Virtuoso announced a number of updates on its network growth and new tools and programs for travel advisors at the 30th annual Virtuoso Travel Week in Las Vegas, which took place from August 11 to 17. Setting a record with 6 percent growth in attendance, 6,071 travel professionals from 100 countries met at Bellagio Resort & Casino, ARIA Resort & Casino and Vdara Hotel & Spa.
The network now has member agencies in 50 countries, Virtuoso said, announcing the 50th – Uruguay – at Virtuoso Travel Week. Virtuoso now encompasses over 1,000 agency locations with 17,500 advisors.
In the past year, Virtuoso has increased its ranks by more than 200 member locations, as well as adding agencies in three new countries: Turkey, Monaco and Uruguay.
Virtuoso advisor sales surpass (U.S.) $23.7 billion a year, up 12 percent from the previous year.
2019 is already looking promising, the organization said, judging by reported sales for next year. Cruise sales are up 15 percent, on-site ground operator sales up 14 percent and tour sales up 9 percent.
The strength of the Virtuoso brand is propelling this impressive growth, rapidly attracting new advisors to the network and its agencies. In 2018 so far, Virtuoso has received more than 2,500 advisor inquiries.
To promote the benefits of Virtuoso membership, the network holds both in-person and online Virtuoso Difference events for newcomers. The events inspire a high conversion rate to Virtuoso membership, Virtuoso said. Other recruitment tools include an online referral program and a new brochure aimed at independent contractors.
New survey data by Phocuswright shows that while 10 percent of agencies are currently affiliated with Virtuoso, the network is the top choice for agencies contemplating a switch.
Professional Development and Advisor Efficiency
At the event Virtuoso also reported the latest on its professional development program. More than 71,000 courses have been completed so far in 2018 - a 59 percent increase year over year. Nearly 1,000 live webinars will be offered this year, which will be attended by 60,000 participants.
Virtuoso has revamped its online Virtuoso Travel Academy with an easy-to-navigate visual experience that’s said to be akin to Netflix; training recommendations based on artificial intelligence; new playlists with videos, articles, websites and trainings recommended by network curators; and an improved search tool.
The Virtuoso Certified Travel Advisor (VCTA) program offers an intensive week-long immersion for those new to the profession or to Virtuoso. Marking its fifth year, the program has graduated more than 270 advisors with 112 different agencies. Graduates average 74 percent more in production than their peers, Virtuoso said. Virtuoso will be offering four VCTA classes in 2019.
New Virtuoso research from its U.S. advisors finds the top issue hampering their efficiency is email; managing the volume of emails is overwhelming them. Other elements interfering with efficiency are hotel/loyalty points, shoppers, interruptions, research time and managing information (such as through a CRM system).
To enhance advisor efficiency, Virtuoso offers three itinerary management apps, all graduates of the network’s Incubator program: Axus, Travefy and Umapped. Virtuoso said it is currently conducting research into the financial impact of these tools, with results coming in 2019. The network also offers email management courses, including an in-person session at Virtuoso Travel Week, as well as modules in the Virtuoso Travel Academy.
This year’s five Incubator companies are finding efficiencies for advisors through improving itinerary management, offering destination content and facilitating bookings. Two of the tools leverage artificial intelligence to create itineraries. Virtuoso is now accepting applications for the 2019 Incubator program.
Virtuoso Forum, attended by agency owners and managers, allows participants to maximize their membership benefits through professional development and networking sessions. The US & Canada Forum, the network’s highest rated event with 99 percent of attendees saying it is a good use of their time, will be held in Austin, Texas, January 24-26, 2019. Four regional Forums, in Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Beijing and Geneva, will take place throughout the first half of 2019.
Virtuoso Symposium, designed for agency owners and managers, is the network’s global thought-leadership event, including networking opportunities with leading travel executives. It will take place May 5-11, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia.
Virtuoso Chairman’s Event recognizes the network’s top-selling and most-engaged members worldwide and is taking place November 4-8, 2018 in Venice. The 2019 event will be in Bangkok November 13-17.
Virtuoso Travel Week on Tour, for frontline advisors, offers one-on-one networking and professional development in 26 cities in 14 countries on five continents in 2019.
Next year’s Virtuoso Travel Week will take place August 10-16 at Bellagio Resort & Casino, ARIA Resort & Casino and Vdara Hotel & Spa.
Virtuoso’s Communities strategy now has more than 2,300 advisors participating in four communities: Adventure, Voyages, Wellness and Family. In 2019, two more will join the fold: Virtuoso Culinary Travel and Virtuoso Ultraluxe Travel.
Virtuoso’s second Community Globetrotting took place August 11 at Virtuoso Travel Week, with 1,219 advisors taking 3,198 sessions presented by 286 partners.
Advisors participating in Virtuoso Communities benefit through training and networking opportunities and marketing tools including themed travel catalogs and advisor profile enhancements in Virtuoso.com, Virtuoso said. Virtuoso Community advisors collectively sold 72 percent more in Community partner product than all other advisors this past year.
Ninety-three percent of advisors say they plan to rejoin at least one community in 2019, and the same percentage say they would recommend that other advisors join.
Advisor Tools, Programs and Technology
Virtuoso.com continues to generate new leads for advisors, as well as help them promote their service excellence, the network said. The site is on track to generate 200,000 leads for Virtuoso members this year and has 50,000 advisor reviews with an average positive rating of 98 percent.
Virtuoso is helping its agencies and advisors with new custom private-label sites and hosted website solutions. These display Virtuoso content branded with the advisor or agency’s identity and are mobile friendly.
Virtuoso is developing a new tool to help advisors and clients create a long-term bucket list of journeys together. Virtuoso Orchestrator, debuting in 2019, is currently being tested by a group of 22 advisors working with 500 clients.
In the second half of 2018, Virtuoso will roll out a comprehensive marketing platform for members called MyMarketing. The platform centralizes marketing communications to provide deeper insights into the success of campaigns and improve efficiencies.
Advisors who book flights through Virtuoso Air now enjoy 10 percent increased commissions and a 62 percent reduction in ticketing fees. As well, the new Global Private Rate Desk feature automatically prices rates from 15 different countries plus Virtuoso rates to lock in the best fares.
In 2018 the Virtuoso Voyages cruise enhancement program now offers more than 600 departures with complimentary benefits to clients of Virtuoso agencies. Twenty-two cruise lines provide Virtuoso-exclusive advantages at no extra charge on more than 4,700 sailings.
Two new partnerships with ABC Global Services and Booking.com will help Virtuoso advisors maximize non-preferred bookings, the network said. The ABC agreement includes client amenities such as complimentary breakfast and Wi-Fi.