Virtuoso Symposium wraps up in Dubai

 Virtuoso hosted its annual Symposium May 20-24 in Dubai with more than 400 of the industry’s most prestigious professionals from 37 countries in attendance.

Symposium is a high-level business meeting that brings together the most influential decision-makers of the luxury travel industry, including Virtuoso’s top leadership and senior executives from the network’s travel agency members and preferred partners.

Attendees took part in industry discussions, thought leadership sessions, deep dives into travel trends and business optimization and one-on-one networking, while simultaneously exploring one of the most dynamic cities in the world.

After an elegant cocktail welcome reception on night one, business commenced the following morning with the General Session, where executive vice-president David Kolner took the stage to present travel trends and forecasts, and Virtuoso chairman and CEO Matthew D. Upchurch discussed AI’s impact on the industry, while maintaining that the value of human connection will endure as a powerful business advantage.

AI: an opportunity, not a threat

A self-declared AI optimist, Upchurch has closely followed its development and impression on the travel industry. He remains steadfast in his belief that AI can be a helpful tool for travel advisors, creating efficiencies that allow them to focus on the aspects of client management that are inherently human.

Kolner then revealed insights into Virtuoso’s high-value travellers. He shared that there is a projected 28 percent increase of ultra-high-net-worth individuals between 2023 and 2028, according to The 2024 Wealth Report by Knight Frank. The prediction of the influx of Virtuoso’s target travellers was consistent with the network’s forward-looking sales.

Sales made between January-April 2024 for travel in 2025 and 2026 are up 49 percent and future cruise sales are up 52 percent, compared to transactions made during same time period in 2023 for travel in 2024 and 2025. Bookings over $50,000 USD are up 86 percent, with cruise bookings in the same price range up 102 percent and safari bookings up 159 percent.

Top factors influencing luxury travel

According to a Virtuoso survey of agency owners and managers, the top factors influencing luxury travel this year are geopolitical conflicts and political uncertainty, labor and staffing shortages, and environmental concerns or natural disasters.

When owners and managers were asked about AI, an overwhelming majority of responses across Virtuoso’s global regions revealed they see it as an opportunity, not a threat, further emphasizing Upchurch’s philosophy on the evolving technology.

When looking at the annual Virtuoso Brand & Traveler Trend Tracker Study, a proprietary survey of high-value travelers across 15 countries conducted by YouGov, Kolner discussed responses among Virtuoso clients that revealed the top three benefits of using a travel advisor: their expertise on accommodations (66 per cent), expertise on destinations (65 per cent) and saving the traveller time (54 percent). The top three most valuable traits of an advisor according to respondents are good communication (65 percent), attention to detail (64 per cent) and problem-solving skills (57 per cent).

Generational travel motivators

Finally, a deep dive into various generations’ travel motivators revealed:

  • Millennials and Gen Z are significantly increasing their travels in 2024, while Gen X and Boomers’ demand for travel this year remains steady.
  • The majority of Millennials and Gen Z travelers are willing to pay more for travel products or experiences that promote sustainability, such as those that ensure the preservation of natural and cultural heritage, adopt environmentally friendly practices and benefit local people and economies.
  • Millennials and Gen Z are more likely to travel for a sense of belonging and are twice as likely to seek an adrenaline rush or participate in social impact, while Gen X travel for mental reset and to reconnect with the wonder of nature, and Boomers travel for educational purposes and curiosity.

Another highlight of Symposium was the Virtuoso Travel Tech Summit. First introduced as an annual session at Virtuoso Travel Week, the Travel Tech Summit came to Symposium for the first time this year to bring together thought leaders and innovators from the travel tech industry, startups and the Virtuoso network for meaningful discussions about emerging technology.

Led by entrepreneur and Virtuoso board member Gilad Berenstein, the summit covered key global trends to watch in travel tech, the rise of social commerce and more.

While business is at the forefront of Virtuoso Symposium, another hallmark of the annual event is exploring the host destination. With the help of Dubai Economy and Tourism and various on-the-ground Virtuoso partners, attendees had a chance to select a “Design Your Day” activity to immerse themselves in some of Dubai’s most dynamic offerings.

Virtuoso’s emphasis on relationship building continued with an afternoon dedicated to one-on-one appointments between members and partners, while additional professional development and ideation sessions, workshops and panel discussions explored topics including the evolution of the luxury traveler, getting ahead of AI, sustainable travel, industry growth and more.

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