LAS VEGAS — In an effort to help travel agents better connect with their family clients, Virtuoso is developing a program it calls Journey to Global Citizenship, designed to give agents the tools to develop long-term travel strategies for families.

“It’s about having a more conscious strategy based on where are the appropriate places for kids at what ages but also how to identify the places you want to go based on your own family values and your own view of the world,” Virtuoso CEO Matthew Upchurch said during the consortium’s annual member event Virtuoso Travel Week earlier this month.

“Instead of just looking at the next trip and the next trip, it’s having a kind of map of whether two years from now is the right time to take them on safari, and whether now is the time to take them to D.C., etc.”

Upchurch noted that many agents who are successful in the family market have already integrated this type of strategy into their business. But now Virtuoso is working on developing the concept into a brand and building tools around it so that a larger number of its members can tap into the program for their own multi-generational clients.  

Journey to Global Citizenship is part of a larger focus on long-term travel planning that encompasses the Return on Life program, which culminated in a partnership that was launched earlier this year between Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Virtuoso. Under the partnership, Merrill Lynch financial advisers recommend Virtuoso travel agents to their clients as part of Merrill Lynch Clear, a wealth-management program that looks at how clients would like to use their retirement savings.

Participating Virtuoso agents go through a training program educating them about the Clear program as well as about the Merrill Lynch philosophy and customer.

“Return on Life is the way we brand it for consumers who already value financial advisers,” Upchurch said. “Why would you have a financial adviser in your life and pay them to have a conscious strategy over your financial assets but not have somebody in your life to help you have a conscious strategy over your most valuable, nonrenewable asset, your free leisure time?”

He noted that just as Return on Life enables Virtuoso members to tap into Merrill Lynch customers’ needs and desires, Journey to Global Citizenship will ultimately help members tap into those of families.

Establishing these more meaningful connections with clients, he explained, is about developing longer-term business relationships, but it is also about elevating the role of the travel seller.

“Our consumer research has proven several times that the single most important thing that a consumer [says] makes a travel agent transactional versus truly an adviser is whether or not they have a conversation after the trip,” said Upchurch.

“What we’re trying to do is not just look at the next trip, but let’s look over the next [several years]. ‘OK, your child is 10. You’ve got eight years until they’re in college. So what do we do? How do we put the right places and the right things [to do] in place?’”

Journey to Global Citizenship is still in its pilot phase as Virtuoso focuses on fine-tuning the Return on Life program with Merrill Lynch first.

Virtuoso expects to unveil additional information about the new program during its global agency management meetings in January and February.

For now, there are several articles about the concept on the Virtuoso website.

Visitors to the site are also given the option to search for Virtuoso members who specialize in family travel.

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