Virtuoso Calls Sustainable Tourism a “Transformative Movement”

Virtuoso has released a new white paper calling sustainable tourism a “transformative movement.” The white paper, “Sustainable Tourism: From Trend to Transformative Movement,” discusses how the organization can leverage its position and relationships in luxury travel to elevate sustainable tourism best practices as a more significant factor in travel consumer choice.

The white paper outlines Virtuoso’s action plan to advance this goal, including:

  • Compiling a database of Virtuoso partners’ sustainability success stories and best practices, and making this easily available for Virtuoso-affiliated travel advisors to craft itineraries for a great trip that also gives back to local people and the planet.
  • Increasing sustainable tourism awareness and training for Virtuoso staff, establishing an interest group for Virtuoso travel advisors and partners, and creating a sustainability specialist designation for advisors.
  • Promoting travel consumer education on sustainable tourism as an important factor in trip planning, with easier ways to find advisors and partners committed to enjoyable and responsible travel.

“Travel creates a path to human understanding and peace, and allows countries to protect natural resources in a way that would not be possible without its economic contributions,” said Virtuoso Chairman and CEO Matthew D. Upchurch in a written statement. “We support the individual sustainability practices of our partners, who in turn support their own communities. And it’s through their stories that we find the inspiration that educates our advisors and encourages their clients to make more informed travel decisions.”

The challenge before the travel industry is real. In 2015, there were 1.2 billion international tourism arrivals, and billions more domestic tourists. This number is expected to nearly double by 2030, prompting former UN World Tourism Organization Secretary General Taleb Rifai to say, “Will tourism bring us one billion opportunities to make the world a better place, or one billion disasters?”

That question, along with Virtuoso’s track record for advancing sustainable tourism principles and practices, such as the Virtuoso Sustainable Tourism Leadership Awards, now in their eighth year, led to the inaugural Virtuoso Sustainability Summit in August 2017. The summit, hosted by Matthew Upchurch and spearheaded by Jessica Hall Upchurch, Virtuoso Sustainability Ambassador, and supported by Costas Christ, Virtuoso’s Global Sustainability Strategist, explored how purposeful travel is redefining the ways travel companies operate, as well as consumer loyalties and choices.

Attendees discussed how Virtuoso, along with its travel agency members and preferred partners, can further leverage its position in luxury travel to support the three pillars of sustainable tourism, including travel that enhances the environment, protects cultural and natural heritage, and supports the social and economic well-being of local people. The summit also included discussions on how the organization can partner with its preferred hotels, tour companies, and destinations to better educate and support Virtuoso-affiliated travel advisors, by providing a deeper understanding of sustainable tourism to deliver meaningful and enjoyable travel experiences to their clients. The white paper is a result of the summit discussions, with plans underway to hold a second Virtuoso Sustainability Summit during Virtuoso Travel Week in August 2018.

 Virtuoso’s past and current initiatives to advance sustainable tourism include:

Educating travel consumers: Each issue of Virtuoso Life and Virtuoso Traveler magazines features stories about sustainable tourism in action, and how to book a purposeful trip.

  • Travel advisor training: In 2017, Virtuoso launched a 12-part webinar series to educate its travel advisors on sustainable tourism by highlighting the stories and best practices of its travel partners. A second 12-part advisor webinar series is also taking place monthly in 2018.
  • Virtuoso events: Sustainability is now part of all event planning at Virtuoso, with Matthew Upchurch incorporating sustainable tourism messaging during his keynote speeches.
  • Virtuoso Sustainable Tourism Leadership Awards: Now in its eighth year, these awards recognize the hotels and travel companies in the Virtuoso network that are leaders in sustainable tourism best practices, including enhancing the environment, supporting the protection of cultural and natural heritage, and benefiting local people in travel destinations around the world.
  • Sustainability Summit: In 2018, Virtuoso will host its second Sustainability Summit, bringing together tour operators and hospitality owners and CEOS, travel advisors, Virtuoso executives, and select media to discuss travel as a force for good and sharing of best practices in sustainability.
  • Preferred partner vetting: Sustainability is now a factor in the vetting process for new Virtuoso partners.
  • Virtuoso staff training: In 2018, Virtuoso is rolling out staff training so that employees have a fundamental understanding of the principles of sustainable tourism.
  • Virtuoso Sustainability Team: Meetings of the Virtuoso Sustainability Team have taken place with all key company departments as well as with the senior leadership team.

The white paper is available here.

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