This year’s Virtuoso Travel Week–the 31st annual event–was the biggest yet, with more than 6,500 luxury travel advisors and preferred partners (hotels, cruises, tour operators, tourism boards, airlines, and on-sites) meeting in Las Vegas.
Virtuoso continues to grow. There are now 20,000 travel advisors in 50 countries in the network, compared to 11,400 in 2016. These advisors generate $26.4 billion in travel sales, compared to $15.5 billion in 2016. And it is estimated that the “speed-dating” appointments that occur during Travel Week lead to $420 million in travel sales.
(These high numbers are matched by the high number of shoes that many attendees pack for the week. Pro tip: Flats are your best friend in the long Bellagio halls.)
Virtuoso’s Best of the Best Hotel awards–voted on by its network of advisors–honored the Four Seasons George V in Paris as hotel of the year and Amanda Hyndman at Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park in London as hotelier of the year. At the Destination Showcase Dinner, Switzerland Tourism took home Tourism Board of the Year for the fourth time in six years.
AFAR’s destination news editor Lyndsey Matthews attended the conference. Her big-picture takeaway? How the travel industry is seeking to address overtourism. “The conversations I had came from a standpoint not of ‘too many people’ but more about ‘badly behaved people,’” Matthews says. “Many tourism boards and hotels kept saying that they wanted a Code of Conduct for travelers.”
Many Virtuoso attendees had ideas to address these issues. Roberto Payer, the GM of the Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam, predicted that, in time, governments will implement new rules and laws to alleviate crowding, and that we must educate visitors today about the culture and history they are seeing. The city of Venice recently voted to fine tourists up to 500 euros for bad behavior. Advisors can help by steering their clients to visit during off-peak times. Andrea Grisdale of IC Bellagio says travelers might have St. Mark’s Square to themselves during early winter mornings.
Responding to the outrage caused by the now-infamous photo of a long line of people trying to ascend Mount Everest, Catherine Heald of Remote Lands suggested that the cost of a permit to climb Mount Everest should be raised from its current $11,000 and that climbers must be required to hire more than one sherpa.
Even the meetings themselves are becoming more sustainable. Partners often bring brochures or small gifts to the speed-dating meetings. But Brandi Brister of Valerie Wilson Travel noticed a thoughtful difference from Alrov and The Set hotels. “In lieu of a tchotchke or cumbersome printed materials, they donated $3 for every minute of meetings they conducted,” she says. “This resulted in a $10,000 donation to WaterAid. I hope more suppliers do this next year!”
Matthews also noticed how advisors kept talking about how much influence older children have over their parents when it comes to planning travel. In wealthy families, travel is seen as a supplement to children’s education, and the kids are speaking up, often in the name of sustainability. One advisor told Matthews about teens asking their parents to cancel a $250,000 trip to Rwanda because “the gorillas should be left alone.”
It’s a week where advisors learned that the Orinoco River could be the next big thing in Colombia, and that Durban is up and coming in South Africa. They learned that London continues to be a magnet for luxe properties—Raffles, Waldorf Astoria, and Nobu are all opening properties in the capital in the next few years—and that Six Senses New York, opening near the High Line in Chelsea, will be a banner opening for IHG in 2020.
We talked to some of our favorite advisors about the tips, trends, openings, and destinations that stood out to them.
Jim Wiedeman, Valerie Wilson Travel, Palo Alto, California
- Italy: Casa Angelina on the Amalfi Coast is an excellent alternative for those seeking the glamour of the Amalfi Coast at a slightly more moderate price point. It’s located between Amalfi and Positano, with easy access to both locations.
- Fiji: For those who only have a short stopover in Fiji and don’t have time to venture out to the outer islands, the Intercontinental Fiji is a good option.
- Singapore: The iconic Raffles Singapore reopened after a two-year renovation.
- Germany: Hamburg, Germany, is emerging as a destination, with luxe options like the Fairmont Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten and the Fontenay. Home to Mont Blanc pens and Nivea, Hamburg is the second-largest city in Germany and has more bridges than Venice and Amsterdam combined.
