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Virtuoso Travel Mart – Bellagio, Las Vegas (Day 4)

*written 8/16/2010
Las Vegas cracks me up. It’s 5:30 AM as I walk through the casino and there are still people in last night’s clothes, ordering another round and placing their bets on the BlackJack tables. Wireless internet at the Bellagio is few and far between in the lobby area; it seems the places you can sit don’t have free WiFi, so I might have to start standing up and typing my blogs from hereon out. Yeah, right.


I once read an article in one of the travel mags that I subscribe to comparing the cost of internet at luxury hotels to that of budget hotels. A staggering majority of luxe spots charge for web usage, compared to a staggering majority of budget hotels that offer free   wireless to guests. I’m all for a Wireless America, but I have a hard time paying $15 a day when that’s more than I pay for my entire month’s worth of internet at my apartment. Lame.


This just means that my posts are delayed by a day or so, but you’ll hear about everything eventually.


Today is the first day of the “speed dating” sessions that comprise four eight-hour days of Travel Mart. Columbus Travel has two tables on each of the two “tracks”, so we’re able to meet all of the suppliers. This does not mean that I personally meet every suppliers – it seems that I only meet half of them, which is staggering, considering that I met 106 suppliers (those are hotels, on-sites, tour operators, etc.) today alone. That’s 424 minutes of meetings and that only covered half of the Virtuoso suppliers for France, Spain, Italy, and the UK.


The size of the Virtuoso network is astonishing, and that gives a great testament to how relationship-based the company is. Everyone seems to know everyone and if you don’t, they’re more than happy to introduce you.


As cool as the concept is, I usually hit a pretty rough 2 o’clock slump. When that hit today, it hit hard.


Everything began to run together. The French sounded Spanish and the Brits began to look like the Italins and their properties all seemed to boast Michelin stars and spectacular pools and, infamously, marble bathrooms. This is definitely not a bad thing; learning about luxury properties is second only to staying in luxury properties. It’s just a bit overwhelming and it takes about 50 meetings for me to realize that I’m really not expected to remember everything about each of these.


So, I make a few notes on the back of business cards and focus on imagining if and how I could market each of these products and services to potential clients (or for myself!).


Really, though, there are tremendous opportunities through Virtuoso suppliers, some more impressive than others. I am now able to offer clients tickets to any major sporting event under the sun, from Wimbledon to the World Cup, or to give theater enthusaists a backstage tour of a historical London theater, or to complete the ultimate mid-life crisis with a Ferrari rental through Italy, these extra touches really up the ante for a personalized trip. Realizing all this and more is at my fingertips as a Virtuoso advisor has only made me more eager to work one-on-one with clients to piece together their travel dreams. I long to integrate these features into itineraries to bring to light the dreams they never knew could come true.


After all of my praise, I have a confession to make: I believe I accidentally crashed a luncheon today. When I received (what I thought was) an invitation to an Africa Destination luncheon a couple of weeks ago, I was a bit surprised. I’ve never sold Africa before. Who knows, I thought as I head to the event this afternoon.  When my name is not on the list, I begin to wonder if there has been a mistake. However, one of the staff points me to a small group of people who were also invited but not appearing on the list. After a few minutes of waiting, they are able to accommodate the extra members at various open seats across the convention room.


I take a moment to re-read my e-mail, curious about might have happened. I realize the ambiguity of my assumed “invitation.” This might not have really been an invite.


It’s a bit too late just to up and go, our lunchtime is short and already a quarter of the way over, so I take my seat with confidence and enjoy the beautiful speech. After our speaker’s eloquent delivery of her appreciation for growing tourism in Africa, an inspiration to the entire room (even someone who hasn’t sold or been to Africa), there is a drawing. I’m not kidding when I say that tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of trips to Africa are given out – I slightly regret not entering my business card into the competition, but I would have felt guilty since I might not have really been invited to the event. However, if given the gift of a week from Johannesburg to Cape Town, complete with safaris and business class air, I wonder how long that guilt would have lasted.


After forty more meetings, we are done for the day and it’s time to celebrate. For me, this means sitting on the floor of the Bellagio lobby to borrow some internet and chat time with my loved ones. It makes me laugh when people stumble by and give me weird looks for sitting on the floor; it’s 4:00 PM and they have drinks in their hands. My sitting on the floor pales in this comparison of poor life decisions.


My break flies by before Paula, Arnie, and I meet up at the Destination Dinner cocktail reception. This event is about the only thing I’ve managed to take decent pictures of during my time at Travel Mart, so I’ll be sure to update once I have my camera cord (back in Athens).
The cocktail hour before our dinner allows members to roam around and check out each of the hosting suppliers’ table decor, these incredible, elaborate showpieces. I might be a little biased, but my table, hosted by Tauck, is probably the most elegant of the night.
Our Classy Table, Hosted by Tauck
Paula and I, Matching our Tablescape
We certainly have the best group of people! I hit it off very well with the other agents, a very interesting travel writer, and our Tauck rep who hosts the most incorrect game of White Elephant that I’ve ever played, but it’s still a blast. I wind up with a large book of National Parks that will perfectly adorn my coffee table (get ready, roommates!).


Once the dinner is over, I stay for a while speaking with the aforementioned travel writer, whose online newsletter I receive daily. As much as I love selling travel, I am still greatly interested in the field of travel journalism, even through a simple side project, like this blog, or in a freelance position. Who knows what the future holds in that area, but Travel Mart has definitely put me in the mood for thinking about such opportunities.


Just like last night, my day ends on a great note with some NextGen friends in a Bellagio bar. I meet up with Cassie, who has officially become my Travel Mart BFF (we admit our mutual friend crushes) and a brand new group of agents about my age.


I honestly have not met a single person here that I didn’t like. It’s really a company and industry filled with people who are filled with passion. Their passion spills into their everyday lives, but more so it overflows into a setting such as this, where our conversations revolve around our favorite subject: travel.
Lindsey Epperly

My name is Lindsey Epperly and I’m a travel consultant and owner of Epperly Travel, a national affiliate of Century Travel. I’m most passionate about building lifelong relationships with my clients and suppliers, discovering the globe in a way that makes me a better agent, and celebrating with my team when we reach a new milestone. One of our core values at Epperly Travel is to create fun and celebrate constantly – and I’m fortunate to be in a career that allows me to do just that. I’m proud to announce my recent achievements: landing a spot on Wendy Perrin’s WOW List as their Caribbean expert, being nominated for Virtuoso’s Rising Star Award and receiving a place on Jezebel Magazine’s Trailblazing Ten list.

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