Virtuoso Week panelists: Technology supports advisers

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From left, Virtuoso CEO Matthew Upchurch; MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren; Chris Cahill, AccorHotels' CEO of luxury brands; and Azamara Club Cruises CEO Larry Pimentel during Virtuoso Travel Week. Photo Credit: Jamie Biesiada

LAS VEGAS — Technology will never replace the human touch in the travel industry but it is an important piece in curating client experiences, according to executives and agents speaking last week at several panels for the media during Virtuoso Travel Week here.

“The human connection is not going to take a hike,” said Larry Pimentel, CEO of Azamara Club Cruises. “Technology is going to support it.”

According to Jim Murren, CEO of MGM Resorts, technology should be used in hospitality to place employees in front of customers.

“We’re in the experience business … Those experiences are 100% related to the customer-employee experience,” he said. “If we dial away from that, we’re going to lose that energy and excitement.”

For example, Murren said MGM recently launched a digital marketing program that enables consumers to research where they’re staying before they go. Then, he said, they can go to the concierge to fulfill their experiences, and that concierge can further tailor their options.

Technology has created a stronger desire for human connection and a need for content curation, said Terrie Hansen, Virtuoso’s senior vice president of marketing.

“There’s exponential amounts of information, which has actually created more demand for travel advisers,” she said.

At Virtuoso, from 2010 to 2015, the consortium saw membership grow 85% from both new member agencies and new advisers joining existing agencies, she said. It now has 11,400 member travel advisers.

Agents are using technology to improve their day-to-day workflow. For instance, Keith Waldon said that at Departure Lounge, a wine bar/coffee shop/travel agency he founded, customers take a short, visual survey touching upon where they’ve been, where they want to go, interests and brand favorites. Advisers use that information when they meet with clients and also intuit their budgets based on brand preferences, avoiding awkward questions during a first meeting.

“We are handling the most precious commodity for our clients, and that’s their time,” said Kimberly Wilson Wetty, co-president and co-owner of Valerie Wilson Travel. “There’s technology that helps bring us together and can help make it more efficient, but it truly is that human connection and being able to relate in a way that builds these experiences.”

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