Symphony of spending: Virtuoso Travel week lures upper-end spenders

The stakes are high.

These trip advisers are booking vacations where average daily rates run at $600, private Vatican tours are the norm and visitors can meet the lord and lady of Downton Abbey.

Through today , Virtuoso Travel Week has taken over the Bellagio’s conference center, including the chapel and space at Aria and Vdara. With about 4,200 attendees from 90 countries, it’s the largest annual conference the hotel hosts and has been held at the Bellagio for 13 years.

Virtuoso, an invitation-only organization, is a global network of luxury travel agencies and travel providers that work with high net worth individuals to plan their adventures.

These travel advisers and their clients account for nearly $10 billion in annual luxury travel sales.

“The great thing about this group being in town is every high-end restaurant is booked,” said Matthew Upchurch, chairman and CEO of Virtuoso in Forth Worth, Texas.

Jack Ezon, for one, threw a party for hoteliers at Lavo on Tuesday, went to Hakkasan and dined at Scarpetta.

It’s all in the name of business.

In four minutes on Wednesday, Ezon closed a $150,000-per-night wedding held over three nights at the Rosewood Mayakoba in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

“Real business can be done here,” he said.

As president of Ovation Vacations in New York City, he came to Virtuoso with 22 travel advisers.

“This is the most important week of the year for our company,” Ezon said.

Upchurch said after the recession, people started reprioritizing discretionary spending, resulting in an increased interest in travel.

“Luxury travel is definitely on the upswing,” said Ruthanne Terrero, editorial director for Luxury Travel Advisor magazine.

It took a hit during the recession but was the first sector to come back.

“Having said that, the clientele here in some cases are so affluent that they’re just not impacted by recessions at all,” Terrero said.

What happened was some people became self-conscious about spending while others were hurting financially.

“That’s all gone away. Bragging rights are back,” Terrero said.

In the luxury travel world the trend always has been insider access and experiential travel. Small ship cruising, where travelers go to exotic locales with no more than 10 people, also has taken off in the past year.

Bobby Sweet, area director of sales for The Ritz Carlton in the Caribbean and Mexico, will take almost 400 meetings during Virtuoso Travel Week.

“It not only gives us a chance to expand those relationships that we have existing, but it’s an opportunity to build new relationships with people we don’t get to see as often,” he said.

David Hale, travel adviser for Departure Lounge in Austin, Texas came to learn about suppliers.

“You can’t know as much as you’d like just from the Internet. We’re getting to talk to and actually make connections,” Hale said.

A month-old startup, Departure Lounge plans to cater to young leisure travelers.

“It’s been a whirlwind. Obviously we’re on meeting 200 or something right now. This morning it’s almost information overload but it’s totally necessary,” Hale said.

Contact reporter Laura Carroll at or 702-380-4588. Follow @lscvegas on Twitter.

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