Matthew Upchurch, CEO, Virtuoso
In response to a precarious economic landscape that shows no immediate signs of improvement, Virtuoso has rolled out a new benefits model for all its members, a move to satisfy both agents and preferred suppliers. The organization is investing in its members by offering credits for preferred supplier production and full cash participation in network overrides. Virtuoso says it made it a point to listen to its membership, who helped design the new benefits model, which puts more cash and credits in the agents’ hands.
“This new benefits model provides our members with more direct control,” Matthew Upchurch, CEO of Virtuoso, says. “It is a nod to the current economy, but it is more a continued commitment to funding those distinctions that will keep our members out front post-recession.
“Up until now, the investment Virtuoso makes on behalf of its members has been provided through programs and professional staff available to all members. This new benefits model allows each member to apply the assets of Virtuoso in a way that is most valuable for them. With the launch of our new operational platform, Virtuoso Composer, we can offer these new financial benefits with confidence that the credits and override bonus payments earned will be easy to verify and administer.”
Though the bulk of benefits don’t kick into high gear until 2010, Virtuoso isn’t waiting until the calendar year turns over. On July 1, it issued members immediate dollar credits for a percentage of the member’s 2008 sales production with participating preferred suppliers. The credits can be applied to any current invoice or planned Virtuoso investment for the remainder of 2009.
Matching Investment Dollars
Beginning January 2010, members will receive dollar credits for a percentage of their 2009 production for all participating cruise, tour and onsite suppliers. Virtuoso will match every dollar a member invests in network marketing, meeting registration, training or membership fees, up to the earned credit amount. In addition, it will allocate an additional percentage of production credit for all incremental year-over-year production growth for participating preferred suppliers.
The new model had been in discussion for some time. “The qualitative and quantitative assessments that led us to our new model began over a year ago with online member polling,” says Upchurch. “We discussed the results of this polling at last year’s Travel Mart. In the beginning of 2009, we met face-to-face with members in every region, to update our Six-Point Plan and gather additional feedback on our members’ current situation. In the short-term, the issues were clear: Advisors are working harder than ever, there is fierce competition over a smaller pool of consumers, and everyone is trying to maximize yield while cutting costs at the same time.
“We immediately started working toward a goal of re-prioritizing our resources toward directly reinvesting in our membership. Our concepts for the new benefits were presented to our Member Advisory Board, and with their input, those benefits were finalized and announced to the entire membership.”
With respect to overrides, Virtuoso will pay an unprecedented 100 percent of all supplier bonuses directly to all members that show production for that supplier. Further, agencies can use that money as they see fit; reinvesting the money within the network is not required. Virtuoso says this new policy of earned share of network supplier bonuses ensures that agencies of all sizes are remunerated fairly.
Initial feedback from Virtuoso’s members has been positive, says Upchurch. “For the members, we’re providing immediate credits to apply toward their network participation, whether it’s marketing, education and training initiatives or their Travel Mart conference registration,” he says. “These items typically have fees associated with them, so this is an immediate value that they are already employing. Moving forward into 2010, our members will not only earn these credits, but they’ll also receive financial rewards for increases in their year-over-year production.”
The benefit for preferred suppliers is clear, too. “Better incentives for Virtuoso’s members and advisors means more focused selling,” says Upchurch. “Knowing that we are distributing 100 percent of all override bonus payments and providing matching credit dollars for preferred sales production ensures that our suppliers know we’ve never been more determined to support those who support us.”