Quest boasts readers with the enthusiasm (and the means) for exploring the world. Here, we visit with Judy Stein, co-president of Ovation Vacations, about her experience as a member of Virtuoso (a network of travel agencies that specialize in luxury travel):
Q: What is Virtuoso? How has it, as a network, enriched your experience as an advisor—and that of your clients?
The Virtuoso network defines the world of luxury travel from every aspect and angle and is truly the epicenter for travel industry professionals worldwide. It is a travel consortia comprised of worldwide travel agencies specializing in luxury travel and worldwide suppliers including the finest hotels and resorts plus cruise lines, airlines, and destination management companies—plus, anything and everything related to travel from a travel professional’s standpoint. Member agencies, such as Ovation Vacations, are able to reap the vast benefits Virtuoso offers, which translates to a very high level of value for our clientele. It goes without saying that our clients receive value-added amenities such as breakfast, food and beverage, spa credits, upgrades, and early check-in and late check-out. But more importantly, being a part of Virtuoso means you are on the pulse of the ever changing travel environment.
Q: What are the trends for the coming year, when it comes to travel?
Zika is on the top of everyone’s minds, so we are working hard to come up with alternative options—which means Hawaii is hotter than ever! Also, the Maldives (which are Zika-free and exotic: a great combination) are also on our “hot” list. Of course, Africa and Australia/New Zealand are always in fashion. This summer, the Italy’s Amalfi Coast and Greece remained very strong (neither are going away anytime soon). Morocco is hot, because the value is phenomenal as many of the hotels offer over-the-top, lavish accommodations. Villas of 3,000 square feet are the norm at the magnificent Mandarin Oriental. It offers culture combined with “R and R” in a safe environment. It’s the recipe for a perfect exotic getaway!
People are traveling further to escape Zika and, of course, terrorism is a word that looms in everyone’s minds. The world has drastically changed in the past couple of years, so consumers frame of mind and travel patterns have changed with it. That said, there are some attractive new options this year that are receiving attention:
- Anguilla: The best beaches in the world and fabulous restaurants welcome the new Zemi Beach and the over-the-top Four Seasons Anguilla (formerly Viceroy Anguilla), the first Four Seasons to open in the Caribbean in over a decade
- St. Barth: The new openings, including Le Barthélemy and Villa Marina, are sure to make this hot island even hotter!
- Mallorca: This island is heating up with a slew of fabulous new openings, from the sexy Park Hyatt Mallorca to Richard Branson’s new Son Bunyola, which features exclusive villas for the savvy renter.
- Bawah: A private island in Cambodia offering a resort that’s perfect for explorers venturing to Southeast Asia.
- Moskito: Richard Branson’s new private island in the British Virgin Islands with be “hot, hot, hot” for the world’s uber elite
- Canouan: Closer to home, the “it” island for insiders is Canouan, where Sandy Lane Resort’s founder has just finish building an impeccably polished boutique hotel (Pink Sands Club), complete with a majestic 18-hole golf course and eight private beaches.
- Mozambique: This destination will go prime time this year with an overhaul of two islands—Benguerra and Vamizi—not to mention the groundbreaking Singita. This makes Mozambique the go-to place for post-safari explorers to “chillax” on the sand in between amazing game drives.
- The Galapagos: The islands are going to be trending, given the fabulous Pikaia luxury lodge, And, following a new change in tourist restrictions, luxury ships and yachts will make the Galapagos more accessible to lucky, island explorers.
- Laucala: The world’s most expensive hotel, built by the owner of Red Bull, just reopened after an eight-month renovation. It features the ultimate in activates, including a private submarine.
- The Maldives: With more access from all across the globe and the strong dollar, sexy resorts like Velaa Private Island, One & Only Reethi Rah, and LVMH’s Cheval Blanc will be a magnet for people looking for an island worth flying across the world for.
- Hawaii: With the advent of the new Four Seasons Oahu and the WOW Four Seasons Lanai (which just emerged from a $500 million overhaul by owner Larry Ellison), Hawaii is drawing the world’s elite to witness what all the fuss is about—and, boy, is it a sight to see!
- Peru: This destination is booming with luxury properties like the Explora recreating hiking expeditions in the Sacred Valley and the fabulous Rio Sagrado, which is expanding its doors. The new Andean Explorer brand will be a game changer with a luxury rail experience taking people from Peru’s majestic Sacred Valley to the incredible Lake Titicaca.
- Charleston: This historical attraction in South Carolina will be hotter than ever—now, with a host of new luxury boutique hotels including the Beach Club at Charleston Harbor Resort in picturesque Mount Pleasant. Add this to the picture-perfect old city with its breathtaking antebellum mansions and sophisticated food and music scene for a city that rivals anywhere in the world.
- New Orleans: The Creole capital is no longer for the down and grungy. This year brings a new Salamander resort and even a Four Seasons—just in time for the city to host the 2017 NBA All-Star Weekend.
- Bermuda: Bermuda is the quintessential quick escape. In June 2017, the newly redone Fairmont Hamilton Princess & Beach Club plans to host the 35th America’s Cup and the whole island is prepping its wares for the season.
Q: What about the trends for the Quest reader, who is affluent and cultured?
Far-flung is not so far anymore! More and more consumers and travelers are traveling to far-flung destinations. They are spending their money on destination celebrations and multi-generational experiences, whether it’s taking 10 couples to Marrakech for a 50th birthday party or the grandparents taking their entire family on safari in Africa. It’s about life experiences, when it comes to travel. Clients are asking, more and more, for cultural experiences: they want to immerse themselves in the culture of the countries and cities they are visiting. It’s about feeling a connection to the world via their travel experiences.
Q: What are some of the best vacations you’ve planned for clients?
We love to look at ourselves as designers of dreams. The word “best” is defined differently by every client. From chartering a private, luxurious, expedition-style yacht for a multi-generational family to explore the Galapagos to arranging a private dinner at the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence with just a few couples and the statue of David, we have done it all!
Q: What are some of the best details/perks you’ve arranged for clients?
One of our clients has a dog that travels everywhere with him, and he loves to have steps placed by the bed so the dog can easily climb onto the bed with them. At one hotel, they not only built special steps but also built a dog house to match! Yes, it was for a dog, but the client was the one who really was delighted! It’s all about the special experiences that we make happen, from covering a suite in the French Riviera with thousands of rose petals in every corner to arranging winery visits (and meetings with the winemakers) that are not open to the public for private tastings. We have one client who was very anxious to go for dinner to a Michelin-starred restaurant in Spain but it was closed on the one day he would be there. But with some luck and a lot of persistence, we managed to get them to open it up for lunch for our client. The word “no” is definitely not in our vocabulary.
Q: What have you learned as an advisor in the business? What advice and/or lessons do you have for Quest‘s readers?
You can’t “VIP” yourself! You always need to continue to build relationships to get your clients the “unobtainable” and you always need to continue to invest in educating yourself to stay relevant as the most trusted source of tailored expertise as a lifestyle advisor to your clients.
For more information about Virtuoso—the world’s best luxury travel advisors and hotels—visit www.virtuoso.com.