Travel is coming back big time according to the latest research from Virtuoso, which recently surveyed more than 300 travel advisors about their client's booking habits and intentions for 2022. We caught up with Misty Belles, Virtuoso's VP of Global Public Relations, to chat about her career and the latest trends.
For those that don’t know it, quickly explain Virtuoso and how you work with hotels?
Virtuoso is the leading global network specializing in luxury and experiential travel. We have more than 20,000 travel advisors across 52 countries – the most influential sales force in the industry, who generate an average of $25 to $30 billion in annual sales. The network also includes a preferred partner portfolio totaling over 2,200 of the world’s best travel companies and premier destinations. Our Hotels & Resorts program, which includes properties ranging from city hotels and wellness retreats to safari camps and private islands, accounts for more than 1,400 of those preferred relationships. Our hotel program offers Virtuoso clients over $550 per stay in value-added benefits, not to mention VIP treatment.
How did you get your start at Virtuoso and what is your role?
I am the Vice President of Global Public Relations for Virtuoso. This year marks my 23rd year with the company. I like to say I was part of an experimental kindergarten recruitment program. 😊 The truth is that I navigated my way from my initial role creating direct marketing for cruises and tours to serving for five years as the Director of Marketing for Virtuoso Hotels & Resorts. In 2005, I took over the PR for Virtuoso and never looked back, but my experience in various departments within the organization has proved invaluable over the years.
What is your favorite part of your job?
It’s my job to tell the Virtuoso story, and that of our amazing advisors, to the outside world. It’s quite an honor to have that level of trust placed in me, and I never take it for granted. I also get to work with some incredibly fun, talented, generous people AND travel and explore the world with them. Not a bad way to spend one’s time.
Love a trends report! We love to know what travelers are thinking and planning. How many travel agents/clients did you interview for this study?
Oh, I’m right there with you when it comes to a solid trend report. The only thing better than seeing where we’ve come from is looking ahead to where we’re going! This particular report pulls from a series of client polls that averaged about 300 responses each and various surveys of our Celebration Travel and Ultraluxe Communities that tapped into the insights of hundreds of our advisors.
What was the most surprising finding (to you)?
The most surprising findings came from our Ultraluxe Community, who shared just how strong bookings are at the highest end of the business: private villas, private air, and the demand for private transportation like helicopter transfers. Private seems to be the name of the game! I also loved seeing that 85 percent of people said they were in a ready-to-travel mindset. That tells us the desire and intent to travel are both there.
The hardest question last, so much great info in this study, which do you think is most relevant for hotel managers and owners?
It was very apparent from both the advisor and client responses that travel is set to return in a very meaningful way. So, get ready and gear up because travelers are coming! Many hotels are already experiencing this surge, but those that haven’t need to be prepared for the wave of demand that’s on the horizon.
Some highlights from the Virtuoso Trend Report:
A Travel State of Mind
As omicron cases are on a downward trajectory, what was a deterrent for travel only weeks ago is now a motivating factor. People who have contracted and recovered from the virus are viewing their “antibody window” as the ideal time to get away. Virtuoso advisors are reporting that clients have contacted them to plan their next vacation while they are still in quarantine. The intent to travel is strong, with 86 percent of travelers polled saying they plan to travel internationally this year, and Virtuoso anticipates bookings will continue to trend upwards at the end of Q1 and into the second quarter as the omicron wave subsides.
Where to Next? Hint: Globetrotters are Going Big and Spending Big
Virtuoso experts say 2022 will be the year of once-in-a-lifetime, Wanderlist® trips. Tapping into their advisors specializing in exclusive excursions, Virtuoso found that 76 percent have seen a recent increase in ultraluxe travel with African safaris, Caribbean islands, international city destinations, and ocean cruises as the top preferred experiences. Full findings of the survey can be viewed here. The uptick in high-end travel is the result of pent-up demand and expanded financial means. The ability to spend more is a plus since travel inflation means costs are on the rise. Virtuoso bookings show future hotel rates are up 54 percent internationally and as much as 80 percent within the U.S., while airfares for this spring are up 19 percent over 2019.
Travel Advisors vs. DIY: No Contest
Peace of mind is hard to come by in the midst of a global pandemic, but travel advisors continue to prove their value to both their clients and the overall travel industry. Advisors continue to show their worth, driving demand for professional planning as Virtuoso reports that requests from people seeking an advisor grew 50 percent last year compared to 2020.
Celebration Travel: Grab the Gang
Making up for the lost year (or two) of missed milestones has become a priority for those seeking to reconnect with loved ones. Seventy-eight percent of Virtuoso advisors have seen an uptick in celebration travel, with anniversaries and notable birthdays being the primary motivators. Multi-generational travel continues to drive family gatherings with Mexico and Caribbean islands holding the top spots for preferred destinations. When asked, 95 percent of advisors also believed celebration travel will continue to be a top trend through 2022.
The Conscious Comeback
The pandemic is leading people to be more cognizant of their impact on the world, and this has led to what Virtuoso calls “the conscious comeback.” In a recent Virtuoso survey, 82 percent of travelers said the pandemic has made them want to travel more responsibly in the future and 78 percent said it’s important to choose travel companies that have a strong sustainability policy, moving them to seek out companies committed to what Virtuoso calls the three pillars of sustainability: protecting the planet, supporting local economies and celebrating cultures. And 70 percent agreed that traveling sustainably enhances their vacation experience. Complete insights can be found in the Virtuoso Sustainability White Paper available here.