Travel Rebound Continues, Virtuoso Says at Symposium in Lisbon

Virtuoso convened key stakeholders from its travel agency members and partners for the 2022 Symposium. Attendees boarded Silversea’s newest vessel, Silver Dawn, for a pre-inaugural cruise: A five-day roundtrip sailing from Lisbon with two days of exploration in Porto. The event attracted over 300 executives from 35 countries for networking, ideation sessions and bonding through shared experiences.

The event began with an Opening Session at the Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon. Besides presentations by Virtuoso executives, including a keynote from Matthew D. Upchurch, chairman and CEO of Virtuoso, the main topic focused on a generational traveler study Virtuoso conducted for over two years. Presentations delineating the differences and commonalities between each of the three most prominent generations were followed by a Q&A session moderated by David Kolner, senior vice president, network products and strategy, Virtuoso, with Baby Boomer, Generation X and Millennial representatives.

Kolner also presented insights that assessed the industry’s current state and outlook based on Virtuoso member and partner survey insights. Showing that the rebound continues, Kolner shared that for February 2022, same-store sales are 85 percent of what they were in February 2019. Overall, when asked how they’re currently feeling about their business, 71 percent of Virtuoso members said optimistic (up from 43 percent in January) as did 80 percent of preferred partners (up from 56 percent), with the Middle East feeling the most optimistic (90 percent) followed by Canada at 82 percent (up from 26 percent). Tapping into insights gleaned through Oxford-based Tourism Economics, Kolner shared that the industry could expect to see international leisure travel reach full recovery globally against 2019 around the end of 2023.

Upchurch spoke about the inter-generational collaboration that has proven to be a major strength within the network highlighting that mentorship and the sharing of ideas and best practices are foundational to Virtuoso. “We have a clear advantage,” said Upchurch, “because we don’t just sell experiences. We offer the experience of dealing with us, where travelers benefit from relationships of trust. When the last Boomer turns 60 in 2024, it will be the first generation in history where 80 percent is expected to live an entire additional generation, about 20 to 25 years. Add to that the growth of global affluence that only accelerated during the pandemic and the prioritization of spending on experiences over goods by all generations, and you have a growth industry with the value of Virtuoso travel advisors at its core.”

Upchurch went on to state Virtuoso’s strategy of organizing efforts around three key activities: How the group connects with new travelers, how network participants connect with each other and how the organization connects with external value-added partners. He explained how these efforts lead to opportunities for increased growth by focusing on geographic reach, traveler passions and multiple generations. Upchurch pointed to the evolution of things like the network’s enhanced digital experiences via its website, which has led to increased traffic and greater visibility among travelers and within the media. He highlighted the company’s dedication to elevating the B2B experience so that it equally engages its members and partners, just as it does with consumers. Upchurch pointed to new partnerships in technology that will provide greater efficiencies and enhancements to the Virtuoso network.

Helen McCabe-Young, senior vice president of marketing, shared the steady marketing ramp-up and positive results delivered to date by Virtuoso, which better positions the entire organization to capture more global market share as travel recovers. She reiterated the group’s focus on attracting new travelers across generations into the network for the mutual benefit of Virtuoso, its travel agency members and its partners, while also continuing to evolve and tailor its marketing vehicles to reach and inspire existing clients.

Virtuoso shared the next Symposium destination as Montréal, Canada for May 17-21, 2023.

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