The majority of Virtuoso travel agency owners and managers say growing their number of employees is a priority this year as they aim to continue meeting increased demand. As polled at Virtuoso’s recent U.S. Forum, held January 23-25 at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando, 76 percent of attendees said they plan to hire independent contractors this year; 73 percent plan to hire support staff; and 46 percent plan to hire full-time advisors.
The need to hire more advisors as demand grows mimics the overall optimism about the industry this year. According to a recent Virtuoso network pulse survey, 83 percent of advisor members feel positively about their business. (Seventy percent of U.S. partners said they currently are optimistic about their business.) Looking at 2023, Virtuoso Executive Vice President David Kolner shared a recap of the network’s sales when compared to the year prior. In all, total sales increased 25 percent, the average booking window jumped 11 percent to 103 days and festive season sales increased by 9 percent. Looking ahead, Kolner reported positive predictions for luxury travel according to Virtuoso data. To note: Global hotel ADRs are at a high through summer 2024—though he did warn that the industry may see slower growth overall due to this being an election year. That said, 34 percent of U.S. Forum attendees expect their agency’s 2024 sales and revenue to exceed last year’s numbers by 11 to 20 percent.
In addition to election year factors, geopolitical conflicts and political uncertainty topped the list of external factors that cause concern for advisors.
Some are also keeping tabs on artificial intelligence, potentially as an opportunity to evolve their business practices. Virtuoso Chairman and CEO Matthew D. Upchurch has continuously supported AI as an aid to the travel advisor profession. “Travel advisors are motivated and constant learners, and they know how to surprise and delight travelers through personalization and the power of relationships. New technologies shouldn’t be adopted to replace the human touch, but rather to enhance it. AI may be leading the online ‘age of distrust,’ but I also believe it is going to make trust and human connection even more valuable,” he said.
The U.S. Forum brought together more than 350 attendees—the owners and managers from Virtuoso’s travel agency members in the United States and preferred partners from around the world. The annual gathering is the first in a lineup of global Forums to follow, including the Canada Forum in Toronto (February 27-28), Asia Forum in Bangkok (March 11-12), Australia and New Zealand Forum in Bangkok (March 12-13), Latin America & Caribbean Forum in Madrid (April 14-17), U.K., Ireland, Middle East & Africa Forum in Costa Navarino, Greece (May 14-16) and Continental Europe Forum in Cannes (November 30-December 1).