A Conversation with Matthew UpchurchJune 10, 2010 By: Susan Young Travel Agent
Matthew Upchurch receives his CLIA 2010 Hall of Fame plaque from Terry Dale, CLIA's CEO
photo provided by Cruise Lines International Associaiton
Last weekend at cruise3sixy in Vancouver, I sat down for a 30-minute interview with Matthew Upchurch, CTC, CEO of Virtuoso, to talk about his induction into the 2010 Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Hall of Fame as well as insight about his career and industry trends.
Upchurch, who began his travel industry career in the 1980s with two family businesses, Percival Tours and Upchurch Travel, now oversees the marketing, sales, technology and operational systems that have made Virtuoso one of the most respected and successful companies in the luxury travel arena. He is a past chairman of The Travel Institute and, most recently, served on the corporate advisory council for the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA).
While many people projected the demise of the travel agent over the past decade— given the rise of the Internet— Upchurch, in contrast, never waivered from his view that skilled travel specialists would become invaluable to clients as knowledgeable advisors and experiential experts.
Secrets for Success
I asked Upchurch what factors or steps deeply influenced his career progression. “One I talk about all the time is that I had the experience of being on multiple sides of the industry,” he said. Upchurch’s father owned Percival Tours and was a founder of United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA).
“So I grew up as a tour operator and as a luxury supplier, but then we got into the retail travel business and also owned our own ground operations businesses,” Upchurch said. “And so, I always say that— to a very large degree— what I do today was born in having worked on multiple sides of the fence … and also having an empathetic nature.”
As a marketer years ago, he recalls that he and other suppliers often would say "if travel agents would just do this or that as we’re spending all these funds on brochures to help them sell."
Then, Upchurch said: “I became one, and thought ‘Oh my gosh, I’m in a 2 percent margin business, I control nothing, I’m at the mercy of suppliers and clients have never-ending demands.” So, he says, even something as simple as brochures and how they’re utilized can be viewed differently on different sides of the fence.
Having that multi-faceted industry experience helped him immensely. According to Upchurch, “I think that was really a defining stage of my life, so therefore the genesis of what API/Virtuoso became is ‘how do I build an organization that understands what are the issues on all sides of the fence and how can we bring people together?’ ”