Virtuoso Debuts New Virtuoso Travel Week with 3,800 Plus Attendees
By James Shillinglaw
August 12, 2012 10:35 PM
Virtuoso on Aug. 12 inaugurated its new Virtuoso Travel Week, formerly Virtuoso Travel Mart, at the Bellagio in Las Vegas with a record 1,700 suppliers and 1,850 travel advisors in attendance, as well as media and other attendees. The luxury travel network this year changed the name of its annual conference as way to provide its travelers “insider access” to the networking that occurs between its travel advisors and suppliers. Virtuoso also offered new details of its collaborative commerce strategy designed to bring consumers and travel suppliers into the travel planning process with Virtuoso travel advisors.
“Why change such a successful event now?” asked Virtuoso CEO Matthew Upchurch in his comments to attendees. “We've always had the courage to change what needs to be changed. We have wisely held on to who we are and why we do it, despite the countless times we've been told our time is running out.” At the same time, he said Virtuoso’s challenge is that it hasn’t thought big enough given its assets and resources.
Upchurch challenged those travel advisors and suppliers in the audience to move Virtuoso from a group with two million client names in its database to a become a power with more than 20 million customers, so it can even more effectively compete with the big online travel agencies. He also suggested Virtuoso could do that by using the tools provided through its Composer web-based interactive system that acts as a database for Virtuoso travel advisors, suppliers and travel products and as a travel planning tool.
The renaming of Virtuoso’s annual travel conference is aimed at allowing the media and the traveling public to learn more about the Virtuoso travel community and how it develops its crucial personal relationships through networking. This year’s conference, for the first time, is featuring special media briefings by Virtuoso suppliers offering news about their products. Indeed, Virtuoso is using Fashion Week as an example for what it hopes Virtuoso Travel Week will become. Virtuoso put a little more pizzazz in this year’s event by having a general session on Aug. 12 that not only had Sally Hogshead, a branding expert and author of “Fascination,” as a keynoter, but also featured Francis Ford Coppola, the famed film director, who also happens to run five boutique hotels in Belize, Guatemala, Italy and Argentina, respectively.
David Hansen, Virtuoso’s executive vice president-operations and finance, said the new name for the conference is the culmination of Virtuoso’s consumer facing brand, which has become recognized over the past 14 years by consumers as a luxury travel brand. Virtuoso invited its advisors to market the fact that they are attending Virtuoso Travel Week by using a special marketing tool kit, having their clients submit photos of their trips and do special video conferencing with clients from the event.
As it promised during its Symposium in April, Virtuoso announced the July 20 launch of Virtuoso Travel Folio, a tool that works with Composer. Using Travel Folio, Virtuoso’s travel advisors can offer up to three hotel choices and customized itineraries to their clients. They can select those hotel choices based on what their clients request, edit them, invite in their clients to respond to them, and have clients share those choices with their friends and relatives for comment. Virtuoso says this new process puts collaborative commerce into the travel planning and buying process. It also hits social media hot buttons, drives leads and exposes the travel planning process to clients and their clients’ friends. Virtuoso Travel Folio is available primarily for hotel options right now, but Virtuoso expects to soon expand the process to cruises, tours and other travel products.
Scott Alhsmith, president of 23Touchpoints, the company funded by Virtuoso to create new technology and information systems, said Virtuoso Travel Folio will work to provide travel advisors with an interactive travel-planning tool that they can use in a collaborative commerce environment with their clients to search for the right travel options. He also said Virtuoso next year is planning to completely revamp its consumer facing website, Virtuoso.com, to allow consumers to begin making their own travel plans on the website, which their Virtuoso travel advisors can then work with them on to create the best experiences. The site will become more interactive and more photo immersive in order to attract customers. Ahlsmith said Virtuoso travel advisors would be able to use Composer and Virtuoso.com to begin serving even more clients, especially those in the key 40- to 55-year-old bracket who take the most luxury trips.
“Travel Folio is the first step in a trail of travel options that clients can use to share with their friends, where travel advisors can invite suppliers into the conversation,” said Virtuoso President Kristi Jones. “Next year the traveler can work on the [new Virtuoso.com] site using supplier and member content under the watchful eyes of their travel advisors. The new Virtuoso.com is social and mobile solution for consumers.”
Virtuoso currently totals 625 locations in 20 countries in North America (501 locations, Latin America (75 locations) and Australia (49 locations) with total annual sales of $9.6 billion dollars. 501 locations in North America, 75 in LA, 49 in Australia.