“What’s on your ‘Wanderlist?’” The question was posed at the 31st annual Virtuoso Travel Week – a recent gathering of over 6,500 travel industry professionals held in Las Vegas. “It’s like summer camp for the travel industry,” remarked David Hansen, senior vice-president of events for Virtuoso, the powerhouse travel agency network specializing in rare experiences, exclusive amenities and privileged access to hotels, cruise lines, tour companies and destinations globally via Virtuoso.com.
The thousands of meetings held between Virtuoso advisors and top-class travel providers result in discovering rare experiences travelers would not even know they could ask for.
“Would you like to attend an after-hours, private concert in Vatican City’s Sistine Chapel? Instead of observing the ancient ruins at Pompeii would you prefer to participate in an actual archeological dig?” asked Misty Ewing Belles, Virtuoso’s global director of public relations. She meant actually, not metaphorically. Travel Week speaker Chip Conley, the hotel entrepreneur who helped Airbnb become a global brand, encourages Virtuoso’s active philosophy with advice suitable for customer relations in any business enterprise:
“When you provide a guest something they didn’t even ask for you have a customer for life,” he advised.
It’s the kind of expertise, security and customized service the current discount online travel dot-com booking services cannot provide.
“A computer cannot provide nuance or empathy. It lacks the human element. It cannot assist travelers in defining their dreams,” said Virtuoso CEO Matthew Upchurch. “At Virtuoso we compete with automated algorithms by employing the rhythm of our hearts. If dehumanization is growing at an exponential rate, we better be an exponentially more human-centric business – based in trust.”
Virtuoso has developed its’ “Wanderlist” software program in response to the online travel booking systems. The difference is that Wanderlist, found at Virtuoso.com, starts by discerning the needs, desires, priorities and timelines of vacationers and travelers. Then human expert advisors suggest the best ways to fulfill them.
“Wanderlist is ‘high-tech’ but ‘high-touch.’ It is a lifestyle guide and a framework for dreams. It’s an anticipation vehicle,” said Upchurch.
Psychologists have indicated the anticipation of travel emotionally outweighs the memory of travel, and some of Virtuoso’s advisors and experience providers indicate people and families are increasingly plotting out their travel up to years in advance. “I don’t like the phrase ‘bucket list,’” said Upchurch. “Instead of talking about dying, let Virtuoso help you with how you want to live.”
Phillipe Brown, a Virtuoso travel advisor with London-based Brown and Hudson, said, “People used to know where they wanted to go. Now they come to us and ask, ‘Where can I take my kids and grandkids?’ Now it’s travel as a concept.”
“Country coupling” is also an example, according to Belles. “A Virtuoso Wanderlist advisor can point out that if someone is traveling to Venice they might also consider also adding a stop in Slovenia just across the border to their itinerary for a totally different yet easily accessible experience.” Luxury Slovenia’s Mattej Valencic, another Virtuoso travel provider, would then offer expert advice and logistical arrangements to enhance the trip.
Virtuoso’s Wanderlist and YouGov surveys have provided data on what matters to travelers. Culture tops the list, followed by accommodations, food, new experiences, activities and atmosphere. And the top reason people are vacationing: relaxation and family togetherness.
Contact Travel Writer Michael Patrick Shiels at MShiels@aol.com His radio program may be heard weekdays at MiBigShow.com or in Lansing on WJIM am 1240 from 9-noon.