- France: La Mirande Hotel in Avignon offers a great five-day cooking school for around 3,000 euros per person (double occupancy), including the hotel stay and daily breakfast.
- Mexico: The St. Regis Punta Mita is offering great savings through early December, with rates as low as $279, including Virtuoso amenities.
- Japan: For an alternative to standard hotels, the Hoshinoya Kyoto and Hoshinoya Tokyo offer a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) experience.
Krista Betts, Balboa Travel, Austin, Texas
- Mongolia: In 2020, travelers will have the opportunity to live out their Indiana Jones fantasies with Nomadic Expeditions on a dinosaur fossil exploration in the Gobi Desert. The history of the company is fascinating: On a previous trip, they led archaeologists who discovered new species of dinosaurs!
- Indonesia: Nihi Sumba is a slice of paradise with white beaches, an amazing spa, farm-to-table food–everything you’d expect at a luxury resort. But they truly believe in sustainability, preserving the local culture, and giving back. Their foundation supports water conservation, school lunch programs, organic farming, health clinics, and more.
Susan Zurbin-Hothersall, New York
- Mexico: Montage Los Cabos was voted “Best Virtuoso Newcomer” in Best of the Best: It’s where travelers should head next when going to Mexico.
- Latvia: Latvia’s capital city, Riga, has the highest concentration of art nouveau architecture anywhere in the world. The Grand Hotel Kempinski Riga is a great choice to explore this lesser-known city.
- Italy: People might think of wine and rolling hills when they think of Tuscany, but the Hotel Il Pellicano is on the water in Porto Ercole. It offers a different perspective with easy access to those rolling hills.
- New York: The Equinox Hotel in Hudson Yards is one of the city’s biggest openings, and they’re all about giving guests the best night’s sleep. Each room cost $1.9 million to build and furnish.
- Bermuda: Travelers should know about Bermuda Hotel Association Hurricane Guarantee. If your flight is cancelled due to a hurricane, you can easily get a refund from hotels on the member list.
Kayla Douglas, SmartFlyer, New York City
- Greece: One&Only is opening on the secluded Kéa Island in 2021.
- Africa: The Royal Portfolio (which includes Royal Malewane, Birkenhead House, and the Silo in Cape Town) will have tented camps in Mozambique, opening in late 2020.
- Hotels are creating Alpine-style coziness this winter at their bars: Igloos are coming to the rooftop bar at the Peninsula New York and more gondolas with fondue service are coming to Ocean House in Rhode Island, in partnership with Veuve Cliquot.
Brandi Brister, Valerie Wilson Travel, New York City
- Peru: A property that should be on everyone’s radar is Sol y Luna in the Sacred Valley of Peru. Its colorful design honors the indigenous culture, and as a member of Relais & Châteaux, it appeals to all five senses. They built the property for the purpose of giving back, and the hotel currently funds a school serving 200 children, plus a small orphanage, and a school for children with disabilities.
- Germany: Schloss Elmau, just 90 minutes from Munich, offers great packages that are easy to book for our clients, like girls’ weekends, spa and well-being summits, and packages celebrating local festivals. A great value-add: They have house BMWs, so a car rental isn’t necessary.
The full list of Virtuoso’s Best of the Best Hotel awards:
Hotel of the Year: Four Seasons George V, Paris
Hotelier of the Year: Amanda Hyndman, Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London
Best Achievement in Design: Rosewood Hong Kong
Best Dining Experience: La Réserve Paris Hotel & Spa, Restaurant Le Gabriel, Paris
Best Bar: Le Sirenuse Champagne Bar at Four Seasons Hotel at The Surf Club, Miami
Best Wellness Program: Miraval Arizona Resort & Spa, Tucson
Best Virtuoso Newcomer: Montage Los Cabos, Mexico
Sustainable Tourism Leadership: Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley, Australia
Best Family Program: Grand Velas Riviera Maya, Mexico
Best Virtuoso Hotel Ambassador: Carlos Quereda, Querido Representation Co.
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