Tech Talk: CEOs and Advisors Weigh in on Tech in the Industry From Virtuoso

From Left: Matthew Upchurch, the chairman and CEO of Virtuoso​; Jim Murren, CEO of MGM Resorts; Chris Cahill, CEO of luxury brands AccorHotels; Larry Pimentel, CEO of Azamara Cruises

Luxury Travel Advisor is covering the Virtuoso Travel Week, which is celebrating 28 years of event service while the network itself is turning 30. The travel week runs through Thursday.  

This year Virtuoso welcomed 5,257 attendees from 98 countries. The major travel event is known for the one-on-one meetings, of which there will be a total of 320,000 by the time the week ends. New this year, the event now spreads over three hotels with a new shuttle service to take attendees from the Bellagio to ARIA Resort & Casino.

During the busy event, Luxury Travel Advisor attended a CEO panel hosted by Matthew Upchurch, the chairman and CEO of Virtuoso. The panel included Chris Cahill, CEO of luxury brands AccorHotelsJim Murren, CEO of MGM Resorts and Larry Pimentel, CEO of Azamara Cruises. A panel of advisors followed the CEO panel. The advisor panel included Enrique Felgueres of Felgueres Travel GroupTom Marchant of Black TomatoKrista Pappas of LolaKeith Waldon of Departure Lounge and Kimberly Wilson Wetty of Valerie Wilson Travel.  

In a time when the luxury travel industry is always changing with the surrounding environment, both panels discussed important trends in luxury travel, including the influence technology has on the industry.

Pimentel spoke about a recent trip he took to California. He was originally set to go to Carmel, but last minute he changed his itinerary to Napa. In a pinch, to set up his trip, he went online and looked through various sites like TripAdvisor for accommodations.

“Am I going to spend my whole day doing this and not seeing San Francisco?” thought Pimentel. At that point, he decided against using technology and picked up the phone. “And I found a travel agent… in the Napa Valley and said ‘I have no reservations, I want to be there tomorrow night.’ ”

The advisor was able to send Pimentel a custom itinerary just three hours later and Pimentel was able to enjoy San Francisco, stress free.

“There are many times when the notion of the digital is very helpful if you have the time …  sometimes you need to unplug and talk to somebody,” continued Pimentel.

Murren echoed the idea of using technology to enhance a client’s experience. He explained how MGM uses technology to cut through the complex steps of making a guest happy but he also expressed how it’s important to put a guest in front of an employee.

“Where it hurts is when you create those technological barriers,” said Murren.

Waldon, of Departure Lounge, uses technology to get to know clients. The agency gathers vital information about the client via a visual survey that is hosted on the Departure Lounge’s website. The survey asks clients where he or she has traveled before, what brands he or she likes, how he or she normally books travel and more.

What happens to the survey after a client takes it? It becomes the icebreaker for the advisor during that first meeting with the client. Waldon explains the advisor never has to ask how much money a client has to spend, a sometimes-awkward subject. Instead, an advisor simply looks at the brands that the client has indicated he or she likes on the survey and goes from there.

“Technology forms everything but at the heart of it is a human,” continued Marchant. He explained that Black Tomato uses smart data to understand a client but never erases that human element. “Sometimes (tech) can suck the romance out of travel.”  

Stay tuned to Luxury Travel Advisor for more from the panels above and Virtuoso.