Almost four decades since opening and consequently becoming one of the gold standard agencies for the travel industry, Valerie Wilson Travel (VWT) is continuing to innovate.
This week, VWT kicked off its two-day immersive VWT GOALS Academy, giving its advisors the opportunity to participate in in-depth trainings and networking in New York. GOAL Academy includes a supplier trade show; trainings from suppliers like A&K, Delta Air Lines, Silversea Cruises, Windstar; a keynote from Seabourn’s Chris Austin; and much more.
According to VWT, “This event is a tremendous opportunity for us to showcase our most preferred partners and give them access to our advisors and associates, as well as our senior executives.”
For VWT, kicking off GOAL Academy is another way for the agency to differentiate itself. Part of it is welcoming new entrants into the agency world, whether they are college graduates just out of school or new-to-the-industry people starting on a different career.
“We have one of the youngest pipelines of talent in the industry,” Brian J. Buttigieg, CFO and owner at VWT said. That pipeline, aside from the new GOAL Academy, is also nurtured with a separate year-long new entrant program that includes mentorship, training classes, and fam trips.
Another part of it is enabling its advisors and associates to deal with a world that seems more disruptive than ever, with geopolitical and climate events disrupting life and travel seemingly each and every week.
Opportunities for advisors
According to a panel gathered at the Sofitel Hotel in New York to help kick off GOALS Academy — including Austin, Delta Air Lines’ Vice President of Sales Chuck Imhof, Four Seasons Senior Vice President of Global Sales and Hotel Marketing Ben Trodd, Silversea Managing Director of The Americas Mark Conroy, and Virtuoso’s CEO Matthew Upchurch — those disruptions can make a big difference in their business.
“With world events, we can move our assets as a cruise line, but it does have an immediate impact when things go wrong,” Conroy said, mentioning the fires in Australia, the troubles in Hong Kong, and the most recent issue of the norovirus in China, as things that could upend business. The new travel rules issued for Cuba last year, for example, cost Silversea $9 million of revenue in one week.
Those disruptions put more than just revenue loss on the table for travel companies. “We know we are responsible for our employees being able to feed their families,” Trodd said. “We feel a lot of responsibility in that as well.”
But according to Upchurch, those disruptions, while chaotic and upsetting to business, do give advisors a leg up. “It’s one of the strengths of the advisor channel,” Upchurch said. “It allows us to be able to sell a more nuanced and powerful message to the consumer.”
Other opportunities for advisors coming in 2020 include the increase in supply in luxury cruise sailings lined up. According to Austin, from 2016 to 2023, the luxury cruise market will see a 125% growth in supply, and advisors will be on the frontlines of the effort to find new-to-cruise clients to fill those ships.
“Our opportunity is huge,” Austin said. “We absolutely have to find new guests.” Those new guests want to connect with actual people, he said, and those new guests are open to higher- priced travel, which would provide more revenue for advisors, if they’re told what kind of value luxury travel can provide — both of which open the door to higher use of travel advisors.