Fortune has come out with an interesting follow-up story to our previous post about Sir Richard Branson’s out-of-this-world venture Virgin Galactic, which aims to bring space tourism to America.
Some 600 affluent travelers — including plenty of intrepid baby boomers — have plunked down up to $250,000 each to be among the first passengers on a commercial flight into space, which could happen as early as 2014, though previous target dates have come and gone. With six passengers scheduled for each flight, that would already amount to 100 sold-out flights.
According to Fortune, one travel agency — Virtuoso — has landed exclusive rights to book passengers throughout the Americas onto the flights.
Virtuoso — which bills itself as “the travel industry’s leading luxury network” — includes more than 330 agencies with 7,200 “Advisors” (agents) in 20 countries throughout the Americas, Australia and New Zealand.
Virtuoso reportedly rang up more than $12 billion in sales last year — which Fortune notes is pretty impressive in these days of Internet bookings.
Among the 7,200 Advisors are 56 accredited “space agents,” Fortune reports, who nurture Virgin Galactic customers through the pangs of waiting for their $250,000 to be put to use as well as other details such as required medical tests.
“Virgin Galactic wanted a company that could come in and demystify the experience,” Virtuoso’s chief executive Matthew Upchurch (himself scheduled to be among the early passengers hurtled into space) told Fortune. “It is about humanizing the experience and making it more reachable.”
Indeed, Virtuoso’s success can apparently be attributed to creating travel “experiences” for all its clients, including the vast majority who intend to spend their vacations on earth.
According to Virtuoso’s website, its travel Advisors will “help you create unique journeys and explorations in every corner of the globe,” gaining access to “special perks and amenities” only available through Virtuoso; provide “an enthusiastic professional whom you can rely on before, during, and after every trip;” and offer up “exclusive luxury resorts and properties and once-in-a-lifetime experiences.”
It does seem that Virtuoso’s concierge-style approach is the wave of the future for travel agents, and not just in outer space.
Fortune quotes one travel analyst as saying that successful travel agents today have been forced to shift “from being order makers to dream makers.” In short, today’s travel agents have to go beyond just booking flights, hotels and cruises, and use their expertise to help fashion journeys that their clients will find stimulating, memorable and even, to some degree, challenging.
The trick is for agents to arrange things so that the challenges arise from memorable travel activities, sights, and encounters with new people rather than the mechanics of just getting there and back or finding a suitable hotel room.
I know that baby boomers are indeed looking for meaningful experiences when they travel, even if they have to pay more for the privilege. And if travel agencies can help provide those, while making the journey somewhat more comfortable in the process, then they should thrive much like Virtuoso does.
First, though, in the case of Virgin Galactic, there is the challenge of just getting off the ground — safely. And that may require Virtuoso to nurture their most ambitious clients a bit longer than hoped. Stay tuned.
Meanwhile, be sure to download my free report, “How to Ride the Coming Wave of Boomers,” available here. It’s all about the best ways to market travel to baby boomers — the biggest-spending group of travelers the world has ever seen. It’s also the easiest way to subscribe to my blog, so you won’t miss a posting. Thanks!