Virtuoso’s 2008 Travel Mart Opens in Las Vegas

The 20th anniversary of Virtuoso Travel Mart kicked off at the Bellagio in Las Vegas on Sunday, with an Opening Session headed by Matthew Upchurch, CEO of Virtuoso, and Kristi Jones, president of Virtuoso, with a keynote address by author Carl Honore.

Travel Mart (August 16-22) is considered one of the top travel events in the industry, and this year’s extravaganza attracted 1,344 travel advisors from 393 member agencies and more than 1,500 preferred suppliers. For the seventh consecutive year, the week-long event is being held at Bellagio.

Above all, Travel Mart is a networking dynamo— speed dating for travel advisors and suppliers. Over the next four days, there will be more than 300,000 four-minute appointments between advisors and suppliers. This interaction, while seemingly short, allows Virtuoso agents to discover suppliers on a personal level and, ultimately, offer better itineraries to their clients.

At the Opening Session, Virtuoso’s Jones praised the travel network’s member in the face of growing economic challenges, but noted how well they were positioned for continued success.

The numbers: In 2007, a total of $2.85 trillion was spent on travel, according to the WTO, and that 10 percent of the world GDP was accrued via travel.

The news is getting even better for travel advisors. Jones stated that Internet booking scores are steadily dropping and, with them, customer satisfaction. In fact, 23 percent of people who book online travel, Jones said, would rather work with an agent.

That said, there still aren’t enough travel advisors in the field. Client demand continues to grow, but agent supply is not keeping pace. Moreover, if the travel agent community is to grow, it needs new, younger blood. Jones said that the majority of the travel advisor workforce is over the age of 55. “More cruise ships and more rooms are coming online,” she said, “we need more people to help fill them.”

Jones also commented on Virtuoso Trust (which Luxury Travel Advisor wrote about in its August issue), its new online training course, or learning management system, consisting of 65 courses.

For its keynote address, Virtuoso chose Carl Honore, author of In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed, of which the basis is that mankind would be more productive if it slowed down and unplugged once in a while. For instance, some companies are implementing “e-mail-free days,” forcing workers to call or walk over to a co-worker’s desk with their business. Then there's car maker Audi’s newest slogan, “This is the slowest car we’ve ever built.” No doubt implying it’s their best car ever built, done with the most care.

Honore ended by applying his thesis to travel, in what he dubbed “Slow Travel”: Finding a lower gear on vacation and savoring each moment. He said that the rise in hotel/resort spas was indicative of this movement to slow down on vacation.

Stay tuned: On Monday, Travel Agent attaches to the hip of Amanda Klimak, vice president of Largay Travel in Connecticut, as she meets with a wave of travel suppliers.

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