Voice of Luxury: Virtuoso's UK and Ireland general manager Karen Joyce

Q. How is Virtuoso developing its presence in the UK?

We’ve divided our management of the EMEA region, which I previously oversaw, into three separate regions. Since February 2023, I have solely looked after the UK and Ireland. We also have a general manager in Europe as well as the Middle East and Africa.

Each of us is building a team to focus on member agencies, supplier partners and marketing. That way we can equip each network with products and services that are relevant to each region.

While it is a newer market for us, the UK made up almost half the members of the EMEA region previously, so it made sense for us to separate it so we can do even more for our members.

For example, we’ll be launching a UK version of the Virtuoso magazine that will have product and editorial tailored specifically towards this market.

Q. What is your vision for growth?

We currently have 31 UK member agencies and one in Ireland, so the latter is definitely a focus point for growth. However, it’s not so much about growing the numbers but selecting like-minded agencies.

We have an invitation-only member base in which we look for a strong industry reputation, far-reaching knowledge and a commitment to serving clients at the highest level. We also want our members to collaborate with one another on the finest luxury and experiential travel.

We have a variety of members from boutique agencies to tour operators, so we’d also like to grow this further perhaps with specialists in cruise or expedition travel as these sectors gain increasing attention from travellers.

Q. What are the benefits for agents who join Virtuoso?

Virtuoso’s purchasing power is about $28 billion to $32 billion annually, so we can help advisors secure VIP benefits to pass onto their clients.

We also have personal relationships with almost 2,000 world-class hotel and cruise partners, which gives our agents an elevated status.

One of our hallmarks is the unique partnerships and human connections that we have between agencies. It creates an extremely collaborative community, which is very important to us.

Q. What insight can you give us into Virtuoso’s UK agency members’ outlook for the year ahead?

We frequently send out surveys to our members and partners to find out how they feel their business is performing. The most recent one was at the end of January and revealed that 76% of our UK agent members are optimistic about their performance in 2024 and feel that growth will continue.

The remaining 24% were unsure, which we believe is due to global events that could impact willingness to travel. However, no one expressed pessimism, which is a great sign.

Q. What booking trends are your UK agents seeing?

Our 2024 Virtuoso Luxe Report revealed there is a lot of ambition among British travellers to venture farther afield to regions that are less explored for expedition and adventure holidays to once[1]in-a-lifetime destinations.

These are dreams people had during the pandemic that they are now able to bring to the fore. More than 60% of advisors surveyed expect travel demand and spend per trip to increase this year.

There are also some clear destination winners. Japan, Egypt, Sri Lanka, India and Morocco were highlighted as the top re-emerging destinations as they have opened up more to tourism and people are feeling confident in travelling further.

Due to long-haul trips taking off again, the booking window is also increasing. However, last-minute bookings certainly haven’t gone away. Europe continues to be a popular getaway with Italy, France and Greece being favourite destinations.

But we are noticing, particularly in Europe, that shoulder-season travel is increasing in an attempt to avoid the crowds as the region became a huge tourist hotspot after the pandemic.

Q. How is the desire for responsible travel impacting the luxury sector?

According to [our] recent research, geopolitical conflicts, overtourism and the effects of climate change have made sustainable travel a big motivator for travellers.

A huge 86% of global advisors said their clients are investing in the cultural heritage of the destinations they visit, such as through community engagement and conservation.

While cost doesn’t pose a significant barrier to sustainable travel, 58% of travellers said they are willing to pay more if they know how the money is being used. Also, 30% said they would be encouraged to travel more responsibly if they had guidance from a trusted source.

Virtuoso’s members can visit our sustainability hub to search for hotels and experiences that promote ecotourism. We also have a sustainability community that offers access to free training and webinars.

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