Virtuoso Travel Week: Matching High-Tech With High-Touch

(Matt Turner)

“What’s on your Wanderlist?” That’s the theme of Virtuoso Travel Week 2019. Wanderlist is a new tool offered by Virtuoso that aids with long-term travel planning—but the theme of the week goes beyond its launch; it represents something larger, Virtuoso CEO Matthew D. Upchurch says. Wanderlist blends high-tech with high-touch, but at its core, it's a way to open communication and for advisors to learn more about their clients. (Upchurch adds it's also helped client families learn more about themselves when they went through the interest-rating portion of the tool.) But, ultimately, Upchurch says Wanderlist—and Virtuoso Travel Week—are intended to teach you to be more purposeful in your thinking and planning.

Keynote speaker Chip Conley, strategic advisor for hospitality and leadership at Airbnb and founder of Modern Elder Academy, elaborated on the idea of blending high-tech and high-touch. As a boutique hotelier, Conley has a background in “high-touch,” the concept of catering to your clients and creating a product that best fits them. Over six years ago, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky sought out Conley to help bring this human aspect to his brand, which specialized in high-tech. This relationship, Conley says, helped him coin the term “mentern,” which is a state where you’re both teaching and learning from your colleagues; or, as Conley put it, a "'mentern' is someone who is as curious as they are wise.”

“I had something to offer these young people and they had something to offer me. I offered them EQ, emotional intelligence (quotient)—which is something that grows with age—and they had DQ, digital intelligence.” 

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Among Conley's four ways to thrive in the industry is by finding a mutual mentor. Advisors of different generations and skill sets should seek each other out in order to share their knowledge and learn something in return. Being a travel advisor in 2019 is high-touch and high-tech, Conley says, but it’s also “high-team” (i.e.: by utilizing the network in your office, as well as throughout Virtuoso).

Another tip he offers for taking your business to the next level is by asking yourself, "What business are you in?” Ask yourself and your team members numerous times, but without being able to give the same answer twice. Conley recounted when he performed this exercise with Airbnb: The first response was "hotel business," but that became "boutique hotel business," which became "the local’s favorite hotel business," which became "understanding our customers and creating their perfect habitat business," which became "the identity refreshment" business.

Conley related this exercise to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which has basic needs (safety, physiological needs) at the bottom of the pyramid; above that are psychological needs (belongingness and esteem needs); and atop the pyramid is self-fulfillment needs (achieving one’s full potential). This same concept can be applied to luxury travelers. Conley modified his pyramid to show (from the bottom up): booking travel (which creates satisfaction), expert access and knowledge (which creates commitment) and personalized advice (which creates evangelism). The peak—personalized service—is you showing your ability to know your clients better than they know themselves, fulfilling that unrecognized need.

So, ask yourself, "What business are you in?" But Conley says if you reply that you’re in the “travel booking business,” you’ve already lost. Online travel agencies can book travel. Luxury travel advisors must commit to something more—and this is where the high-touch comes into play.

“What they forgot, as we get further into artificial intelligence, is that you have nuance, you have intuition, you have empathy. A machine does not,” Conley says. “You’ve become experience advisors… at your essence, you are life experience guides, which basically means you are in the business of helping guide people to have a better life.”

Conley's remaining two tips for thriving on the back of emotional intelligence in a world of artificial intelligence are: Shift your business from being transactional to transformational (i.e.: learning about your clients and inquiring about a trip when they return so you can best fulfill their needs) and make sure at least one advisor in your agency goes through Wanderlist training, so that you can offer this tool to your clients (it is the theme of the week, anyway).

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