Matthew Upchurch, chairman and CEO of Virtuoso, spoke today at the Skift Global Forum.

Upchurch has grown Virtuoso into a multi-billion-dollar, by-invitation-only organization of travel providers and travel advisors over the last 27 years. His vision of luxury travel advisors specializing in specific niches and serving clients as knowledgable has allowed Virtuoso agents to thrive at a time when travel agents face intense disruption from online travel agencies and mobile channels.
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Upchurch’s talk “Why the Right Kind of Travel Agent Survived and Thrived,” explored how travel advisors have refined their business practices and learned how to better serve modern travelers. Here are five things we learned:

  • Travel advisors are thriving incredibly, according to Upchurch. Virtuoso alone made 19 billion consumer impressions this year.
  • The role of travel agents has been shifting since 1976, when Sabre started installing its systems in travel agencies. Another major change occurred in 1995 when Delta Air Lines stopped paying commission on air bookings.
  • Transactional travel agents, who provide no service besides booking trips, have fizzled out. “The difference between the travel advisor and the transactional travel agent is the conversation after the trip,” said Upchurch.
  • Loyalty is created on two fronts: emotional and structural. The best travel advisors deliver feelings of structure related to the trip and emotional experiences. Travelers want deeper experiences involving inspiration and self-discovery.
  • Travel advisors deserve respect, and many advisors have been in business for decades. They’ve thrived due to their desire to collaborate to create bespoke travel experiences for their clients.

Keep track of all the activity at this year’s Global Forum by bookmarking our #skiftforum tag.

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And thanks to all the sponsors that made Skift Global Forum 2015 possible: Adobe, Amadeus, American Express, Boxever, Big Bus Tours, CendyneOne, Cheapoair, Criteo, Gogo, HelloGbye, Hornblower Cruises, MasterCard, Mindtree, National Geographic, NewsCred, Sabre, SiteMinder, Travel Channel, TurkeyHome, Uber, Underline, Virtuoso, and Yahoo.

Photo Credit: Matthew Upchurch speaking at the Skift Global Forum in Brooklyn, New York on October 14, 2015. Skift