Virtuoso held its 2018 Symposium March 17-22 in the Netherlands, where 591 of the industry’s top executives gathered. In an industry first, seven cruise lines and six hotels banded together to display the differences between competing luxury river cruise ships and Amsterdam’s best properties, all of which are Virtuoso preferred partners. Host hotels included Conservatorium Hotel Amsterdam, De L’Europe Amsterdam, InterContinental Amstel Amsterdam, Pulitzer Amsterdam, Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam and Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam. River cruise vessels and experiences were provided by AmaWaterways, Avalon Waterways, Crystal Cruises, Tauck, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, U by Uniworld and Viking Cruises.
During the event’s Opening Session, keynote speaker Anders Sorman-Nilsson, author of Digilogue, discussed “analog hearts and digital minds” and the divergent path consumers can take when making buying decisions – a theme he also explores in his book. He was followed by Matthew D. Upchurch, Chairman and CEO of Virtuoso.
Upchurch’s inspiring and insightful presentation focused on the myth of the intermediary, pointing out that travel advisors are a valued extension of their preferred partner’s sales force, and they should be viewed that way. Virtuoso-affiliated travel advisors, he stated, provide the highest rates at the lowest distribution cost – a fact reinforced by many of Virtuoso’s partners. Plus, travel advisors provide valuable insight on their clients that leads to better travel experiences and loyalty. They steer the right customer to the right products, ensuring the partner has a more qualified guest or passenger. He also emphasized that the diversity of Virtuoso’s 17,500 global travel advisors mirrored the diversity of the affluent customer around the world – a key strength of the network.
Reasserting the desire for authentic human connections, Upchurch spoke of the overwhelming effect of DIY travel. Quoting Kwik Learning CEO Jim Kwik, he said people are suffering from “digital dementia” – the negative effect of too much reliance on technology – as well as “decision fatigue,” noting that research shows consumers make anaverage of 40,000 decisions per trip.
“The true definition of luxury is this: I choose to have someone do it for me,” stated Upchurch. “Without question, people have the ability to research anything they want or need, whether it’s travel or any other aspect of their life. The reason they’re coming to a Virtuoso advisor is because they want someone to collaborate with. They want someone who knows them so well that they can craft deeply personal and meaningful experiences, effectively making the advisor a specialist in them. There’s a kind of magic that happens through the combination of the agency, advisor and Virtuoso network that fundamentally changes the way our clients travel. It’s an elevated experience that cannot be replicated any other way.”
Following the Opening Session and networking event, attendees boarded their designated riverboats and prepared for the Sunday night sail-away. The three day itinerary allowed them to explore Arnhem, Rotterdam, the famed windmills of Kinderdijk and Dordrecht. While in Amsterdam, Symposium guests enjoyed special access to venues that typically do not allow private functions, including the event’s Welcome Reception at the Rijksmuseum and farewell gala at the National Maritime Museum.
A highlight of the week included the six Amsterdam host hotels coming together to develop and officially designate one of Holland’s famed tulips as the “Virtuoso” tulip. A bouquet of the stunning white with red streak tulips was presented to Upchurch during the gala, where they were ceremoniously christened with champagne. Virtuoso’s members will be able to send this special floral arrangement to their clients who return from a trip to the Netherlands, and bulbs will be available for those who wish to grow their own Virtuoso tulip garden.
Virtuoso holds its annual Symposium in some of the world’s most exciting cities, from Cairo to Cannes, Singapore to St. Petersburg, Madrid to Mexico City, Buenos Aires to Berlin. Next year Virtuoso is proud to bring its Symposium to Melbourne for May 7-11, 2019. This will mark Virtuoso’s second Symposium in Australia, having held the event in Sydney in 2009.