News from the Fashion Week of Travel
Virtuoso Travel Week 2018

Why you should care: Every year, thousands of Virtuoso travel advisors descend on Las Vegas to shop for the upcoming year of travel.  Think of Virtuoso Travel Week as the Fashion Week of luxury travel. Instead of Saint Laurent, Chanel, and Dior presenting next season’s looks, the world’s best hotels, cruise lines, and tour operators converge to reveal what’s new in high-end travel. It’s the largest luxury travel conference in the world, helmed by Virtuoso, a network of 17,500 luxury travel advisors in 50 countries, with $23.7 billion in sales last year.

This year’s event, in its 30th anniversary year, kicked off on Sunday with an opening session for 6,000-plus attendees. CEO Matthew Upchurch and best-selling author Simon Sinek discussed the importance of leading lives of “infinite game.” Rather than focusing on finite goals such as company earnings, winning awards, or closing sales, an infinite thinker focuses on reputation, human connection and relationships, and becoming a better leader. “Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of people in your charge,” Sinek said – an ethos that naturally extends to the relationship between travel advisor and traveler.

In a press conference for more than 80 attending journalists, travel advisors talked trends and traveler needs. Josh Alexander, a New York City-based advisor, said his clients want “uncharted and undiscovered” experiences, while Toronto-based advisor Wendy Davis mentioned “choice, creativity, and simplicity.”

Melbourne, Australia-based Anthony Goldman said that small is a growing trend, with smaller ships, smaller hotels, and smaller group tours (companies such as Tauck and Abercrombie & Kent offer more small group departures). “With small, you can get into different galleries, private openings, and more exclusive experiences,” he said.

At Virtuoso’s second annual Sustainability Summit, approximately three dozen preferred partners and advisors discussed individual initiatives and best practices for establishing sustainable travel as a consumer priority when considering travel options. Led by Virtuoso’s Sustainability Ambassador Jessica Hall Upchurch, the network has defined the three pillars of sustainable travel as Celebrating the Culture, Supporting the Economy, and Protecting the Planet.

Last Saturday at Virtuoso’s “globetrotting” event, advisors shopped for travel based on specific interests, such as adventure, family, wellness, cruising, and shopping. Last Monday kicked off 330,000 speed dating-style meetings between advisors and hotels, cruise lines, tour operators, and more, revealing trends and news in the world of luxury travel. Here, a few standout discoveries.

Caribbean comeback: Following a devastating hurricane season last year, the Caribbean is well on its way to recovery. Hotels are reopening throughout the region in time for the holiday season, and with 70 percent of the Caribbean unaffected by hurricanes at all, high season is shaping up to be a nice rebound for the area. 

Sea Island updates: Georgia’s classic island retreat, with two Virtuoso hotels – The Cloister and The Lodge–will open 16 new cottages and a new oceanfront pool this November.

The Cloister at Sea Island.

Off the beaten path in Panama: UnCruise Adventures will expand their Panama cruises, adding more culture- and nature-focused excursions. A new 12-night sailing includes the Guna Yala Islands (formerly known as the San Blas Islands). All Panama cruises include canal transit.

Cunard’s Alaskan return: New for May 2019, Cunard returns to Alaska for the first time in 20 years. The Queen Elizabeth will sail round-trip from Vancouver and offer pre- or post- extensions to Calgary and beyond with luxury rail line Rocky Mountaineer.

Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth.

Iceland without the crowds: Iceland’s popularity isn’t fading – more than 2.2 million visited in 2017, compared with 500,000 in 2010. To counterbalance the crowds, intimate farm and family stays are the best way to experience true Iceland, says 50 Degrees North, a Virtuoso tour connection. A fun new trend for travelers is sushi cruises, where travelers help to catch local seafood and eat it on the ship.

Luxe expedition cruising: Silversea Cruises’ expedition arm offers a new circumnavigation of the Iceland to visit secret spots (another great way to avoid the crowds).

Yoga-biking tours: The adventure travel and biking company Backroads celebrates its 40th anniversary next year and is introducing morning yoga to most of its biking trips for 2019.

Nashville news: While Nashville isn’t necessarily known as a wine center, the area surrounding the city is an up-and-coming wine region. In town, the Hutton Hotel is home to  Analog, a 5,000-square-foot music venue with two recording studios, where artists can write and record songs.

Sri Lanka: This Indian Ocean island nation is popping up on many “where to travel next” lists – with good reason. It’s an easy add-on to a Maldives trip (just an hour by plane) and the country has some exceptional accommodations. Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle Resort focuses on sustainability by creating their own rice paddies (rice is donated to local temples), developing programs for local schoolkids, and growing their own papayas. Did you know the stem of a papaya makes a great straw? (The backlash against plastic straws continues to grow.) The resort also has the largest spa in Sri Lanka, with a focus on ayurvedic programs, and employs a coconut guru, a wine guru, an “experience” guru, and a nature guru.

South Africa by rail: The Blue Train, which travels between Pretoria and Cape Town on a historic 1920s route, has expanded one-day trips to two days, plus added a new lounge.

Meaningful Middle East travel: The Jordan Tourism Board launched TourismCares in an effort to empower social enterprises. Travelers can follow the Meaningful Travel Map, visiting various social enterprises around the country to learn more about cultural and social initiatives, and their impact on local communities.

Travel with a purpose: Me to We works with travel advisors to plan socially responsible and sustainable trips for travelers in Kenya, Ecuador, and India. It was founded by a 12-year-old boy hoping to end childhood slavery. Fifty percent of profits go back into the organization’s charity.

VIP airport treatment: Air Canada offers a BMW valet shuttle service between gates at all of its hub cities for Signature Class travelers.

Hong Kong connections: The world’s longest sea-crossing bridge (34 miles) will open in October, connecting Hong Kong to Macau and cutting travel time between the two areas in half.

Oslo’s boom: Oil money is making the Norwegian capital into a boom town. Reasons to visit now: New construction, European Green Capital designation for 2019, the new Edvard Munch Museum opening next year, and sleek accommodations such as the Hotel Continental Oslo.

Top photo: Some of the 330,000 appointments that take place during Virtuoso Travel Week. (Photo by Annie Fitzsimmons.)