The Just-Go Group

jim petrus
An Eye on Luxury: I’m shown here at Virtuoso Travel Week with Jim Petrus, senior vice president and global brand leader for St. Regis Hotels & Resorts, who was appointed to the position in May.

“We’re the hottest thing that never went away!” That’s Matthew Upchurch, chairman and CEO of Virtuoso. He’s talking about the fact that travel advisors are very in vogue right now; the consumer press, Millennials and affluent consumers who hear of them by word of mouth from their friends are all praising the concept of having a well-connected expert handle their travel needs for them.

Upchurch was addressing a crowd of nearly 5,000 at Virtuoso Travel Week in Las Vegas last month. The confab felt noticeably larger; it was a record attendance, with industry folks flying in from all over the world to network.

Virtuoso, as always, provided insights on the affluent traveler. Tapping into its proprietary data warehouse of more than $35 billion in transactions, the network forecasts that for this fall, Italy, Mexico, the U.K., South Africa and Australia will be the five most popular destinations amongst its affluent travelers. (Italy has surpassed the U.K., which usually snags first place, this could be because of the softer euro.)

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More interestingly, those countries showing the biggest year-over-year increases in interest for fall travel are Vietnam and India, which have strong cultural appeal, warm climates and offer relative value. Also growing rapidly in interest amongst Virtuoso travelers are luxury yacht cruising and expedition cruising, an indication for the desire for highly personalized experiences.

A panel presented to the media in attendance put the spotlight on the habits of the various demographic groups. Jack Ezon of Ovation Vacations stole the show with his views on GenX travelers, noting that, “the closer they get to 40 and a midlife crisis, the more Gen Xers act like Millennials. They still want to party and it’s ‘work hard, play hard.’ They still want to be fun and cool.” Family travel drives this group, but they’re taking their children to places one would never have dreamed of in the past in an effort to disconnect them from their devices and engage in an atypical experience.

He said that Ovation’s Millennial clients are driving the agency to innovate its offerings. And while Millennials claim to be “do-it-yourself” travelers, that really means “do it for me,” said Ezon. As a result, this age group is willing to pay the highest service fees for using an advisor, said Ezon. “They want concierge services. They want as much of a red velvet rope around their experiences as possible. They’re looking to be a part of the big events like Coachella and Burning Man and Art Basel. They want to be with those masses, but they want the best $20,000 table in back of the DJ or the tents at these amazing events. They want to experience things like everybody else, but in a better way and they’re willing to pay for it.”

Keep in mind, if you’re going to hire a private guide for a Millennial client, it’s unlikely they’ll want an academic expert on the destination who will rattle off statistics and historical highlights. Ezon says they’re looking for guides to be more like hosts who will hang out with them and take them to local places and show off what their day-to-day life is like. “They want a cool guide that’s going to connect with them,” he said.

Lastly, keep in mind that the “bucket list” concept doesn’t really fly with Millennials, who haven’t lived long enough to start longing to go to certain destinations, said Kelly Grumbach of Quintessentially Travel, who was also on the panel. “Everything is so accessible, especially for our Millennial travelers who have a lot of money to spend on a ticket last minute. They’ve got the points, they’ve got their jets. They don’t have enough time to have dreamt of going to a place. If they want to go, they just go.”

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