Fueled by a strong U.S. economy and an ever-increasing passion for noteworthy travel experiences, leisure travel is on track to become more sustainable and personal, according to the latest news from Virtuoso Travel Week 2018. Some 6,071 travel professionals from 100 countries meeting in mid-August in Las Vegas for the conference’s 30thannual gathering saw numbers going up in just about every category and also saw their chances to influence travel through a changing landscape of politics, environmental factors and economic circumstances.
Virtuoso advisor sales totaled nearly $24 billion a year this year, up 12 percent from the previous year, making the network a powerhouse in luxury travel. But the message playing throughout the conference was undoubtedly sustainability and maintaining the human touch.
“How many clients come in to a travel office and ask: give me a sustainable vacation? It’s a growing trend and advisors have to communicate what assumptions are involved when a client asks for what they want – they have to align what the client wants with what is good for the planet and good for people. Travelers can be doing the best stuff on their vacations and can also be doing good. If, say, The Brando (a luxury eco-resort in Tahiti) is sold out then we are doing our jobs,” says Matthew Upchurch, Chairman and CEO of Virtuoso Travel. “I feel there is a role that travel advisors can play for conveying the right norms. Some destinations are saying we don’t want tourists. We want visitors, we want guests. We can answer to that.”
Virtuoso advisors report that clients ask for and factor in sustainable tourism practices – defined as travel that is more environmentally friendly, supports the protection of cultural and natural heritage, and provides social and economic benefits to local people. However, they say it is Millennials who are leading the charge. In fact, Millennials are three times more likely than Generation X-aged clients to seek out and support travel companies committed to sustainable tourism.
Baby Boomers are also noteworthy in their support for sustainable tourism, and represent a core demographic of the travel market. However, as a combined group, Millennials, Gen X, and Gen Z are the travel wave of the future and represent some 80 percent of those clients most likely to book travel that is mindful and beneficial to the environment and cultural preservation.
“Sustainable tourism represents a transformative movement– from saving endangered species to supporting community development projects around the world. By sharing inspirational stories and educating Virtuoso advisors we are helping to advance travel as a force for good,” said Jessica Hall Upchurch, Virtuoso Sustainability Ambassador.
Sustainability initiatives are supported by Virtuoso Sustainable Tourism Leadership Awards and by ongoing development in strategy that promotes sustainability as a way of travel. The company is in the midst of creating educational sessions and drafting white papers to further the cause and make it more than a passing trend.
Meanwhile, Virtuoso announced some noteworthy data coming in through its 17,500 network partners. The top 10 destinations Americans have been booking this year so far are:
- South Africa
- United States
- New Zealand
The countries that have seen the largest percentage of growth through the years by U.S. travelers are:
- Turkey (+310%)
- Egypt (+264%)
- Morocco (+144%)
- India (+128%)
- Cayman Islands (+124%)
- Brazil (+92%)
- Israel (+88%)
- Switzerland (+82%)
- Indonesia (+76%)
- Greece (+74%)
The Middle East and North Africa are on an upward swing for the coming fall and holiday season, possibly showing pent-up demand for these exotic regions. But Israel, in particular, is a hot spot — one of only three destinations to place on both the Top 10 and Hot 10 lists this quarter, due to high demand.
The top five trends in travel experiences, according to Virtuoso numbers, are:
- Multigenerational Travel
- Active Adventures
- River Cruising
- Food and Wine Travel
For family travel, Virtuoso reports the five top destinations sold by the network so far this year are Iceland, the Galapagos Islands, Cuba, Antarctica, and Botswana/Mongolia (tied for place five). Keep in mind, Virtuoso advisors are practiced in the art of selling luxury travel. In fact, 86% of the Virtuoso travel clients surveyed agreed that luxury travel is worth it and that they would be willing to pay full price if they knew they would get the best in service. Some73% agree with the phrase: “once you experience luxury it is hard to go back.”
The top clients at Virtuoso bring in 40% of the sales. The average age of this group is 62, and a third are under the age of 54. They spend more than $128,000 annually on travel and take at least eight trips a year. The spend on average, $5,650 per air ticket and drop $1,700 per night on hotels – more than three times the rate of average hotel guests. They spend, on average, four times more on tours when they travel and are loyal to the core. Advisors report a 90% repeat rate for these clients.
Virtuoso agents are reporting rising demand for more research-intensive personalized trips and long-term travel planning amid serious and sophisticated travelers.
“Just like everyone has their own attorney or wealth manager – people that understand individual needs of each client in their field, advising in travel is no different,” says Josh Alexander, a travel advisor with Protravel International in New York. “That relationship of understanding and guidance is essential. With time so scarce having everything run smoothly or being able to have someone to call someone so everything can run smoothly makes all the difference.”
Adds Upchurch, “Twenty years ago the top skill set for a travel agent was processing skills – processing quickly. That is no longer the case. Now it’s the ability to listen, the ability to engage and collaborate. It’s not about ‘tell me what you want and I will make it happen.’ It’s about a conversation.”
For those who want to book directly but still be able to access the help of an advisor if necessary, Virtuoso has recently instituted an arrangement with Booking.com. The feature on the Virtuoso website allows travelers to access hotel and resort rates offered by the online megasite, but still get the access, help and special amenities afforded to Virtuoso advisors.
Upchurch expects to see more efficiencies on travel planning, booking and management come onboard as the tools of artificial intelligence become more workable. However, the human touch – that will never be replaced.
“In a world where there is more pressure and speed, you can’t take the human out of humanity,” says Upchurch. “We are in the business of helping people optimize their memories. That’s one of things we are trying to scale here.”
This article first appeared in Multibriefs.