Virtuoso builds on its regional network

Virtuoso Chairman and CEO Matthew D. Upchurch speaks at its annual symposium in Dubai

Virtuoso, a leading global network specialising in luxury and experiential travel, is expanding its reach in the Middle East. It recently held a symposium in Dubai, which saw more than 400 industry professionals from 37 countries in attendance.

At the event, attendees took part in industry discussions, thought leadership sessions, deep dives into travel trends and business optimisation and one-on-one networking, while exploring one of the most dynamic cities in the world.

As Virtuoso grows its network in the region, more symposiums are expected.

The company, which began its journey in the travel sector back in 1986 under the name of Allied Percival International rebranded itself as Virtuoso in 2000. It has since been leading the charge in the luxury travel segment. Its latest regional milestone moment came when the brand officially hired its first MENA GM, Brigid McDonnell, who is in charge of the growth of its network in the region.

The news of her appointment was shared at the Dubai symposium along with the news of her duties – to implement a regional business plan, growing and managing a team and being an on-the-ground reference for the Virtuoso family.


Virtuoso reports that sales made between January-April 2024 for travel in 2025 and 2026 were up 49 per cent and future cruise sales were up 52 per cent, compared to transactions made during same time period in 2023 for travel in 2024 and 2025



On the sidelines of the symposium, Virtuoso Chairman and CEO Matthew D. Upchurch, told TTN that in order for a travel advisor to truly be effective, he or she must become a specialist in the client. “What is the difference between a transactional travel agent and a trusted travel advisor?” he asked. “It’s the way you present yourself, it’s the way you create value, it’s the way you communicate, it’s the way you get paid.”

“We have a programme called the Virtuoso-certified Travel Advisor that started years ago. When we started, we put out a team of agency owners at Virtuoso and said, ‘Look, I know we’re now calling people advisors, but let’s get real, what really is the difference, and what are our responsibilities as an agency to actually support that model of doing business, versus the previous [iteration]?” he says.

The company went on to do a white paper on the subject, making it that much easier for advisors to get on-board with the new demand in the luxury sector, which is all about personalisation and experiences. 

Having a reference point like Virtuoso is helpful; for one thing, he explains, no one can be an expert in everything. But having a network that can provide answers to clients, based on their needs and timeframes, can set the advisors link to them apart from others.

More than 20,000 travel advisors are part of Virtuoso’s global network. Reports from these agencies have allowed Virtuoso to get a coherent look at the trends in the market. One of which is the uptick in people wanting cruise experiences. Expedition trips are on the rise, confirms Upchurch. “On the luxury side, some of the expedition ships that are being built offer the best way to go see Papua New Guinea or Antarctica,” he explains. These cruises are itinerary intensive and use smaller ships. 

“Cruising is also a major satisfier of another trend, which is called skip gen travel. So skip gen travel is when the grandparents take the grandkids along on a trip. A cruise is fabulous because it’s safe, it’s much more controllable than if they’re running around in a big city somewhere.”

According to a Virtuoso survey of agency owners and managers, the top factors influencing luxury travel this year are geopolitical conflicts and political uncertainty, labour and staffing shortages, and environmental concerns or natural disasters.

When owners and managers were asked about AI, an overwhelming majority of responses across Virtuoso’s global regions revealed they see it as an opportunity, not a threat. Upchurch has coined a phrase that may be the way forward for AI. He says: “Automate the predictable, so that you can humanise the exceptional.” 

As for the number of travellers interested in luxury travel, it’s seen a rise as well. Virtuoso Executive Vice President David Kolner revealed at the Dubai symposium that there is a projected 28 per cent increase of ultra-high-net-worth individuals between 2023 and 2028, according to The 2024 Wealth Report by Knight Frank. The prediction of the influx of Virtuoso’s target travellers was consistent with the network’s sales.

Virtuoso reports that sales made between January and April 2024 for travel in 2025 and 2026 were up 49 per cent and future cruise sales were up 52 per cent, compared to transactions made during same time period in 2023 for travel in 2024 and 2025.