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“Evolve. Reinvent. Execute.”
Three words to live by in any profession. But, they’re especially
relevant to the unique challenges and rewards of the luxury travel
segment. It’s not surprising, then, that Virtuoso chose the dynamic
three-part slogan as its theme for Virtuoso Travel Mart 2006, which
took place at the Bellagio in Las Vegas Aug. 20-24. The event
attracted 1,100 agents, and a total of 2,500 participants
Virtuoso, of course, prides itself on its networking power, and by
the looks of things, agents and suppliers really made the most of
it. Elegantly attired agents from across the globe mixed and
mingled throughout the day, grabbing lattes and exchanging business
cards before dashing into training seminars and meetings.
“It’s all about the contacts, there’s no doubt about that,” said
Don Cromwell, manager of Gayle Gillies Travel in Rancho Santa Fe,
Calif. “It’s extremely valuable to be able to say to a supplier,
‘we met at the Travel Mart.’”
“Meeting” was clearly a buzz word resonating through the
Bellagio’s gilded hallways. Virtuoso has perfected the art of the
intense (some might say grueling) 4-minute meet and greet. Agents
and suppliers famously came together over four days of mini
“appointments” resulting in more than a quarter of a million
“Over the years, they’ve really gotten it down to a science. I
don’t think there’s any more efficient way to make those personal
contacts,” said Cromwell.
Tony Adler, president of Cruise and Resort, Inc., in Sherman Oaks,
California, found this year’s Travel Mart “invigorating.” Said
Adler, “I think Virtuoso has reinvented itself in a good way.
There’s more of an emphasis on agents now, rather than merely the
Those suppliers, notes Adler, “treated us like we really matter.
They sent their GMs, the presidents of properties, their top
people. One hotel GM told me this was the only conference he goes
to all year.”
In addition to the sterling roster of luxury hotel and resort
properties, exotic tour operators and cruise lines, a few suppliers
were a bit more over the top than others-literally. Virgin Galactic
showcased a trip for the client who’s done everything else on
earth: a $200,000 space flight on specially constructed spacecraft.
Virtuoso network will be the exclusive North American sales outlet
for the space ventures, expected to “launch” within the next two
This being a Virtuoso endeavor, Travel Mart was definitely not all
work and no play. Some mornings began with Yoga sessions, to help
participants get in the zone. And there was always something
special to look forward to at the end of a packed daily schedule.
Cocktail parties, private dinners, a golf tournament and more, not
to mention loads of giveaways. One party even featured
entertainment by musician David Sanbourn.
“We want everyone to have a good time, as well as enhance
themselves professionally at this event,” said Virtuoso CEO Matthew
Upchurch, as he greeted guests at a sumptuous VIP Cocktail
Reception at his Bellagio Villa.
The next day, Upchurch drew upon the “Evolve. Reinvent. Execute”
message during a press briefing. To begin with, Virtuoso has
evolved and reinvented itself recently, with a reorganization that
includes an impressive new executive team. Several Virtuoso
suppliers also took the opportunity at Travel Mart to make major
announcements about “evolving and reinventing” themselves. Windstar
Cruises, for example, announced an ambitious new expansion of its
“Degrees of Difference” program that will see major enhancements to
the line’s three ship fleet. Royal Caribbean International
announced that it has reinvented the concept of “ship’s godmother.”
It’s next Freedom-class vessel, Liberty of the Seas, will be
christened by a travel agent to be selected by a nomination
And dynamic speakers, such as keynoter Ken Dychtwald, Ph.D., gave
enthusiastic attendees plenty of inspiration to evolve and reinvent
themselves as true “lifestyle consultants.” Dychtwald emphasized
the power of the 55- to 64-year-old age group. Not only are they
the fastest-growing set in the country, they’re huge consumers of
the luxury experience. And they’re eager for individualized
attention from their travel agent to deliver that experience.
Virtuoso has lead by example, by giving individualized attention
to its members, analyzing each agency’s particular strengths and
weaknesses. This “Strategy for Growth” is just one of the new
initiatives designed to help members grow their business, said Mark
Belles, executive vice president, global sales and service.
Not that Virtuoso business has been anything but stellar thus far.
Sales for 2005 were up nearly 19 percent from 2004, to $3.8
billion. Virtuoso predicts 2006 figures will reach the $4.2 billion
mark. But, it’s still important to keep evolving, reinventing, and
executing those changes to stay ahead of the game, noted Upchurch.
Agency business models may differ dramatically, which is why it’s
so important to highlight a core set of principles.
Upchurch added, “There are two types of agencies, those that sell
travel as a commodity, and those that sell customized experiences.
We do the latter.”