At a press briefing at its New York City office, Virtuoso had plenty to announce in terms of milestones reached, sales growth in 2017, as well as new programs to launch in 2018. The first bit of info shared was that Virtuoso added its 1,000th agency in 2017 (up 25 percent from the same time the year prior). The network’s agencies are located in 45 countries worldwide and account for 17,500 advisors (up 15 percent).
The Rest of the Numbers from 2017
While some of the growth in advisors can be attributed to the network’s expansion, Virtuoso said 64 percent of that growth came from existing agencies. Virtuoso also reported a 12 percent increase in annual network production, bringing its total sales to $23.7 billion for 2017. Virtuoso says that its website played a significant role in driving those sales, with over over 150,000 leads for its advisors in 2017 coming online.
In April, Virtuoso rolled out its hotel booking tool that is available to consumers via Virtuoso.com, allowing consumers worldwide to book hotel stays online and gain access to Virtuoso’s negotiated amenities, valued up to $500 per stay, while also having the booking serviced by one of the network’s advisors. Through the tool, advisors gained access to live Sabre connectivity and email alerts.
We were also told that in 2017, more than 10,000 affiliated advisors participated in over 150,000 available courses, resulting in a 19 percent increase in completed courses and a 40 percent increase in advisor participation. Virtuoso also announced that to date, 230 new advisors from 98 Virtuoso agencies have gone through its Virtuoso Certified Travel Advisor accelerated training. After completing the course, these new entrants averaged 74 percent more in production than their peers.
David Kolner, Senior Vice President, Global Member Partnerships, explained that an effort by Virtuoso in 2017 was to learn what services it could provide to its small- and medium-sized agencies (capped at $12 million in sales). These agencies represent the largest sector of the network, comprising over 80 percent of member locations. Three areas of focus for smaller agencies were talent and retention, agency services and visibility on the Internet and on Virtuoso’s website.
Another area of emphasis was to further develop its communities—Adventure (formerly VAST), Cruise, Family and Wellness. With the network growing so large, Kolner said Virtuoso’s plan for the communities is to bring together like-minded individuals for increased awareness, education and sales with certain travel niches. One year after rolling out the Virtuoso Wellness community, participants saw a 32 percent increase in their sales, according to the network. Participants from the Virtuoso Adventure community saw a 15 percent increase in sales over their non-participant counterparts.
What’s New for 2018?
Already accounted for in 2018 was the Global Forum, held in New Orleans, in which more than 255 travel executives, and 470 total partners, attended. During the event, Virtuoso introduced new marketing services, including a more customizable website for its advisors. With this, advisors can edit photos, layouts and whether or not certain site functions are visible (i.e.: removing the Cruise link if the advisor doesn’t sell cruises). The organization also announced “Virtuoso MyMarketing,” offering real-time reports of client engagement, marketing and social media management and more. (For those looking ahead, the Global Forum will be held at the Fairmont Austin in 2019.)
On the partner front, Virtuoso Air announced new self-ticketing options with preferred airlines as well as 24-hour support for clients. Kolner also told us that commissions were raised on bookings.
Regarding hotels, Virtuoso has partnered with the ABC Advantage Program and Booking.com, which will give advisors access to amenities as specific hotels brands as well as access to approximately 1.2 million hotels and residences with pre-agreed commissions. Both programs include properties not found in Virtuoso’s existing Hotels & Resorts collection. We’re told the programs are optional for advisors but programs like these can often block rooms, so for large events it may be useful to book through them.
And for cruises, Virtuoso introduced Cruise Alerts. Advisors will now receive notifications when fares change so that they can properly advise their clients.
A mini version of the network’s signature event, Virtuoso Travel Week On Tour has already visited New York, while events in Los Angeles, San Antonio and Orlando will occur in April and May.
Virtuoso Travel Week is slated for August 11-17 in Las Vegas, with happenings taking place at Bellagio Resort & Casino, ARIA Resort & Casino and Vdara Hotel & Spa. Tracking the multi-year sales performance for participants, Virtuoso found that advisors who attended Virtuoso Travel Week once in the last three years sell 67 percent more than their peers, and advisors who attended Virtuoso Travel Week every year for the past three years sell 179 percent more.
We were told Virtuoso will be rolling out new themed communities at Travel Week this year but they were mum “sworn to secrecy” as to what they might be, Kolner said.