You may not have thought about future vacations or decided where you want to go in 2019, but the nearly 6,000 travel agents and representatives from hotels, cruise lines, resorts and airlines who gathered in Las Vegas recently have given it a lot of thought.
This annual conference was the 30th Virtuoso Travel Week. A Texas-based networking organization, Virtuoso has more than 17,500 travel-advisor members (formerly called agents) in 50 countries who specialize in luxury vacations. And this year, like the previous 17, Virtuoso took over the nearly-4,000-room Bellagio Las Vegas hotel and convention center. In its cavernous meeting rooms vendors get to showcase their wares directly to the advisors who, in turn, will be counseling clients and selling the mostly high-end destinations and one-of-a-kind experiences.
Some of these destinations include luxury European river cruises and train travel across Canada; expedition cruises to the North and South poles; private charter flights and yacht voyages; treks to Mount Everest base camps; and private tours to see the Northern Lights of Norway or live with the gorillas of Rwanda.
And then there are the cruise ships like the Celebrity Edge, the newest in the Celebrity Cruises fleet set to begin its first season in December with cruises from Fort Lauderdale to the Caribbean.
This 2,900-passenger ship features a no-curtain, theater-in-the-round that stages Cirque-du-Soleil-like, futuristic productions orchestrated by space-age technology; an over-the-top spa and luxurious “relaxation spaces”; four main dining rooms and seven specialty restaurants; and private cabanas for suite-class guests. Then there is Eden, a beyond-the-pale space with wrap-around windows that are three decks high, catwalks, and bartenders who fetch the herbs and garnishes for your cocktails from a “living wall.”
All of this comprises what promoters call the “sinful Eden experience.”
In one session at the conference, a panel of travel advisors related “wow” experiences that they had arranged for wealthy clients: a helicopter trip to the top of a mountain in Bhutan where the travelers were blessed by a monk; behind-the-scenes personal tours of Paris art museums; and a honeymoon trip to Kenya with a stopover in Dubai for dinner on a helipad.
The conference also presented representatives from the Caribbean to speak about the aftermath of 2017 hurricanes Irma and Maria, and the current state of the islands.
The area is open for business; they want travelers to know.
“Many people don’t realize that the entire area was not affected,” said one representative. “About six of the 30 islands are still in recovery, but 90 percent of the hotels and destinations have re-opened. We need tourists to come back.”
What are the current favorite destinations of the upscale crowd?
Virtuoso looked at recent purchases by this demographic, which totaled more than $40.7 billion, and found that for Americans, the top 10 destinations, starting with the most popular, are Italy, France, South Africa, Israel, Germany, Japan, Greece, United States, New Zealand and Switzerland.
Countries that have seen the largest increase in bookings, starting with the greatest increase, are Turkey, Egypt, India, Morocco, Cayman Islands, Brazil, Israel, Switzerland, Indonesia and Greece.
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E’Louise Ondash is a veteran, award-winning journalist who was an investigative reporter, feature writer and columnist for the Times Advocate and the North County Times. She has written travel features for The Coast News since 2003.