On February 26th, Jesse Upchurch the co-founder of Virtuoso passed away at 93.
As we look at the travel industry today, Upchurch’s fingerprints can be seen on nearly every aspect. He was a pioneer in luxury travel. He was the co-founder of USTOA. He was the chairman of the African Travel Association. Travel Weekly recognized him in 2008 with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Upchurch got his start in the industry with a yacht charter firm called Vagabond Cruises. He was one of the first to build a timeshare in Mexico. From there it was off to the orient and south Pacific in 1962 with his purchase of Percival Tours—destinations at the time that were certainly off the main stream map for travelers. Percival expanded into Africa and India shortly thereafter.
And speaking of Africa, if nothing else, Upchurch was a conservationist. He was a founding member of the World Wildlife Fund’s 1001 Club and acquired land in Kenya to protect giraffes and donating the land to the African Find for Endangered Wildlife.
Upchurch was larger than life, and I consider myself fortunate to have met him once prior to his retirement. His son, the other co-founder of Virtuoso, Matthew Upchurch, perhaps described his father the best.
He was an inspiration, not only to me in my career, but to countless others around the world. He had an insatiable curiosity and a wonderful sense of humor. He was a charmer, a raconteur, and a man who, as the saying goes, “never met a stranger.”
And to Jesse Upchurch—a literal world of thanks for leading the way!