LAS VEGAS - “The generation that created social media values personal connection more than any other group.” That’s Matthew Upchurch, chairman and CEO of Virtuoso, commenting on why his travel consortia is moving closer and closer to a “Collaborative Commerce” model that will allow consumers to play a larger part in planning their vacations with their Virtuoso travel advisor.
The luxury travel group of travel advisors, which is holding its annual Virtuoso Week here this week at The Bellagio, aims to allow invited consumers on to Virtuoso.com where they can create a profile and participate in social media, such as commenting on travel suppliers in a TripAdvisor fashion, or to create a portfolio of travel experiences they’d like to take. Advisors in return, will be able to create portfolios for their clients. Each group will be able to see what the other has created so they can collaborate on the client’s potential vacations.
The technology aspect of the plan has been in creation mode for several years, under the leadership of Scott Ahlsmith, president of 23 Touchpoints, who has been evolving Virtuoso’s Composer platform in stages. The concept of uniting advisor with consumer in a one-to-one engagement has long been the vision of Upchurch and the Virtuoso organization. This year, the plan has gotten much closer to fruition, in fact, Ahlsmith says we may see it in effect by this time next year.
Much of the technology infrastructure is in place, it’s now a matter of refining the outward appearance of the site and of loading on content from suppliers, who will be able to post product descriptions, destination information and pricing on to the site. Having that content is vital for the program’s success.”
By inviting consumers on to Virtuoso.com, it will be easier to close the gap between looking and booking. “There will people who want to come in and be social and there are people who will come in and want to book; Virtuso.com will be that sweet spot in the center,” said Ahlsmith, adding that Virtuoso now harvests transactional data from its advisor network every night and is able to analyze booking patterns.
Virtuoso is also bringing clients in to the Virtuoso Week (formerly known as Virtuoso Travel Mart) by creating a “Collaborative Lounge,” which has five stations where advisors and suppliers can meet virtually with clients using Skype or Face Time. Attendance has been light this first year of use, but management expects it to grow in popularity over the years.
Virtuoso is likening its Virtuoso Week to New York’s Fashion Week, which also began as a b-to-b event but has now become a celebration of events that bring in trade and consumers during a time when new products are presented to the market. In that vein, Virtuoso has provided advisors with communication kits that encourage them to tell clients that they’re going to Virtuoso Week to scout out new vacation experiences for them.