I entered the travel industry in 2006 with the intention of specializing in luxury travel. Having been an American Express Platinum card member for many years, I was very familiar with their Fine Hotels & Resorts (FHR) program which offered negotiated rates and complimentary amenities (such as free breakfasts and room upgrades) to their clients. I wanted to compete with the excellent product that American Express was already offering.
My first affiliation was a brief one. I joined a large hosting agency that belonged to a consortium that promotes exclusive amenities and competitive rates at four- and five-star properties. I had asked the manager of that agency whether their consortium would be able to match the values available through American Express. While he told me this was the case, I quickly learned that they could not compete. Many of the best 5-star hotels were not even on its property list, and complimentary breakfasts were generally not offered as a standard amenity.
When I discovered Virtuoso, I realized this was exactly the resource I had been seeking. Virtuoso currently has contracts with over 780 properties around the world. It is in every way the equal of American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts program and, in some respects, superior.
- Competitive rates. Although upscale clients are willing to spend lavishly, they do want to obtain the best possible value for their money. With most hotels, the Virtuoso rate is equal to the Best Available Rate (BAR) of the day. At some hotels, the Virtuoso rate is even lower than the BAR. While there is still the need for price checking (after all I am working for my clients), the Virtuoso rate generally provides the best value.
- Amenities. The cost of breakfast at luxury hotels is staggering, and it is a huge advantage to being able to offer my clients complimentary daily breakfasts and room upgrades at check-in (and, occasionally, at the time of booking). Each Virtuoso property offers an “extra amenity” which can be pedestrian but, on occasion, is extremely valuable. These can include VIP airport welcomes, complimentary limousine transfers, and lunch, dinner, or spa treatments.
- Relationships. Just as valuable as any amenity or price point is my database of contacts at each Virtuoso property. I make it a general practice to phone or email the Sales Manager of a property every time I make a booking. I ask them to VIP my clients, look out for an upgrade for them, and ensure they receive their amenities. This translates to superior service for my clients. Additionally, the annual Virtuoso trade show and training event, Travel Mart, offers opportunities for 4-minute “speed dates” with Sales Managers from most of the 780 properties.
Moreover, Virtuoso provides a network of on-sites around the world. These local agencies have been vetted, and I can turn to them to arrange private tours and customized services for FITs. And if land-based experiences were not enough, Virtuoso also offers amenities on selected sailings of luxury cruise lines.
In my relatively short time in the industry, I have developed a successful and growing travel business as a specialist in luxury hotel bookings. While the key is understanding clients’ needs and providing great customer service, my decision to join with a Virtuoso agency has been a major factor in my success.
David J. Ourisman, CTA, is an independent travel consultant with Brownell Travel, a Virtuoso agency headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama. His website is MetaphorTravel.com.
Editor’s Note: I have never met David, while approving his membership in our Community forums, I visited his website. It is one of the top ten sites I have seen and I encourage anyone considering a luxury travel niche to take a look. (JWF)