The London riots caused a stir in the world news, but have they damaged the city’s tourism industry? Matthew Upchurch, CEO of Virtuoso, sits down with Peter to discuss the recent turmoil, traveling to politically unstable countries and the impact of the economy on the travel industry.
Peter Greenberg: With the turmoil in London, Greece and around the world right now, do you see people saying, “I’m not going to go there?”
Matthew Upchurch: No, I think that the American psyche has really changed in the past fifteen years.
PG: There’s still a fear based approach though.
MU: A lot of Virtuoso’s customers travel frequently and internationally, so it is more about individual passengers who have different risk tolerances. Ninety percent of the time, it’s not, “I’m not going,” it’s just “I’m going somewhere else temporarily.”
PG: For example, I’m going to London in a few days. I can’t tell you how many people have said to me, “Really? Are you going to be okay?” I said get a map and see where is the isolated area of the riots. People didn’t realize that Bangkok’s problems were basically confined to a three block area. Same with Greece, where all the protests are in front of one
MU: Remember twenty years ago the riots in L.A.? A lot of foreigners were asking, “Should I go to L.A.?” Right now, we’ve had almost no cancellation at all for London business.
PG: This brings me to the next point, confidence is not high in the economy. We see the Wall Street roller coaster every day. But going back to 2008 when we had the original meltdown, I went to Paris where almost every single hotel was oversold with Americans complaining about how expensive it was to be in Paris. Today, are you seeing that despite the economy, people want to and need to travel so badly that they are not going to be denied no matter what is going on?
MU: Last recession, we saw that the baby boomer generation was reprioritizing their expenditures from physical assets to life experiences. So there’s that spin. Virtuoso trademarked the phrase “Return on Life” and talked about how you’re never going to be this age and have this time again. The other key idea is that trips with your wife or family are incredibly important investments for your family, for yourself, for learning and rejuvenating. And if people don’t take trips and take a break, they don’t function as well.
PG: Let’s switch gears for a second and talk about Virtuoso because most people have never heard of Virtuoso. Every year, you invade Las Vegas every year for an event with the most travel providers and travel specialists in one ballroom. Explain what you guys are about to do.
MU: This is the twenty second year of the Virtuoso event. We’ll be nearly four thousand people from the travel industry ninety countries. We actually have these huge ballrooms and we have four minute appointments. We joke that when we started this twenty two years ago, we invented speed dating. We will do three hundred and twenty thousand four minute appointments in four days.
PG: I’ll play devil’s advocate, what can you possibly accomplish in four minutes?
MU: You can’t come here unless you’re already part of our network, so your quality has been vetted. It’s really about the personal connection. We had a situation last year where this young advisor gets shown this incredible property in Europe and she grabs the provider takes a picture of with him and sends it to her clients and says “I think I found this incredible place for you. By the way this is such and such who owns the place and she can’t wait to host you.”
PG: I’m one of those people who believes that if you want to see eye to eye, you’ve got to meet eye to eye.
MU: We now live in a world with social networks. We want to evolve the old traditional relationship with a customer because now it’s a collaborative process. You’re going to do research, we’re going to do research. We’re all going to talk to each other; it’s not as linear. For us, technology actually creates a social situation. We’re using webinars to go into people’s homes and to talk to someone from Italy.
PG: We’ve sort of come full circle. I just found everything related to the very first trip my family overseas when I was a child to Paris, London, Italy, and Switzerland. And there was an actual itinerary typed on onion skin paper by the travel agent. It was very detailed and basically reflected that they’d had many conversations about this trip. we come to the point where people who are at least as fanatical as I am, really want to have those planning conversations.
MU: It’s all about the conversation. Ultimately if you’re a travel adviser your job is to understand what your client wants to do. We spend so much energy developing personal relationships and having conversations because that it is what makes the different between good and great.
By Peter Greenberg for Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio.
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