Sig­na­ture talks to Vir­tu­oso CEO Matthew Upchurch to get the in­side scoop on what’s pop­u­lar among Aus­tralian trav­ellers.

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Lux­ury travel has come of age as peo­ple seek out novel ex­pe­ri­ences and unique des­ti­na­tions. So says Vir­tu­oso CEO Matthew Upchurch, re­cently in Aus­tralia to re­lease the re­sults of the first ever in-depth sur­vey into the travel trends and pref­er­ences of high-net-worth in­di­vid­u­als, a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Vir­tu­oso and Hamil­ton Is­land re­sort, qualia.

A new def­i­ni­tion of lux­ury

The 2015 Aus­tralian Lux­ury Travel Sur­vey re­veals that trav­ellers are re­defin­ing lux­ury – mod­ern jet-set­ters are welle­d­u­cated en­tre­pre­neur types who place a high value on ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the world.

“In many cases, some of the lux­ury play­ers may not be su­per wealthy – they might be a tenured pro­fes­sor or an ex­ec­u­tive of a com­pany, but they’re spend­ing a dis­pro­por­tion­ate amount of their dis­pos­able in­come on travel,” Upchurch ex­plains. “In the last 15 years there’s been a mas­sive shift in the lux­ury sec­tor away from buy­ing lux­ury goods to­wards ex­pe­ri­ences. Peo­ple are start­ing to pri­ori­tise their spend­ing on ex­pe­ri­ences rather than just goods.”

Of the 2500 Aus­tralian sur­vey re­spon­dents, 60 per cent be­lieve lux­ury is no longer de­fined by price. In other words, it’s no longer enough to stay in an ex­pen­sive ho­tel and ad­mire the scenery. Hotels that de­liver more than amaz­ing sur­rounds and gourmet food are sought af­ter. Peo­ple want friendly ser­vice, per­son­alised at­ten­tion and to con­nect with a des­ti­na­tion in in­no­va­tive ways. Trav­ellers are seek­ing out nat­u­ral lo­ca­tions and be­spoke ex­pe­ri­ences, over and above op­u­lence and ex­pense.

“There is a clear move­ment to­wards cul­tural authen­tic­ity and con­nec­tiv­ity,” Upchurch says. This is why river and ex­pe­di­tion cruis­ing is on the up­swing, and lodges and bou­tique hotels are the pre­ferred ac­com­mo­da­tion of choice.

Lux­ury trav­ellers are also be­ing drawn to trips they can take with a clear con­science – pro­tect­ing the Great Bar­rier Reef, con­serv­ing wildlife and re­duc­ing cli­mate change and pol­lu­tion are top pri­or­i­ties.

Ex­otic or clas­sic? You choose

Vir­tu­oso ad­vi­sor Fay Co­hen from Travel Phase says multi-gen­er­a­tional travel is in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar among Aus­tralian clients, as is cruis­ing.

“Turkey is on ev­ery­one’s radar, and we are book­ing lots of trips to Hawaii and Ja­pan.” There is also a lot of in­ter­est in vis­it­ing Cuba, and Clau­dia Rossi, a Vir­tu­oso ad­vi­sor at Mary Rossi Travel, says Europe re­mains a peren­nial. “Peo­ple go to cor­ners [of Europe] they haven’t ex­plored. Si­cily, Puglia, the Dor­dogne or Scot­land. Italy lovers are tar­get­ing Spain now – but they’ll usu­ally go back to Italy the next time.”

Along with Italy, Michael Lon­dregan, Vir­tu­oso’s new Aus­tralia-based ex­ec­u­tive, says ex­pe­di­tion cruises are soar­ing in pop­u­lar­ity, par­tic­u­larly Euro­pean river cruis­ing. Cam­bo­dia, Laos and Bhutan are all trending, as is the US East Coast. Croa­tia is an emerg­ing des­ti­na­tion ap­pear­ing on more and more bucket lists.

Ad­vi­sors say clients love ex­otic lo­ca­tions but still want to visit tra­di­tional des­ti­na­tions they’ve been to be­fore such as Lon­don and Paris. The dif­fer­ence now is that they want help to ex­pe­ri­ence these des­ti­na­tions in new and ex­cit­ing ways.

Time is of the essence

Aus­tralians are known for be­ing ex­cel­lent long-haul trav­ellers but our hec­tic lives mean we are also tak­ing a grow­ing num­ber of short trips to recharge.

“Now, more than ever, trav­ellers are aware their most pre­cious, non60

re­new­able as­set is their leisure time, and this is driv­ing a de­mand for do­mes­tic lux­ury ex­pe­ri­ences,” Upchurch says. “We live hec­tic lives in a smart­phone world where we’re ‘on’ 24/7; what we’re find­ing is that peo­ple are us­ing short breaks to de­com­press.”

“We’re not just in the busi­ness of travel; we’re in the busi­ness of re­turn on life,” he sum­marises. “If you lose money you can al­ways make money back, but if you lose valu­able time, it’s gone.”

Upchurch is no stranger to travel – he’s on the road be­tween 150 and 180 days of the year and, so he doesn’t miss out on time with his chil­dren, he and his wife home­school their two youngest chil­dren and of­ten bring their teacher along.

Upchurch lives in Fort Worth, Texas, when he’s not on the road, and his south­ern drawl makes him all the more en­gag­ing to talk to. Given that he spends so much time in hotels, it’s not sur­pris­ing he has an an­swer at the ready when asked about his ho­tel pet peeves.

“No plug for my iPhone next to the bed,” he says, laugh­ing out loud. “That makes me sound like a Mil­len­nial!”

He also be­lieves Wi-Fi should be free in ev­ery ho­tel, and don’t even get him started on wa­ter. “Not pro­vid­ing wa­ter at no cost is ridicu­lous,” he says. But Upchurch says his favourite new trend in hotels is free in­ter­na­tional calls via VoIP.

The value of Vir­tu­oso

Vir­tu­oso ad­vi­sors are known for their re­la­tion­ships on the ground and their abil­ity to pull strings for value, exclusive ex­pe­ri­ences and ho­tel up­grades.

Rossi sums it up nicely say­ing, “The agent acts as a project man­ager for a trip, giv­ing op­tions in a timely man­ner that can be pieced to­gether in an op­ti­mum way.” And it’s true; ad­vi­sors are just a phone call away should things go awry on a trip – some­thing that book­ing on­line can’t de­liver.

The Vir­tu­oso net­work now has 7200, with Aus­tralia’s shores home to 314 of these. Work­ing with one of these spe­cial­ists en­sures a per­son­alised itin­er­ary, a record of all your pref­er­ences and re­quire­ments for fu­ture book­ings, and a guar­an­tee that ev­ery as­pect of your jour­ney meets your stan­dards.

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