International luxury travel network Virtuoso held its annual Symposium in Vancouver, British Columbia with 530 of travel’s most prominent figures, representing 41 countries, in attendance. Virtuoso focused on the opportunity that exists for travel advisors, regarding their ability to cultivate experiences for clientele willing to pay top dollar. The Symposium’s keynote speakers included Ken Dychtwald, Ph.D., CEO of Age Wave, and Matthew D. Upchurch, Chairman and CEO of Virtuoso.
Dychtwald, a renowned gerontologist and best-selling author of 16 books, discussed the importance of the Baby Boomer population, noting that households headed by those 65 years and older have 21 times the median wealth of households headed by those under 35. In other words: Baby Boomers are still more important than Millennials when it comes to travel. He also noted consumers 50 years old and over account for 33 percent of the population, yet they are responsible for 51 percent of entertainment, 53 percent of airfare, and 59 percent of lodging expenses, as well as 70 percent of all disposable income, 74 percent of ship fares, 76 percent of total net worth, and 92 percent of all affluent households. Additionally, those who are 55 and older will soon experience a total of 2.5 trillion leisure hours over the next 20 years.
According to a joint Age Wave/Merrill Lynch study his group produced, Dychtwald stated that 47 percent of retirees are most excited about their newfound ability to travel. They are in search of peak experiences (48 percent) and adventure (45 percent), with 95 percent of retirees saying they prefer to have more enjoyable experiences than more things. His message: take advantage of this.
Virtuoso’s Upchurch built upon Age Wave’s research and focuses on of loyalty and genuine human connections as the primary drivers of travel organizations. He shared that success comes from combining both the structural and emotional components of loyalty.
Upchurch also spoke about the opportunities for the luxury travel industry, citing the an IATA statistic showing anticipated air passengers nearly doubling to 7.2 billion by 2035, and the cruise industry’s increasing niche products. The increased number of options has benefited advisors as travelers are looking for a professional to make their own lives simpler.
Upchurch said: “Today we are in the era of exponential choices. We’re swimming in options and there are so many more products. The goal for all of us should be enduring loyalty, which is not to be confused with repeat business. It’s building lifetime connections and lifetime value.”
“There is a legitimate commodity play based on price, convenience and accessibility, but this is not what we in the luxury and experiential business are working to create,” he continued. “Points and cards are everywhere. They’ve become a new currency, which, like real money, can increase and decrease in value. We want to scale enduring loyalty—experiences worth paying for.”
Upchurch mentioned that mobile apps that register guests provide new conveniences and reward behaviors. He noted, however, that while this may be a convenience to travelers, they still make choices largely based on emotions, quoting Harvard Business Review’s The New Science of Customer Emotions: “On a lifetime value basis, emotionally connected customers are more than twice as valuable as highly satisfied ones.”
In essence: While travelers want things to be fast, efficient, and in the way they like to communicate, they also want to feel cared for.
One way Upchurch felt Virtuoso’s partners could scale loyalty would be by a “digital revolution,” including synchronizing structural systems and supporting travel agencies as they develop unique systems to support their advisors.
Regarding Virtuoso’s own growth so far in 2017, Upchurch noted: the agency locations are now over 800 (up nine percent), in over 45 countries, a 22 percent increase; the number of advisors has reached 15,200, up 33 percent; and new agency locations in China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan.
Next year Virtuoso’s Symposium will be held in Amsterdam for March 17-22, 2018.