Due to the evolving nature of COVID-19 (coronavirus), Virtuoso has decided to postpone this year’s Symposium, which was scheduled for Vienna March 17-21, until 2021. The travel network came to the conclusion in collaboration with its Member Advisory Board and Viennese and Austrian partners.
Virtuoso CEO Matthew D. Upchurch said in a statement provided to Luxury Travel Advisor, “We feel this is the best decision for the entire network, allowing our members to focus on supporting their advisors in real-time to help their clients in an unpredictable and rapidly changing active crisis, while also working with our partners to enact policies that allow for the fewest cancellations, movement of bookings and securing new bookings, all with personal safety in mind.”
Virtuoso says it has a history of supporting, including visiting, destinations that are experiencing distress, be it from natural disasters, terrorist attacks or economic or health crises. It also took positions after global crises, like 9/11, to continue to market travel under the banner of its “Freedom Statement” with the rallying cry: Boundaries Divide, Travel Unites. This is the first time, though, Virtuoso has made the decision to postpone an event to a later date.
“I fully realize and understand the reaction of ‘if we don’t travel and lead by example, what does that say to clients and the marketplace,’” Upchurch said. “However, this is not about fear of traveling, and our 34-year track record speaks for itself. This decision was one of the hardest in my career because I’m not wired to ever be scared off; in fact, we run towards opportunities to lead by example. But our membership is diverse and the impact of this crisis is being felt at different levels of intensity for different sectors in different parts of the world, and it is changing daily and hourly. Italy is an example, with the CDC raising them to a ‘Level 3 – Avoid All Non-Essential Travel.’ We are traveling, and I will personally be in Vienna soon to thank our partners who unanimously supported the postponement to help our members and partners support their staff and clients, and then return in 2021 to achieve the objectives of this thought-leadership and experiential event.”
Virtuoso says this crisis will see the network focus on “Supporting Local Economies,” one of three pillars it associates with sustainability (in addition to ‘Protect the Environment’ and ‘Preserves Natural and Cultural Heritage’), which will be crucial to helping destinations get back on their feet. Upchurch added, “We want to help travelers understand how their spending affects the lives of millions of people.”