Greetings from a somewhat jetlagged Saturday morning in Sydney. I just flew in yesterday after a few days in Las Vegas for my first ever Virtuoso Travel Week – an amazing whirlwind of meetings, events, networking and sore feet!
It was the largest ever Australian delegation for the gathering, and gave a unique insight into the almost cult-like devotion of Virtuoso advisors and suppliers to the organisation’s visionary founder Matthew D. Upchurch. Having said that, there truly is something special about what he has created, with Virtuoso demonstrating just how important the power of human connection is when it comes to travel. Technology will always play a part in travel booking, but the relationships created by the literally hundreds of thousands of one-on-one meetings between travel advisors and Virtuoso preferred suppliers that took place this week are what makes the difference between a simple transaction and the curation of a fabulous holiday. The launch of the new “So Virtuoso” branding is clever and stylish, and perfectly fits with the key message – that booking holidays with a travel advisor provides a far superior outcome when compared to those who do it themselves. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the whole travel agent sector benefits from this initiative.
In the cruise space this week we saw the highly respected Sarina Bratton making some eminently sensible suggestions at the NZ Cruise Association conference. Her keynote speech highlighted some of the stark contradictions in Kiwi regulations governing cruise, urging the Government not to have a “one-size-fits-all” approach. And on the same day as the NZ cruise industry was celebrating its reopening, the Tourism Industry Council of Tasmania was advocating tighter controls on cruising, including a suggested five-year ban on so-called “mega ships” along with daily passenger number caps. Having started to emerge from the storm of the pandemic, cruising clearly needs to continue to navigate some choppy waters ahead.
Also in cruise, confirmation that Seabourn plans to deploy its newest expedition ship Seabourn Pursuit in Australia’s Kimberley region in 2024 showed the confidence the brand has in the local market. It’s going to get pretty crowded up there, with Seabourn just one of many operators planning to have ships in the Kimberley including Swan Hellenic, APT, Scenic, Silversea, Ponant and more. I know it’s a big area, but I won’t be surprised if the increasing busyness of the season attracts some unwanted official attention at some stage.
Qantas ran into some turbulence this week after the ACCC handed down its long-awaited ruling on the proposed takeover of charter operator Alliance Airlines – raising significant competition concerns about the deal. However Qantas remains adamant that purchasing Alliance will have benefits for consumers, at the same time arguing that the operation only comprises 3% of the overall aviation market. It’s going to be fascinating to see whether the mighty Qantas lobbying machine will manage to get this one over the line. Other Qantas news this week saw the carrier again increase its Minimum Connecting Time for domestic-domestic connections at major airports across the country – further evidence that in the post-pandemic world service levels and efficiency just aren’t what they used to be.
Finally the growing presence of Flight Centre Travel Group in the premium market is definitely something to watch. The Aussie contingent at Virtuoso Travel Week was particularly boosted by the presence of Travel Associates advisors, who were out in force because the organisation’s global head, Dani Galloway, decided to bring all of the brand’s Business Leaders to Las Vegas for the event. This significant investment definitely makes Travel Associates a force to be reckoned with in the luxury space, and Galloway hinted that this was just the beginning, with significant aspirations to grow the division internationally, particularly in the UK and USA.
Let’s wrap it up there – because believe it or not I am heading off again on Monday and have some washing to do! This time next week I’ll be in Reykjavik, Iceland for the launch of Norwegian Prima – along with pop superstar Katy Perry and several thousand of her closest industry friends. I can’t wait.
Have a great weekend