Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the Virtuoso Symposium in Buenos Aires, an annual event that this year drew more than 400 top travel advisors, brands, and hoteliers together from 33 countries. (The Virtuoso network sells almost $10 billion in travel annually through its network of 340 agencies.)
They really rolled out the red carpet for the group, and I was happy to tag along. One of the dinners was held at the Bicentennial Museum underneath Casa Rosada at the invitation of Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. On another afternoon, a special horse race was presented at the ritzy 10,000-seat Palermo Hippodrome. We all checked in to the city’s most stunning properties, the Alvear Palace Hotel, Four Seasons Hotel Buenos Aires, Faena Hotel & Universe, and Palacio Duhau – Park Hyatt, where I stayed (rave reviews for their gardens and melding of classic palace and modern luxury).
But I was most interested in what happens when some of the top minds in travel come together. Virtuoso feels like a club in the best possible way, filled with friends that have known each other for years. I kept saying I had the warm fuzzies — that feeling you get when you know you’re with your kind of people. I barreled my way into conversations, which turned into passionate discourses on everything from the state of the airline industry to which hotels are better (“No, in Tuscany you MUST stay at Castiglion del Bosco!”).
According to top advisors, the most-booked destinations remain the same year after year. Italy is by far the most popular, followed in no particular order by France, England, the Caribbean (Turks & Caicos is a favorite), and the Dominican Republic.
While watching the horses zoom by at the Virtuoso Derby, I had fun chatting with two Southern gentlemen, Peter Lloyd and Gene Lashley, the owners of Atlanta-based Century Travel. Many trends are here to stay, Lloyd said, pointing to multi-generational travel as an example. “After 9/11, people really began to travel with their extended families and continue to do so,” he said. All-inclusive resorts are also still popular, he continued, “and they don’t have to be terrible. We love the Grand Velas Riviera Maya in Mexico.”
Our chat, along with the oodles of conversations I had throughout the week, led to the creation of this list — the seven travel trends you have to know about now:
1. Around the World Travel: For the true trip of a lifetime where money is no object, some travelers are going around the world in high style. More travel companies are launching global itineraries by private jet, including Abercrombie & Kent’s Around the World with Geoffrey Kent, where the founder, chairman, and CEO of the company takes groups of 50 to his favorite destinations, including Easter Island and Madagascar. Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts offers a global trip with accommodations in their upscale properties, while National Geographic Expeditions has a 24-day route that includes stops at Machu Picchu, Tibet, and the pyramids — and onboard experts who highlight the history and culture of each place. How do we know this is a trend? The trips are selling out, and fast.
2. More Destination Celebrations: Whether it’s a wedding, birthday, or anniversary, travel advisors are seeing an increase in bookings for destination celebrations. But the destination must be easy to get to, said Lloyd. “We have done weddings in Italy, Punta Cana, Jamaica, and Riviera Maya, to name a few. The overriding concern is that the air lift is both accessible and reasonable.”
3. The Cooking Craze is Driving Home Rentals: The popularity of home and villa rentals continues to rise for several reasons, including cost and value. Many travelers have been requesting beautiful kitchens and stocking up at nearby grocery stores, a reflection of a continuing trend toward all things culinary. In-demand rental companies include Think Sicily and Think Puglia (both extremely hot destinations this year), and The Clear Creek Group in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, which is seeing a 30 percent increase each year in rentals, especially among families in search of outdoor adventure in nearby Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks.
4. Mobile Explosion: According to Robert Carey and David Kang of McKinsey & Company, who spoke at the symposium, travel boasts annual sales of around $100 billion online, which accounts for a third of all e-commerce spending worldwide. While companies are investing in digital and mobile left and right, it seems that whoever does it best and fastest while focusing on what makes travelers’ lives easier will be the real winners. We are just at the beginning of what is possible on mobile devices and with travel apps, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
5. Experiential Travel Growth: Some travelers feel like they’ve been everywhere already. Because of this, travel to exotic places like Bhutan, Myanmar, and Hangzhou in China continue to grow in popularity. And you won’t find this group of jet-setters sitting around at the resort pool. They want real, authentic moments of discovery and memories to last a lifetime.
6. But Don’t Count Out Familiarity: On the other hand, there’s a trend toward travelers returning to nostalgic places — especially when it comes to skiing. “We have many clients who love to repeat the same resorts they have been to in the past, including Aspen, Steamboat Springs, and Vail,” said Lloyd. For Lashley, Utah’s Deer Valley, which doesn’t allow snowboarders, sees the most family repeats.
7. More Listeners, Less Experts: So many people claim to be travel experts that it’s hard to know who to pay attention to. That’s why we’re seeing more and more people seeking out knowledgable and well-connected listeners instead. A great advisor will design travel experiences that are personalized and add touches that couldn’t be replicated by clients on their own. Consumers should know that no one person can know everything, but the best will have friends all over the world.