In Its first face to face Owner-Managers Forum since 2019, Virtuoso’ Australia and New Zealand network reunited again on Monday, and Tuesday, 24/25 May 2021, at The Four Seasons Hotel in Sydney.
To say it had “been a while between drinks” would be an understatement of pre-pandemic travel industry sized proportions.
And so it was that 100 Virtuoso Travel Advisor Owner-Managers from across the Australian and New Zealand network and 20 key partners journeyed to Sydney to reunite, reconnect and reset in-person after a two-year hiatus.
A hiatus it must be said, which no-one would wish on their worst enemy.
For that reason, the event was, of course, an enthusiastically anticipated and poignant reunion that saw some of the longest embraces at the registration desk, with tears of joy flowing for all to see as members clapped their physical eyes on each other for the first time after what had felt like a lifetime.
Being part of some of those reunions too, was a reminder to me of the significant meaning of our ‘people to people’ industry and the friendship and shared experiences that it gifts us all.
Led by Virtuoso Senior Vice President Michael Londregan, the uplifting opening session included a Q&A with Virtuoso CEO Matthew Upchurch via Zoom from Washington, an update on ‘Holiday Here This Year’ from Tourism Australia CEO Phillipa Harrison, and a timely keynote on ‘Winning from a place of love, not fear’ by seven times world surfing champion Layne Beachley AO.
In his opening address, Mr Londregan spoke passionately of the need to redefine the word VIP and for every Virtuoso advisor to embrace responsibility as industry leaders.
“You are all VIPs, but there should be a different ‘I’. You’re very influential people. The industry and market will be looking for important and influential people. What I’d like you to do over the course of this forum is figure out how you’re going to power your influence to lead.
“When you leave tomorrow at lunchtime, I hope you’ve had a wonderful time, and I hope you caught up with everyone, that’s great. But when you leave, I want you to be in a position to lead the narrative of this industry. Never in the history of this industry have we needed leaders more.” He said.
Tourism Australia CEO Phillipa Harrison spoke about the value of the agent partnership, saying, “We’ve been working in partnership with the travel agent community, and that’s been really, really important because you know how to really sell the full experience and really make sure that people, when they go, they don’t just have holidays, they have a whole holiday.”
“We’ve worked with Virtuoso globally for many, many years. And it’s been one of the most significant partnerships, but we haven’t always worked closely with Australia and New Zealand.
“And I think that, for me, is one of the great opportunities that has come out of COVID is that we are now working very, very closely together with Virtuoso Australia and New Zealand,” She said.
Speaking optimistically about when Australians and Kiwi’s can finally travel again as part of a virtual Q&A, Virtuoso CEO Matthew Upchurch said via Zoom, “You are famous for being the world travellers that you are. If you think about it, what will also happen is when the demand comes back, it will also come to a smaller agency base.
“The quality of advisors is going to be something that I think people are going to be very serious about.”
Sharing a welcome piece of advice on the topic of client referrals, Mr Upchurch said, “Now’s the time to talk to your best clients and say: ‘I really want to deal with people like you who understand and appreciate who I am and what I do and the value that I bring.
“So the best way you can support me out of this recovery is to help me find people like you.
“I think you will find people right now more enthusiastic and willing to do that than ever before because they want to see you succeed,” He said.
Fittingly, all of the delegates were given a small lighthouse pin badge, which Mr Londregan said he felt symbolised what the industry needed everyone to be, saying, “They need you to be a lighthouse. They need you to shine.”
“What I need you to do, is understand that while we’ve got no clear timeline for when things are going to be fully recovered or back to normal, between now and then, I need you to be the ambassadors of leadership for this industry.
“People are looking to you. You’re probably the 1 in 50 that will influence 50 others who will influence 100 others. We need you to take that responsibility. Being a VIP, being a significant person, is a luxury.”
The Forum also included various professional development workshops and partner networking sessions, along with a gala dinner and plenty of time for long-overdue catch-ups and more much-needed hugs and laughs with industry colleagues.
Find out more about Virtuoso: www.virtuoso.travel
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