Jamie Biesiada
Jamie Biesiada

Itinerary-management platforms are undeniably useful. They're good tools for presenting clean itineraries, but they're also a nice way to communicate with clients.

They have appeal from a consumer perspective, as well. I used one on a complex trip, and even though I usually prefer paper, the app surprised me. I left my paper itinerary basically untouched in my suitcase.

But do they really help advisers do their job better?

The answer, according to Virtuoso, is a resounding yes.

Three years ago, three itinerary-management platforms, Axus, Travefy and Umapped, joined the consortium's Incubator program, according to David Kolner, senior vice president of global member partnerships. All are now Virtuoso preferred partners.

The Incubator pairs startups with Virtuoso members, who test their tools and offer feedback. Some, but not all, participants go on to become preferred partners.

At a media event in New York last week, Kolner said the consortium wanted to know if the tools were actually helping advisers work more efficiently, so it researched the subject.

Virtuoso compared advisers who use the tools with advisers who don't. According to Kolner, hundreds use the tools.

Advisers that use an itinerary-management platform saw their sales grow by 29% year over year, Kolner said, while advisers who don't use them saw sales grow by 8% year over year.

"They do sell more, and it helps them be more efficient," Kolner said.

More than a million trips have been planned using one of the three tools since they became Virtuoso partners, Kolner said.

Additionally, 58% of advisers who use the tools increased the number of trips planned overall and 27% doubled the number of trips planned.

There was a 49% increase in adviser usage of the tools in 2018.

Optimism reigns

Also at the New York event, Misty Ewing Belles, managing director of global public relations, shared results from a poll taken at a Virtuoso event the week prior.

Virtuoso had asked attendees how they felt about 2019 in one word, and the results were displayed in a word cloud. The most frequent responses appeared larger than the others -- things like "excited," "optimistic" and "positive." There were a few responses like "nervous" and "anxious," but most were positive.

"Largely speaking, people are really enthusiastic about how things are going for 2019," Belles said.

Respondents were optimistic for 2019 sales, as well. Only 1% expected sales to be down from last year, while 7% expected them to be about the same. Forty-two percent said they expect sales between 1-10% higher than 2018, and 34% expect sales to be 11-20% higher. Sixteen percent expect sales to be 21% higher or more.

Advisers were surveyed one day before the partial government shutdown had ended. At that time, 84% said it hadn't affected consumer confidence, with 16% saying it had.

Perhaps more telling, though, were the number of agents who said consumer confidence at their agency had been affected by stock market fluctuations. Forty-two percent said it had been affected, while 58% responded that it had not.

Virtuoso CEO Matthew Upchurch said the stock market's performance has been the strongest correlation of health to luxury travel, not the general economy.

"It has to do with the wealth effect," he said. "You could have somebody worth $10 million and now they're worth $8 [million], and they feel poor."

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