Sandy Cutrone is just like any
other meeting and incentive planner, except her requests are
handled faster than other planners’, and her attendees are treated
with more care than other attendees.
No, she’s not bribing every hotelier and destination management
company in her path. She simply has access to a tool, known mostly
to carriage-trade travel agents, called Virtuoso.
“Over and over again, we hear from guests that they felt as if
they were visiting royalty,” says Cutrone, president of European
Connection, a Roslyn Heights, N.Y.-based agency for individual and
group travel to Europe, and a Virtuoso member for seven years. “I
regret that I didn’t join sooner.”
Virtuoso, a Fort Worth, Texas-based consortium designed to help
travel agents book luxury vacations, isn’t meant for meeting
planners, but some agents who plan group travel, Cutrone included,
have quietly put Virtuoso to work in their meetings. With their
help, so can you.
What is Virtuoso?
Known variously over the past 50 years as Allied Travel
and API, Virtuoso is a consortium of travel agents, hotels,
airlines, cruise lines and DMCs (referred to as “On Sites”), all of
whom specialize in luxury travel. The agents agree to work with the
preferred suppliers, and in return, their customers are treated
like heads of state. Individual travel is booked based on bulk
rates, and a plush amenity, such as a room upgrade, massage or
shore excursion (for cruises) is provided gratis.
Virtuoso also is the country club of travel alliances,
according to its members. Just 331 travel agencies in North
America, Latin America, the Caribbean, Australia and New Zealand
belong, and any new applicant must either be invited or laudatorily
referenced by current members. It’s rumored that the group accepts
only one of every 300 applications. Dues vary but are said to be
substantial. In addition, members must commit to buying a large
amount of travel from certified suppliers. They say it’s worth
“It’s the premier organization in the travel industry, hands
down,” says Gerard Bellino, executive vice president of Raleigh,
N.C.-based TQ3Navigant Vacations. “There’s no other relationship
we’re interested in.”