What We Heard From Virtuoso's 2013 Symposium

buenos airesVirtuoso, the luxury travel advisor consortia, hosted its 2013 Symposium in Buenos Aires with more than 400 attendees from 33 countries.

The Symposium offered networking opportunities between the network’s agency owners and senior executives from the world’s leading luxury travel brands and providers, as well as with the host destination and its curated Virtuoso travel providers.  Additionally, Virtuoso announced its new strategy, which was established this year as "Two Big Announcements; One Big Shift."

At the event Virtuoso Chairman and CEO Matthew D. Upchurch announced a shift in the consortia's business approach: moving the brand towards direct-to-consumer for the sole purpose of lead generation to help grow business for its member agencies and preferred suppliers. In support of that goal, Upchurch announced two significant projects currently underway. 

The first is a complete overhaul of the organization’s web site, Virtuoso.com, to a more user friendly version.  New features will include the addition of an advisor catalog with comprehensive profiles; product catalogs of the network’s preferred suppliers, complete with product descriptions, photos, video, and an outline of traveler amenities available through Virtuoso advisors; robust travel content showcasing award-winning stories and photography from VIRTUOSO LIFE® magazine, along with blogs, photos, and advisor tips; and lastly, verified ratings and reviews for both supplier products and travel advisors.  In an industry first, all reviews are entirely verified, meaning only people who have experienced the products and services firsthand – confirmed through transactional data – can submit reviews.  Virtuoso members and preferred suppliers will have immediate access to the new site, while consumers will get their first glimpse of it later this year. 

Additionally, Upchurch revealed that Virtuoso has been working in conjunction with its members to compile and evaluate customer transactions.  Its findings revealed that 10 per cent of its member agencies’ clients are responsible for 54 per cent of total sales.  Even more impressive is that the top one per cent of clients average approximately $110,000 in annual travel sales.  Moving forward, the goal is to evaluate how to best segment the data to drive higher sales of luxury products, increasing revenue for its members and preferred suppliers.

“The new Virtuoso.com will bring to fruition our strategy to speak directly to consumers,” said Upchurch. “The site will introduce customers to Virtuoso and our members by showcasing all the products and services this network offers global travelers. When the consumer is ready to connect with an advisor, they’ll be able to do that directly on the site.” 

During the Symposium’s General Session, Virtuoso hosted Robert Carey and David Kang, McKinsey and Company consultants and co-authors of the 2012 whitepaper, The Trouble with Travel Distribution, to help guide and facilitate interactive sessions. One discussion focused on customers, rather than the channel, as the means for driving transactions. Other topics centered on utilizing ‘big data’, the power of partnerships, and working with the next generation. Breakout sessions with Virtuoso’s members and preferred suppliers, which followed the General Session, focused on the importance of data and segmentation, especially as it pertains to the network’s new web site.

Virtuoso selected Buenos Aires from a number of potential host cities following a written invitation from the President of the Argentine Nation, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner – a direct result of the group’s successful relationship with the Argentina National Institute of Tourism Promotion (INPROTUR).  During the four-day event, attendees enjoyed a private cocktail reception and dinner at the Bicentennial Museum, a movie premiere at the Faena Art Center, city tours, private shopping excursions, culinary experiences, tango lessons and even an inside look at Argentina’s favorite sport - polo.  Virtuoso preferred travel providers that proudly hosted this prestigious group include Alvear Palace Hotel, Four Seasons Hotel Buenos Aires, Palacio Duhau – Park Hyatt Buenos Aires, Faena Hotel Buenos Aires, INPROTUR, Mai10, and Abercrombie & Kent.

This was the first time Virtuoso had held its Symposium in South America.  Buenos Aires joined an impressive list of host cities, including Madrid, Spain (2011); Mexico City, Mexico (2010); Sydney, Australia (2009); Athens, Greece (2008); St. Petersburg, Russia (2007); Singapore (2006); and last year’s cruise from Rome to Monte Carlo aboard Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ Seven Seas Mariner (2012).


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