Virtuoso Honors “Luminaries, Legends and Leaders” of Past Year

The 33rd annual Virtuoso Travel Week closed with an evening of recognition and remembrance, honoring individuals and entities that have gone above and beyond to assist others during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the gala, Virtuoso highlighted travel agencies, advisors and preferred partners who lent their support within the industry or local communities, promoted smarter environmental practices, and empowered cultures to thrive.  

Virtuoso’s advisors and preferred partners were asked to nominate individuals or organizations that were exceptionally supportive throughout the pandemic, resulting in nearly 500 submissions. 

A panel comprising the network’s Global Member Advisory Board and preferred partners reviewed submissions covering five categories, with agency members reviewing the partner submissions, and the partners reviewing the member submissions. Two other recognitions were also presented at the Gala: A new category entitled “Luminary,” as well as the “Ruby of Siam,” which is bestowed upon an agency owner or manager “who upholds the highest professional standards, serves as a leader in their industry, and embodies the spirit of the Virtuoso network through their dedication and engagement.”

2021 Recognition Recipients

Community: Recognizing Virtuoso member agencies/advisors and partners who have made exceptional efforts in serving their community through the generous contribution of their time, actions, and talents.  

  • Agency/Advisor Recipient: Largay Travel not only helped their advisors in bringing clients home and soothing frustrated travelers seeking refunds, but they came up with creative ways to support their advisors and lift their spirits during the worst of the pandemic. Additionally, for one of their senior executive’s birthdays, they raised money for Micato Safaris’ America Share partner, Huru.
  • Preferred Partner Recipient: Taj worked through its public Service Welfare Trust to deliver meals to hospital staff and other frontline workers, as well as thousands of others in need. It also opened the doors of 12 hotels to hospital workers, so that they could stay close to where they were working and not risk exposing their family members.

Culture: Celebrating Virtuoso member agencies/advisors and partners who have been a driving force in transforming and impacting others in their local community, the travel industry, and/or the world around them through the expansion of knowledge, beliefs, arts, customs or capabilities. 

  • Agency/Advisor Recipient: Avenue Two Travel, when forced to close its doors, could no longer offer training programs in person and turned that limitation into an opportunity by expanding its training curriculum and creating an online program that advisors can access 24/7.  This elevated advisor training speed and during this time, the agency grew its independent contractor base by 20 percent
  • Preferred Partner RecipientSofitel Legend The Grand Hotel Amsterdam collaborated with various local and national charities, focusing on projects in and around the city to promote education, relieve hunger and bring joy to elderly or shut-in people. It also created an “Artists in Residence” program that provided studio space, inspiring works that reflect the character of the city.

Economic Generosity: Applauding member agencies/advisors and partners who have taken action to make a positive financial impact on the lives of others during the pandemic. Through their generosity and support, they have improved conditions, circumstances, and livelihoods, whether for a day, a month or the long term.  

  • Agency/Advisor RecipientGOYA by Copastur has a unique program to help combat hunger in its home country of Brazil. For each trip purchased with the company, it donated two kilograms (nearly five pounds) of food to people facing food insecurity, partnering with a local NGO to distribute food that would otherwise be discarded. In just over eight months, it was able to donate more than 1,000 pounds of food.
  • Preferred Partner RecipientRoyal Caribbean Group led the way in paying commission on cruises that were canceled, extending a lifeline to advisors and agencies that otherwise would have lost that income when cruising came to a standstill. The CEO and other senior executives stayed in touch with advisors, providing updates and insights, and even offering bridge loans to agencies, lending economic and emotional support. 

Innovation: Highlighting Virtuoso members agencies/advisors and preferred partners who have inspired Virtuoso with bold new ways of thinking that lead the way forward, whether through leadership, business practices or other innovative efforts.

  • Agency/Advisor Recipient: Sarah Groen, Bell & Bly Travel Design, an independent affiliate of Brownell Travel, not only built a remote team during the pandemic, but she also created a podcast called “Luxury Travel Insider” to shine a light on the personalities and stories behind some of the greatest hotel experiences in the world. With more than 75 episodes completed, this has become a top‑ranking podcast for luxury travel on Apple.
  • Preferred Partner Recipient: Knut Wylde of The Berkeley, London opened the driveway and hotel entrance to provide coffee and treats, while employees volunteered to pass them out to firemen, medical staff and ambulance drivers, when the hotel was otherwise closed due to the pandemic. Once outdoor dining was allowed, he transformed a spot for parked cars into a new al fresco restaurant, which was so successful that it is now a permanent feature at the property.  

Environmental: Recognizing Virtuoso member agencies/advisors and partners who have taken a leading role in protecting and preserving the environment and promoting sustainable practices. 

  • Agency/Advisor Recipients (tie):
    • Daria Westerfield, River Oaks Travel, created an innovative “Sustainable Corporate Travel Concierge” program, meeting with CEOs and consulting companies to discuss how to balance their needs, while meeting ESG sustainability criteria. She helps companies plan carbon-neutral itineraries and arrange team-building activities that support local economies, and partner with eco‑friendly hotels and resorts. 
    • Rose O’Connor, Rose O’Connor Travel, an independent affiliate of Brownell Travel has made it her mission to focus exclusively on sustainable travel. She is currently working toward a graduate degree in sustainability at Harvard and was selected this year as a Climate Corps Fellow by the Environmental Defense Fund. 
  • Preferred Partner RecipientWilderness Safaris and its “Conservation Heroes” program serves to protect wildlife and wilderness areas from increased poaching threats, while also meeting the basic food needs for their staff and others who have lost their tourism-related livelihoods. Addressing this need reduces the likelihood of people poaching for food. To date, it has distributed 14,500 food parcels, helping more than 65,000 people with over 600 tons of food.

Two additional recognitions were presented during the gala:  

  • LuminaryThe Travel Corporation – After receiving numerous nominations in multiple categories for companies under its umbrella, a special “Luminary” recognition was bestowed upon The Travel Corporation for its commitment to sustainable practices that encompassed almost every category.
  • Ruby of Siam: Wendy Davis of Zebrano Travel, Inc. was selected as the recipient of this year’s prestigious “Ruby of Siam,” an honor with longstanding tradition within Virtuoso since 1987. Davis was recognized as a Virtuoso member who embodies the spirit of its network, upholds the highest professional standards, and has worked selflessly to promote the travel advisor profession as well as the Virtuoso network.

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