Virtuoso: High demand for luxury travel is rolling into fall and winter: Travel Weekly

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LAS VEGAS — The travel boom since Covid-19 appears to be rolling into this fall and holiday season, data from Virtuoso shows. 

But the luxury-focused consortium has also begun to see some signs of a normalization to prepandemic travel trends.

Bookings for the months ahead are strong, pacing ahead of both 2022 and 2019. Demand remains high, but Virtuoso is tracking a shift away from domestic travel and some rate softening in at least one market: the Caribbean.

“While everyone was fully ready to embrace the new normal last year, now we’re kind of going back to the old normal,” Misty Belles, vice president of global public relations said during a press conference at the annual Virtuoso Travel Week. “We’re perceiving a little bit more of a seasonality, a cyclical nature of travel that we saw prepandemic.”

What’s driving high demand?

Belles said several factors are driving the high demand: a sustained desire to travel, Virtuoso’s affluent clientele having money to spend, and the pandemic shedding light on the value of working with an advisor. Virtuoso has seen a sustained, 50% increase in the number of consumers looking for an advisor through its website since the pandemic’s start.

For the fall season, Sept. 1 to Dec. 15, Virtuoso sales are up 47% year over year. Bookings are up 36%, with the most popular destinations for Americans being the U.S., Italy, France, the U.K. and Mexico.

For the holiday season, Dec. 15 to Jan. 7, both sales and bookings are up 17% year over year, with the top spots for Americans again led by the U.S., followed by Mexico, France, Costa Rica and Anguilla.

Virtuoso has found that holiday rates in the Caribbean are down 9.7% compared with last year, while other markets such as Hawaii and Mexico are way up, 29.6% and 18.7%, respectively, during that time.

During an advisor panel at Virtuoso Travel Week, Paul Tumpowsky, founder and CEO of New York-based Skylark, said he’s noticed an age-based split among clients.

“We’re seeing a little bit of a bifurcation across our client base where ultrahigh-net-worth clients are continuing to spend, but there is a little bit more of a search for value in our younger customer set that sometimes takes their buying decisions outside of the Virtuoso network,” he said.

Rebecca Masri, founder of Little Emperors in the U.K., said her membership-based agency isn’t seeing much price resistance from its younger client base. “But we’ve definitely seen an increase in demand for shorter trips, shorter lengths of stay,” she said.

At the same time, the heat that the world has experienced lately has lengthened the European season. Tumpowsky said hotels in Southern Italy saw a fair amount of softness in August due to high temperatures, but there is little availability left in September and October, which is unusual. As a result, some seasonal hotels are extending operations into the fall.

Travel advisors’ value proposition

Helen Papa, owner of TBH Travel in Dix Hills, N.Y., and founder of Aspire Associates Group, an alliance of 18 Virtuoso agencies, said she is still getting requests for Europe for this year. She has been sending clients to countries where space is available. Papa and other Aspire members are keeping wait lists of travelers who want to go to Europe in the years ahead, waiting until hotel rates and air contracts go out that far.

“I think it depends on who your clients are,” she said. “People say, ‘Oh, it’s going to be over, everybody’s gotten it out of their system.’ But I know with me, the more I travel, the more I want to travel.”

Similarly, Lindsey Epperly, owner of Jet Set World Travel in Atlanta, said her agency isn’t seeing any signs of a slowdown. Jet Set advisors continually encourage their clients to book in advance. She also predicted the market will be even more flooded next year with the return of outbound Chinese travelers.

“We’re going to be up against even more competition, so I think this demand is really only going to grow,” Epperly said.

Largay Travel in Waterbury, Conn., has never been as busy as it is now, director of marketing Scott Largay said. He is also confident that the value consumers now place on advisors is here to stay.¶\

“Whatever happens with an uptick or downtick in terms of how much people are traveling or not traveling, I think that there will always be a place for a travel advisor, especially for people who are looking for that deeper, elevated experience,” Largay said.

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