Random Encounters with Virtuoso

We got a flyer in the mail in January. Our county executive was hosting a complimentary “renew your vows” luncheon at a popular catering hall on Valentine’s Day. We RSVP’d. We’re celebrating our 25th anniversary this year and renewing our vows seemed totally appropriate. The week of the event, the weather forecast wasn’t promising. We were going to get another 10 inches of snow on top of the two feet of snow we already had. The event was postponed until the first day of spring.

That was today. It was gloriously sunny and we were joined by about 150 other couples renewing their vows, most married much longer than 25 years. Everyone looked swell; we were all dressed to the nines. We clean up real nice in my county. We met another fun couple at our table who said they cruise quite a lot. They’ve even taken a few world cruises. I had to ask. “Do you use a travel agent?” The man replied, “Have you ever heard of Virtuoso?” I was just wrapping up this issue of Luxury Travel Advisor so I gave him a big grin. “Yes, indeed,” I said, anxious to hear more. “When you cruise with them, you get all of these special excursions and receptions,” he said. “And when you go to a dinner on one of their excursions, it’s at a five-star restaurant. Doing that is an event in itself.” He recommended I travel with Virtuoso soon.

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So nice that random strangers I’d met on such a lovely occasion felt that Virtuoso had provided them with such a stand-out experience. My last random encounter with a Virtuoso client was on a river cruise. We were at dinner and one of our fellow diners said he’d just received an e-mail confirming that his travel agent had gotten him last-minute access to an opera in Budapest where we’d be docking the next day. He’d just read about the opera online hours earlier and contacted his travel agent for assistance. He was elated; he may have even been gloating. “Which travel agency do you use?” I asked him. “Strong Travel,” he said, referring to the well-known Virtuoso Dallas-based firm run by Nancy and Jim Strong.

In the two situations I’ve described, one client appreciated the exclusivity and the wow factor of the unexpected experiences provided in his Virtuoso experience; he also saw great value in the add-on amenities. The other client was delighted with a quick turnaround service that allowed him to enjoy his passion—opera—in a local setting. In both cases, the clients shared the information with me in hushed tones, as if revealing a well-kept secret.

Matthew Upchurch, chairman and CEO of Virtuoso, comments in this month’s cover story that there are still a great many people out there who do not use luxury travel advisors but would if they understood the proposition. For more on that topic, see pages 46-50.

Here’s another interesting dynamic: the gentleman I met today admitted he had booked a transatlantic cruise himself because he feared it would sell out before his travel agent was able to secure it. So he called the cruise line and nabbed his preferred sailing on his own. Go figure.

More about today: How smart would it have been for a travel advisor to have a desk in the foyer of the catering hall where all of us were renewing our vows? What’s better than celebrating a matrimonial landmark than taking a second honeymoon?

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