“The number one reason why thousands of people attend Virtuoso Travel Week, year-after-year, is to feel human connection,” said Tim Morgan, Virtuoso’s director of business strategy for Canada.
And this year, that connection will be made digitally as Virtuoso Travel Week 2020 kicks off this week (Aug. 10-13) in a first-time-ever virtual format amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
A popular conference that ordinarily would have been held live at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, this year’s event – aptly titled “The Value of Connections” – still welcomed 4,000 attendees from 96 countries to participate in live digital sessions with industry-leading partners.
Networking opportunities, trend updates and valuable training seminars are key to the event’s success – even if things, this year, aren’t happening in person.
In fact, Morgan told PAX that “going virtual feels surprisingly normal.”
“We’ve carefully selected an advanced technology platform that allows for those relationships to flourish in a hyper-personalized and interconnected way with video, audio, and chat availability throughout all components of the entire week,” he said.
This year, 78,000 one-on-one appointments between advisors and product partners, coupled with dozens of professional development sessions, and panels and keynotes from a diverse array of industry experts, will unfold, Morgan said.
In a Canadian context, Virtuoso Travel Week helps connect local travel advisors with Virtuoso’s preferred partners in Canada and around the globe.
“We have hundreds of Canadian travel advisors attending this week that help get the message out nationally and globally to the industry and government that Canadians want to travel both at home and abroad,” Morgan told PAX. “All signs point to luxury travel being the first to rebound and as the largest network of luxury travel advisors in Canada (and the world) no one is poised to help the industry recover like a Virtuoso travel advisor.”
Getting ahead of 2020 trends
Virtuoso, a global consortia of luxury travel advisors and travel companies, has earned its stripes as a travel trend forecaster, investing in its own consumer research and statistics.
If there was time to get ahead of what direction travel is going, especially amid the coronavirus crisis, it’s now.
According to Virtuoso’s latest research, a strong majority of Millennial, Generation Z and Generation X consumers are ready to travel post-pandemic.
Other trends show that clients are looking to stay closer to home for their next vacation.
Virtuoso’s latest client poll shows that 32.5 per cent will pursue a domestic destination a short flight away; 23.4 per cent will choose a multi-day road trip; and 13.8 per cent are considering a day trip within a couple hours of home.
Canadians, for one, want to travel closer to home, book closer to their travel dates, and try new experiences, explained Morgan.
“Canadian travellers are not shy when it comes to travel that may be off-the-beaten-path and Virtuoso travellers even more so as they generally have the time and resources to explore,” said Morgan. “Luxury does not necessarily mean white-glove service in a city-centre hotel. But rather, today’s luxury means authentic experiences and local immersion which Canada has in plentiful supply.”
About a third of respondents in the research said their next vacation will be an international destination.
Virtuoso’s cruise bookings for 2021, notably, are also coming in at just 6 per cent below normal levels.
On selling domestic travel, Morgan understands that some agents may feel like they don’t have the know-how to do so, or that they can’t make money from it.
“I’m here to remind them that they have everything they need to be successful at helping their clients with domestic travel because it all begins with a personal relationship,” Morgan said. “The understanding that a travel advisor has of their clients’ needs is second-to-none and sometimes even better than the clients understanding of their own needs! That’s what the true value of a travel advisor is.”
A positive message
A virtual travel conference during a global pandemic has its pros and cons, of course.
(“I already miss the hugs and champagne but am happy to be without the late nights, early mornings, and aching feet,” Morgan said).
But for participants, the excitement of being able to meet advisors and partners – especially after months of isolation and lockdown – remains strong.
[There’s] a great enthusiasm to be part of this new modality and to see all again,” said Jorge Ruiz, corporate manager of sales and marketing for Velas Resorts.
This year, Velas arrived with a message of positivity and peace by transmitting a Chaman's blessing at the beginning of every one of its sessions.
What does the Velas team enjoy the most about attending Virtuoso Travel Week?
“The opportunity to connect and to get more personal,” said Ruiz, noting how Velas Resorts, which recently earned recognition at Tripadvisor’s Travellers' Choice Awards, is “ready and prepared to receive your clients to make them feel at home and to have a real worry-free vacation.”
The digital platform also leaves room for fun interaction, as participants were encouraged to add a custom designed “I’m Connected – Virtuoso Travel Week” filter to their social media profile picture.
Monday morning’s (Aug 10) opening session welcomed Gloria Guevara, President & CEO of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), who said that amid the economic devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, governments are “finally starting to understand” the impact on the travel industry.
One thing the travel industry should note in its recovery efforts, said Guevara, is the need to implement a “coordinated approach” with countries, specifically around protocols as borders reopen.
“We need to be together to get out of this. Otherwise it’s going to be very painful and take a lot longer,” said Guevara.
Virtuoso’s own outlook for 2020 remains focused on travel close to home.
“For many, that will mean domestically across Canada for the near future due primarily to comfort with health and safety protocols. For others, that will mean starting to look at the Caribbean and Mexico as the weather turns later in the year,” Morgan told PAX.
Government and insurance restrictions continue to “play a major part in travel plans” for the immediate future, he added.
“We continue to advocate with our members and partners at ACTA for what is best for our industry and for the traveling public,” said Morgan. “While so much depends on the timeline of a vaccine in particular, we know that the majority of people do want to travel as soon as they feel comfortable doing so.”
While Virtuoso is seeing positive signs for 2021, the record comparison for 2019 is cruise, Morgan told PAX.
“Travellers particularly want to get back to cruising and touring in Europe next year as soon as government restrictions align with their personal comfort levels,” said Morgan. “We are actively encouraging our travel advisors to stay in regular contact with their clients, help them dream through interactive tools such as Virtuoso Wanderlist, and be top-of-mind for them when they’re ready to book again.”
This is one of many other important conversations happening at Virtuoso Travel Week 2020.
During its annual sustainably summit, Under One Sky, attendees learned and were challenged to create a brighter future for the travel industry.
“In order for travel to not only restart successfully but then continue to grow successfully, we must have important conversations right now about what we want that growth to look like,” said Morgan. “While over-tourism is certainly not an issue right now, we all must remember that it has very much recently been an issue and we must make a concerted effort to ensure the new normal of travel is sustainable – economically, socially, and environmentally.”
Amid so much uncertainty within the industry right now, one thing is for certain:
“We’re all in this together and we will get through this together,” said Morgan.
Virtuoso Travel Week 2020 runs till’ August 13th. Click here for more.
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