The world’s largest luxury travel conference usually kicks off in a soaring Bellagio ballroom, with thousands of travel advisors and hotel, cruise, tour, and destination representatives gearing up for a week of one-on-one appointments, awards ceremonies, and Champagne-sipping beneath Sin City’s neon marquees. This year, Virtuoso Travel Week looked a lot different: We watched industry leaders remark on the future of travel from their home offices, pined for the views of Lake Como and Los Cabos that we spied on our screens during virtual chats, and made our own post-networking cocktails.
Despite its differences from years past, this week was as inspiring as ever.
The first virtual Virtuoso Travel Week came at a time when the travel industry (and travelers) needed it most. The coronavirus pandemic has upended the world of travel, cratering an industry that is responsible for ten percent of global GDP. But Virtuoso Week – with more than 4,000 attendees from 96 countries – was full of optimism, its participants buoyed by a collective belief that travel will be back, and that luxury travel will pave the way. “Together we are resilient. We will transform and we will be ready for a new world in travel,” Virtuoso CEO Matthew Upchurch said during the Opening Session.
The week featured fresh insights from Virtuoso surveys and proprietary data; thought leadership from travel agency executives, sustainable travel advocates, and other industry leaders; and encouraging dispatches from our travel partners around the world, who shared the exciting, innovative, and safe ways they’re beginning to welcome travelers back. Travel advisors spent the week shopping for new vacation ideas for their clients, while equipping themselves with the knowledge and firsthand connections that will help you explore with again with confidence.
Below, a few of our favorite trends, takeaways, and ideas from one very inspiring week. There’s always room for a little travel dreaming.
Private is the new luxury.
We spent the week learning about private villas, hotel-floor buyouts (such as Baccarat Hotel’s new 11-room Maison Privé in NYC), remote float-plane-accessed lodges in Alaska and Canada, and one-family-only cycling and multisport adventures with tour operators such as Backroads. We heard about hotel guest rooms with private entrances, standalone accommodations, and how much people wanted to get away (and way away) from it all.
Travelers are sticking close to home for now.
Based on Virtuoso’s proprietary hotel booking data, 70 percent of hotel bookings in the second quarter of 2020 have been to places within 1,500 miles of a traveler’s home (compared to 58 percent in 2019). For some, it may only be because international borders remain closed, but for others, it comes down to personal risk tolerance: Hopping in a car feels safer than settling in for a long-haul flight. Back in January, we could’ve never predicted we’d be saying this, but road-tripping is officially this year’s jet-setting.
Close to home doesn’t necessarily have to mean domestic: Many advisors are encouraging their clients to consider Mexico, which doesn’t impose travel restrictions on American visitors who arrive by air. Several Caribbean destinations are also open to Americans (with proof of a negative Covid test), including Barbados, and the Dominican Republic.
People are craving wide-open spaces.
Because we know there’s a lower risk of coronavirus transmission in outdoor spaces, travelers are reaping nature’s benefits. U.S. National Parks visits are up this summer, report Virtuoso travel advisors, and Virtuoso’s booking data shows that travelers are opting for hotels that specialize in seclusion, adventure, and beaches. (Upscale lodges fit the bill: Montana’s Ranch at Rock Creek has just 29 accommodations set on more than 6,000 acres, while guests at Cibolo Creek Ranch in Marfa, Texas, spread out over 30,000 acres.) Tour operator Abercrombie & Kent has seen a huge increased interest in its private-jet National Parks adventures. The ultraluxe experiences come with special access, including a private viewing area at the Grand Canyon. Japan is encouraging travelers to skip the big cities and head south to the lesser-explored Okinawa region, known for its (yes!) tropical beaches.
Hotels are capitalizing on outdoor spaces.
Many of our favorite hotels are taking their beloved indoor amenities outside. New York City’s Lowell hotel now offers guests picnics from its restaurant, Majorelle, so they can lunch in Central Park in socially distanced style. (Bonus: They get to keep the basket!) The Four Seasons Hotel Seattle has turned its (gorgeous) pool deck into an outdoor dining area for Goldfinch Tavern. And in California, Post Ranch Inn recently launched a new falconry program and built an outdoor pizza oven in the garden.
The younger the traveler, the more ready they are to travel again.
In June, we asked Virtuoso travelers a simple question: “Are you ready to travel again?” More than 3,000 people responded, with younger people much more willing to travel: Just over 84 percent of Gen Z travelers are ready, along with 62.7 percent of millennials and 62.3 percent of Gen Xers. When we conducted the same survey in July, the results were similar, even as the coronavirus pandemic continued to evolve globally.
This under-the-radar South American city is the next San Miguel de Allende.
For post-pandemic planning, Almaz Journeys, which focuses on travel in Latin America, is talking up Barichara, Colombia. This colonial-era town in the country’s northeastern Santander province has strong artisan traditions of stonework and textile making. A contingent of Colombian artists have relocated there, adding to its draw.
Undertourism is not the antidote to overtourism.
Under One Sky, moderated by Virtuoso vice chair and sustainability strategist Jessica Hall Upchurch, revealed that whereas last year at this time, overtourism was a hot topic, today undertourism is the more pressing concern. How can we continue to support local economies, wildlife conservation efforts, and the like during the global pause in travel? One solid solution: Booking future trips with companies that make sustainability a key component of their business, and vowing to go consciously when we do travel again.
Cruising is gearing up for a comeback.
Almost every major line has suspended its sailings until late 2020. But there’s still good news to share: Cruise bookings are still holding steady for 2021 – Virtuoso even reported a 14 percent increase in 2021 river-cruise reservations. (Regent Seven Seas Cruises marketing executive Randall Soy told us that next year’s hottest itineraries feature exotic locales such as Indonesia.) Combining the appeal of fewer crowds and wide-open spaces, we’re excited about the upcoming maiden voyages of The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection’s 298-passenger Evrima in the Caribbean in April and Ponant’s 270-passenger Le Commandant Charcot next summer. The latter was purpose-built for polar expeditions.
The travel industry can and should champion diversity.
Business mogul and Salamander Hotels & Resorts founder Sheila C. Johnson delivered a moving closing-session keynote address. She spoke about her own entrepreneurial path to travel, and urged those in the travel industry to actively combat systemic racism in America. “We have something no one else has in the ongoing quest to, once and for all, stamp out racism and ignorance in this country,” Johnson said. “We’ve got a head start, and just remember: The face of America is written on the halls of the hospitality industry.”