Virtuoso Chairman and CEO Matthew D. Upchurch on (sometimes unusual) trends in the luxury travel trade

Following on from last issue’s feature with the head of the world’s top luxury travel network, we continue to look at key trends in the trade. Cleverdis editor-in-chief Richard Barnes asked Matthew to explain his concept of “Return on Life”…

The user experience guys in our digital team talk about the “mental model”. Consumers have a mental model, and the idea is how to present something, understanding the mental model somebody already has, so that you can basically canoe downstream…

For example, the biggest problem with online booking and the internet is that the core mental model of booking online is price, then come speed and convenience. So for us, the whole idea of multi-year planning comes down to the creation of language and branding around how to communicate what we do as a value to different population sets that already possess a certain mental model. With multi-year planning, we own a trademark called “Return on Life” (eds: a registered trademark of Virtuoso). Return on Life is the way we present what a great Virtuoso advisor does for people who already have wealth advisors. What we say to them is, “Why would you have a wealth advisor to help you optimise and manage your financial assets, but not have somebody in your life to help you optimise and make the most out of your most valuable non-renewable asset: your free leisure time.”

What makes your advisors different?

I am incredibly proud of the amount of new talent we have brought into this industry. When I met our first attorney, who quit his law practice to become a Virtuoso advisor, I thought “Wow, this is incredible.” Here I am seven years later and it’s become “Huh, another attorney?”

As I mentioned in our last chat, what’s happening is that this whole idea of our generalists being “specialists in you” comes from the fact that in a world with so much information and brand confusion, who can one trust today? That’s where you need a specialist in the client, and where the Virtuoso network comes into place.

Multi-generational travel continues to be on the rise. How do your advisors work with people in these cases?

Indeed, we have grandparents today funding big multi-generational trips, literally saying, “I am going to leave you less money than you probably would have had before, because I believe that our time together as a family, to share ideas, to connect, and also to show you the world, is a competitive advantage that you will have for the rest of your life.” And something interesting is happening, where we will have a Virtuoso advisor set-up a Skype call on a Smart TV at the grandparents’ home. They have a skeleton itinerary, and then they have a family gathering, where they literally do a live call with the people out in the field: “The kids want to do this, the grandkids want to do that…” It’s an evolution in the way you can service a client.

What enables Virtuoso’s travel advisors to thrive?

We did an interesting study about what drives loyalty versus repeat business. I’m not talking about loyalty as in, “I’m going to give you points”, but I mean loyalty through relationship; realising that loyalty is created on two planes: the structural, and the emotional.

The single most important thing that we have been told by consumers that differentiates a transactional travel agent from a trusted advisor is the conversation after the trip.

The guy who did the research for us came up with a great one-liner: “Only debrief 100% of the clients you want to keep.” This goes full circle to what I was talking about – that generalisation is not generalisation, it’s specialisation in the client. What happens is that as an individual advisor builds a relationship of trust, language, style, etcetera, and as they talk to the client after each trip, it becomes a learning relationship. That client is basically investing in this structural and emotional bank account of this relationship, which makes the advisor stickier and stickier.

Another important point is that really great advisors are never working solely on the next trip. They’re working two years out. There’s a larger context, and that’s also one of the reasons they are so valuable to their clients. It’s a multi-trip. They might say, “You realise that your kids only have three more summers with you, and you still haven’t done that African safari”.

At Virtuoso Travel Week, the industry discovers insider travel insights © Virtuoso

At Virtuoso Travel Week, the industry discovers insider travel insights © photo: Virtuoso