It’s the last day of my third year at Virtuoso Week (formerly known as Travel Mart) and I forget how exhausting and exhilarating this conference is. As I near the end, it’s a little more on the exhausting side. Still, it’s such a learning experience and perfect for building the relationships that set members of the Virtuoso network apart from any other travel agencies in the world.
The week kicked off with time at the pool with some of my closest travel friends before the opening session, where we heard from a number of interesting speakers. The first, Sally Hogshead, discussed our personality profiles which we completed before attending the conference. My profile deemed me “The Maestro” which basically means I’m a control freak, so no surprise there. Our speakers then ranged from a wide variety – everyone from the CEO of Virtuoso, Matthew Upchurch, welcoming us to Travel Week to Bhutanese royalty expressing gratitude to Virtuosos for boosting his country’s tourism, thus increasing their Gross National Happiness. “It is more than getting people into airplanes,” the prince told us, “You, the Virtuoso community, understand that when it’s done well it can inspire others.”
That’s what I love about the travel industry. Sure, Virtuoso Week is time for wining and dining, but it’s also a week where we find out just what all we can do to change a client’s vacations from expected and ordinary to unexpected and extraordinary.
Just a few things I’ve learned:
– I already knew that Virtuoso works exclusively with Virgin Galactic to send people to space, but if that’s a little too far for you, we now can give clients access to the NASTAR air & space training program. The program allows wannabe astronauts and fighter pilots the opportunity to experience the training firsthand.
– The Hotel Adlon in Berlin, Germany is where Michael Jackson dangled his baby off the balcony of the Presidential Suite.
– The best possible place for a birthday message might be on the side of this elephant:
– Pink dolphin sightings are guaranteed on Aqua expeditions, a boutique river cruise on the Amazon. This is great news because I want to see one before I die.
– Other things I want to see before I die: the Royal Davui, the Burj Al Arab, Inkaterra properties, Explora properties, Lizard Island, Southern Ocean Lodge, every Six Senses property, Lion Sands, all the other Singita properties, everywhere else in South Africa, everywhere in Southeast Asia, everywhere in the South Pacific, and everywhere in South America with Abercrombie & Kent. I guess since I’m from the South I have an affinity toward it, but that’s just a small glimpse into my newly updated bucket list of hotels, countries, and continents.
Since agents love surprising clients, it’s no wonder that Virtuoso had quite a surprise up their sleeves during the opening ceremony. They aired a video on Frances Ford Coppola, legendary director (The Godfather), winemaker, hotelier, and entrepreneur. I have always loved the idea of Coppola’s properties in Belize, Turtle Inn & Blancaneaux Lodge, which are said to have a certain touch of movie magic to them. There was definitely a touch of magic when Matthew Upchurch invited Coppola to take the stage – the crowd went wild.
He told stories from The Godfather (like how he had to fight for Marlon Brando to be part of the cast) and stories of his hotels (“I think if you say yes enough, you’ll find yourself in the hotel business.”) and stories from his own personal travels. He mentioned how he will be taking his 95 and 97 year old uncles back to the little town in Italy where their father was born. “A trip like that is too priceless to waste even one more year on something that doesn’t live up to your greatest experience,” he told us.
It made me think about my Nana and her heart attack, how she fought in the hospital to recover – her goal was to get well in time to go to the Holy Land. She informed the doctors and nurses that the night of her heart attack she prayed to Jesus and said, “I would really like to see you one day, but I really want to see where you were born first.”
Our trip is scheduled for the end of September. Watching someone mark off the highest item on their bucket list is going to be so, so special. Those are the moments that cannot be recreated or even captured in words – they have to be experienced firsthand and live up to those greatest expectations we’ve set in our minds.
I love this business and everything it stands for. By that, I don’t necessarily mean the luxury that is represented (although I certainly don’t hate that), I mean the craft itself. We’re in the business of making memories, completing bucket lists, and turning dreams into reality.