Virtuoso’s Matthew Upchurch said luxury travel holds tremendous opportunity
UK travel companies to join the organisation so far are EFR Travel, Colletts Travel, Quintessentially, TENGroup, Lux Travel, Black Tomato, Protravel International and Total Management.
Virtuoso’s Tony Shepherd, who oversees Global Member Partnerships for EMEA, said: “Continued growth in the UK is planned, mostly outside of London now. Agencies in Manchester, Newcastle, the West Country and the Home Counties have expressed interest in hearing more about Virtuoso. We believe there are upwards of 10 additional agencies around the UK we are interested in speaking to.”
Traditionally very strong in North America, Virtuoso has been looking to expand in Europe and the Middle East in the last couple of years and as well as the UK, now has members in Spain, France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Dubai.
“We are about to accept new members from Belgium, UK, France and Sweden,” added Shepherd. “Within EMEA, we anticipate being at 30 agency members by the end of 2015, representing 350-400 frontline travel advisors.”
But he added Virtuoso was unlikely to open a dedicated office here in Europe before 2017 at the earliest.
He said one the challenges the organisation faces in the UK is the understanding of what Virtuoso is.
“Some agency owners misunderstand the nature of the Virtuoso network and the agency value proposition,” he said. “It is not a discount network, but a value-added, amenity-driven network that uses the leverage of over 10,000 advisors and almost $15 billion per year combined buying power to negotiate client amenities and an agency commission program,” he said.
Other challenges in the UK include “some competitive issues and confusion presented by other buying consortia”.
“Educating the traveling public in the region is not easy either and will call for some creative PR and marketing,” Shepherd added.
Virtuoso grows selectively by handpicking the best businesses to become members – it has 373 agency members with nearly 700 office locations in 30 countries, representing more than 9,800 advisors.
In August, representatives from all the UK members attended Virtuoso Travel Week, the organisation’s annual gathering, which this year attracted a record-breaking 4,842 travel professionals to the Bellagio Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.
Speaking at the 27th annual outing for Travel Week, Virtuoso chairman and chief executive Matthew D. Upchurch said the luxury travel segment holds tremendous opportunity.
“True [travel] sales is no longer about being the custodian of information. It’s about helping clients find clarity amongst the flood of information online,” Upchurch said. “But as technology continues to spread into every facet of life, there is a desire – even a craving – for real human connection.”