and young people. It’s amazing. To be completely blunt with you, I have some very good supplier friends who 10 years ago, when they were at this very same conference, would whisper in my ear and say, ‘Matthew, there’s a lot of grey hair in here. What are you going to do? What’s going to happen to this event?’”
Today, those same suppliers are noting that the conference is getting younger by the year, said Upchurch, whose team has worked hard to bring new blood into the travel advisor industry.
Those who fit into the “career-switcher” category include “at least a dozen ex-attorneys who are now Virtuoso advisors.” As for the younger generation, Upchurch noted that many agency owners are bringing their daughters, sons and grandchildren into the business.
Virtuoso Week, now in its 25th year, is the largest event that’s held at Bellagio, and the latest was no exception, bringing in 16,545 room nights to the hotel. As well, over the course of the week, 1.6 million four-minute meetings were held. But those meetings are not just about exchanging facts about a travel product.
“The bottom line to all this is one very simple thing: it’s really about, how do we help the consumer have a better experience?” said Upchurch, citing Ken Dychtwald, one of the key note speakers at Virtuoso Travel Week. Dychtwald told Upchurch that when he and his wife contact their Virtuoso advisor, “we’re not just talking to them about where we want to go, and the hotel room and the destination. We find ourselves talking to our advisor about how we want to feel. Then our advisor makes it happen. It’s a really enjoyable process, because it’s that human-to-human connection.”
Along those lines, Upchurch said that when Virtuoso advisors meet with suppliers at Travel Week, they often have specific clients in mind for specific trips.
“It really is like a shopping trip,” he said. Just two years ago, a new advisor who was meeting with the owner of a chateau hotel in France at Virtuoso Travel Week got so excited after hearing the pitch she grabbed her iPhone and Skyped her client right there to speak to the hotel owner. The client and the hotel owner made an immediate connection.
“That took a commercial transaction and added a whole new level of personalization. It was just really cool. The ability to do that kind of stuff is very important,” said Upchurch.