TRAVEL WEEK: INNOVATIONS, HOT DESTINATIONS AND AWARD WINNERS

Virtuoso predicts solid growth for 2019 – with cruises among the top performers

Driven by a culture of innovation and the need to serve its member agencies, leading luxury travel network Virtuoso has unveiled enhancements to an array of programmes and initiatives. The announcements took place during the 31st annual Virtuoso Travel Week in Las Vegas, which achieved a record attendance (up 7% – to 6,515 professionals from 107 countries).

Key areas of innovation included professional development, with Virtuoso’s award-winning and diverse programme thriving via its Virtuoso Travel Academy portal. There were also advisor tools, new programmes and advances in technology and innovation. The network’s first Technology Innovation Summit was held during Virtuoso Travel Week, exploring how new technology can impact the travel industry and positively affect the advising profession.

The Virtuoso network currently encompasses over 1,000 agency locations with more than 20,000 advisors in 50 countries, accounting for over US$26.4 billion in annual sales, making Virtuoso a powerhouse in global luxury travel. 2019 sales are forecasted to grow overall by 10.9%, with cruise sales strong.

To better service its members, Virtuoso devised a Communities strategy, which is flourishing, with six communities: Adventure, Voyages, Wellness, Family and this year’s newcomers, Culinary and Ultra- luxe. Interest and participation continues to grow, with a 35% increase this year to 3,295 advisors and a 75% increase to 262 partners. New for 2020 will be Virtuoso Celebration Travel, covering everything from destination weddings and honeymoons to birthdays, anniversaries and other milestone events.

WITH SUCH A DIVERSITY OF EXPERIENCES AT HOME, AMERICANS INCREASINGLY CHOOSE TO TRAVEL DOMESTICALLY FOR THE HOLIDAYS

Virtuoso also provides insightful research into trends across the travel industry. During Virtuoso Travel Week, for example, it revealed the most popular fall and holiday destinations for Upscale Americans, based on data from future bookings. “With such a diversity of destinations and experiences at home, Americans increasingly choose to travel domestically for the holidays,” said the Virtuoso Luxe Report. “Europe’s appeal as a summer destination extends into fall, with five countries in the top ten. Italy, France and Germany repeat from last year; the latter is popular with river cruisers for its Christmas markets.

Two other favourites, South Africa and Israel, repeat from last year’s list, beckoning families seeking trips of a lifetime.”
In addition, Virtuoso’s research reveals that US travellers are seeking adventures in less- visited destinations from Latin America to the Middle East to off-the-beaten- path Europe during the fall and holiday season. Countries that have experienced the largest increases in year-over-year bookings include: Uruguay, the Maldives, Malta, Romania, Egypt, Puerto Rico, Rwanda, Qatar, South Korea and Norway. “US travellers are seeking adventures amid the fairy-tale castles of Romania, historic sites of Malta and fjords of Norway,” said the Report. “Uruguay’s award-winning wineries, pleasant climate, and adventure opportunities make it a sought-after destination for the season. The Middle East remains popular, with Egypt and Qatar enticing visitors with less-explored cuisines, bustling markets, and desert excursions, while Puerto Rico and the Maldives provide retreats for relaxation-focused travellers.”

On the Awards front, Virtuoso feted 18 destination, cruise and lifestyle partners with awards for their products and service as well as their collaboration with network members. Winners were announced during Virtuoso Travel Week and included: Best Tour Partner, Belmond Trains & Cruises; Destinations & Experiences Ambassador of the Year, Javier Echecopar, Abercrombie & Kent US; Destinations & Experiences Partner of the Year, Made for Spain & Portugal; Best Multi-Generational Programme – Cruise, Royal Caribbean International; Best Culinary Experience – Cruise, Oceania Cruises; Most Luxurious Guest Experience – Cruise, Crystal Cruises; Best River Cruise Line, AmaWaterways; Best Expedition Cruise Line, Silversea Expeditions; Best On-Site Partner, Calvados Club Luxury Travel – Croatia; Tourism Board of the Year, Switzerland Tourism.

In addition, the Alliance Partner Awards recognised eight exceptional preferred destinations and lifestyle partners. These were: Most Engaged Tourism Board – US/ Canada, Tourism Australia; Most Engaged Tourism Board – Global, Visit California; Most Innovative Alliances Partner, El Corte Ingles; Most Comprehensive Advisor Programme, Austrian Tourist Office; Hottest Destination of the Year, Slovenian Tourist Board; Top Destination of the Year, Italian National Tourist Board; Virtuoso Alliances

Ambassador of the Year, Elisabeth Hakim, PromPeru; Lifestyle Partner of the Year, Galeries Lafayette Paris.

Finally, Virtuoso’s coveted Best of the Best Awards honoured the year’s top 10 hotels and hoteliers in categories ranging from best wellness programme to best dining experience. Four Seasons Hotel George V triumphed with the most prestigious prize: Hotel of the Year. “The exceptional contributions of these Best of the Best winners are emblematic of the calibre of creativity, service and guest experiences that are the hallmark of the Virtuoso Hotels & Resorts programme,” said Albert Herrera, senior vice president of Global Product Partnerships for Virtuoso. “Every year our winners raise the bar even higher for global luxury hospitality, and we are proud to honour their accomplishments while expressing gratitude for the inspiration they provide.”


Photo: The Four Seasons George V Paris, France – Virtuoso’s Hotel of the Year