Matthew Upchurch, CEO of Virtuoso, hosted a media event with all of the executives on his team this week, in advance of the Northeast Regional Tradeshow this Friday.
The main announcement of the day was the official launch of a brand new version of Virtuoso.com, which now allows consumers onto the site and to rate their advisors and the suppliers they’ve used. A consumer advertising campaign is being launched to promote the site.
The basis of launch, in the works for quite some time, uses research Virtuoso conducted two years ago through its advisor membership to determine why a consumer would not use a travel advisor. The question begged to be asked, said Upchurch, because feedback from consumers who used Virtuoso advisors tended to rave about the experience and vow to always use them again for their travel.
“Within our world, we felt we'd made some great progress but we also asked a very critical question: If the people who are our best clients love you so much, why would somebody not use a travel advisor?” said Upchurch. Virtuoso went to 80 advisor members stretching across a broad spectrum of regions and age groups and asked their clients that very question.
What developed from the answers is a single paragraph that the consortium calls its “DNA of Our Success.”
“The reason we did that is because if we solve this from a communications perspective and value proposition, we know that we're going to succeed,” said Upchurch.
Answers that came back were boiled down into this single paragraph that will serve as the basis for any of Virtuoso’s programs and initiatives that directly touch consumers.
“Travelers feel that doing their own planning is empowering and that giving it up will diminish their experience. Their prevalent Internet use causes them to believe they have all the answers they need. They believe an advisor adds to the cost of their trip and do not understand the value that an advisor adds, or that an advisor is readily available.”
Based on this credo, the new Virtuoso.com lets consumers collaborate on their trip planning every step of the way.
Because Virtuoso does business in more than 20 countries, the site is tailored to consumers based on their location.
“The site is actually really pretty simple,” said David Kolner, senior vice president of consumer for Virtuoso. “It gives consumers the controls to help them plan their own trip and show them Virtuoso's collection of preferred hotels, cruises, airlines and other travel products. It also includes a completely new concept of a travel advisor catalog. Consumers can now go to Virtuoso.com and, just like Match.com, find the perfect travel advisor for themselves and their family.”
Hotel photo galleries are served up to consumers who can then filter their needs down to certain criteria. Meanwhile, on the right-hand side of the screen, the amenities offered via Virtuoso’s robust “Best of the Best” hotels program are shown; these amenities are available only by booking through an advisor.
Offerings are negotiated with each hotel and can often range up to $450 in value, with possible perks such as an airport transfer, daily breakfast, late checkout and spa credits included. Cities in which there is stiff competition can often include more amenities at a high value, such as afternoon tea in London.
The number of photos for each hotel is also notable, said Kolner, often offering many more than Expedia does. Other tools, such as hotel information and an area map are provided. Unique to the site, suggested Virtuoso advisors are listed on the page, selected on what is already known about the consumer, such as location.
A compare button allows the user to select three hotels, put the in a shopping cart and then click to show their offerings side by side. Important information, such as location and when the hotel was last renovated, is included, as are the offered amenities and a photo gallery.
“This is a great tool to get started before you're working with an advisor to help refine what you want to do and get the consumer involved in the whole travel planning experience,” said Kolner, adding that travelers can also access Virtuoso’s air program on the site, which includes viewable Virtuoso-only offers, such as upgrades to business class with certain airline partners when they are purchasing a full fare economy ticket.
The consumer also has the option to view an entire list of advisors and select for themselves.
“Just like the hotel directory, you can see that we actually list our travel advisors like a product,” said Kolner. “Matthew mentioned one of the major things consumers don't believe is that a Virtuoso advisor is ready and available to help them plan their trip. For the first time, we're actually presenting our thousands of Virtuoso travel advisors directly to the consumer, tailored by their location and their country, for them to go through and pick out the advisor that suits them best.”
The advisor search can be refined for travel focused around family, beach history, honeymoon, food and wine, night life and destinations. Advisors are presented in default order closest to the IP address of the user.
Another tool called "Meet Your Advisor" simplifies the entire process by letting the consumer answer a few quick questions, such as whether they like to shop, if they like adventure, if they are looking for honeymoon travel to determine what kind of traveler they are.
Once the consumer has signed on with an advisor, they can rate their experience with them on the site and provide comments; they can do the same with the hotels they stay at. All comments are verified to ensure the consumer has truly used the advisor or the hotel.