Virtuoso Travel Week
Virtuoso Travel Week
Some of the news at Virtuoso Travel Week was beyond imagination. (Photo by Harrison Shiels)


Bits of cocktail conversations collected throughout the hallways, breakout rooms and ballrooms at which the powerful partners planned and partied.


Virtuoso Travel, through its influential network of global travel advisors and tourism partners, typically sends savvy travelers out into the world for unique experiences with VIP access to luxury and adventure. But once a year each August Virtuoso huddles those who make the travel world spin together for its Travel Week conference. The matching of presentations and expectations result in collaborations and result in billions in bookings between the magic makers who send or welcome people on cruise ships or safaris or in sweet suites and even spacecraft.

The following are bits of cocktail conversations collected throughout the hallways, breakout rooms and ballrooms of the Bellagio Resort at which the powerful partners planned and partied.


Virtuoso Travel Week
Heard in the hallways…Virtuoso’s secrets. (Photo by Harrison Shiels)


Matthew Upchurch, Chairman and CEO of Virtuoso

“Antarctica is my last continent and so I have to get there. I’m not sure I want to do the Drake Passage but we have a new Virtuoso partner called ‘White Desert,’ where you fly in, so that’s on top of my list. When we started working with Virgin Galactic in 2007 I bought a ticket and became one of the ‘Future Astronauts’ – the Founders – one of the first 84. I am going to go. I have already done my centrifuge training in Philadelphia and done the ‘zero G’ plane where you do the micro-weightlessness. I am ready to go. 

My ‘Wanderlist’ keeps getting longer. I was born in Mexico City. My father was a tour operator so Africa, as a young man, changed my life. India is in your face.  

The ‘Triple Bottom Line’ of travel is you get the joy of planning and anticipation; the excitement of the trip itself; and power of memories. When you buy a car, human adaptation dictates that even though it was cool in the beginning you get used to it quickly. Experiences, though, actually grow in importance over time. The vast majority of my memories of my childhood are related to travel.

My son Clay was in 28 countries by the time he was three years old. He may not have a memory of that but I think the infusion of experiences there opened his mind. When you go somewhere different, the human brain, while getting new data, opens your mind and you absorb more.” 

Keith Salwoski, Executive Director of Public Relations for Venetian Resorts

At The Venetian we offer a ‘Gondola University’ where you learn what it takes to be a gondolier and try it out. Someone who has their heart set on it can actually have that experience. The difference between our gondolas and the ones in Venice is that ours have little motors to help propel them. The steering and the singing are real. You have to have a good voice to be a gondolier. We work with a local talent agency to find them. 

Working in Las Vegas is a lot of fun. It’s great to live every day in a place people crave to go and it’s great to get caught up in it. We have 7,000 suites here at The Venetian – every room is a suite. Everything you need is here. We have an entire mall that goes through the building. The Venetian has four theaters and nightclubs…and right outside our doors is the Las Vegas Strip. There is always a good time to be had and something to do. 

And Vegas has become one of the world’s great culinary cities. We have 40 restaurants here at The Venetian. Just in the last few years we’ve opened 12 new ones including Estiatorio Milos – a Greek restaurant (with fresh fish flown in from the Mediterranean) and Brera Osteria – an Italian restaurant modeled after the sidewalk cafes of the Brera district of Milan.  Majordomo is Chef David Chang’s newest restaurant. It’s very meat and fish-centric in a celebratory atmosphere.”


Keith Salwoski Venetian Resort
The Venetian Resort’s Keith Salwoski with MPS. (Photo by Harrison Shiels)


Peter Greenberg, CBS News Travel Editor and

“Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos did not go to space. They went to ‘space adjacent.’ They’re not astronauts. The Russian monkey in Sputnik did the exact same thing in 1959. Let’s not kid ourselves. If you want to charge me $250,000 so I get to buy the uniform and then call myself an astronaut, that’s a little delusional. This was a nice stunt. If I don’t get up there I’m okay because there is so much to do here on earth.  

All four of my homes are on water. I live on three islands and a boat. Anytime I am on the water I am a happy guy. But I am not home much because of what I do. I don’t want people to think I am on the beach – I am not. I go to Beirut and Turkey the way people go to Queens. 

There are 196 countries in the world. The State Department advisories are somewhat ludicrous. They may be well-intentioned but they don’t really help anybody because they paint with too broad a brush. When I was 21-years old it dawned on me no one was covering travel as the process itself. I immersed myself in the process of travel. I am not destination-driven; I am process-driven. I got trained in cockpits and simulators. I got trained on ships and became a Coast Guard Captain. I have jump seat authority on planes. All because I need to ask the right questions.”

Misty Belles, Virtuoso’s Global Public Relations Director

“It is surreal to appear in front of those bright lights on the “Today Show” across from Hoda and Jenna and the folks there, but they are so welcoming and warm and professional that they immediately put their guests at ease. It makes it such a fun experience. I’ll tell you it is the fastest three to four minutes of my life. The fact that I get to share how to travel with several millions of my closest friends is the most exciting part. I get to introduce people to travel they might not have otherwise experienced. That’s how I got exposed to travel. I grew up in a tiny town in south Texas and could only dream of one day seeing the Eiffel Tower or the Acropolis or any of the other amazing sites. If I can bring that to someone and inspire them to travel, my work here is done.”


Virtuoso Misty Belles
Virtuoso’s Misty Belles presents Virtuoso’s influence. (Photo by Harrison Shiels)


Ben Trodd, Senior Vice-President of Sales and Marketing for Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts Worldwide

The New Four Seasons Hotel in New Orleans is stunning. It’s fun to see what we’re doing in that city. One of my daughters goes to college there and I’ve been eagerly awaiting its opening. It has a beautiful rooftop restaurant and a great music scene. The room product there is very special.

Our guest profile within Four Seasons is becoming an increasingly millennial guest. The average age of a Four Seasons guest is 43-years old. There is a perception we operate in an older age group. Our guests want to go to Charlotte and Nashville and Minneapolis and New Orleans and we’re opening in these types of cities. It gives us a chance to connect with the culture of the cities. We take pride in it and it’s fun for us.

Harriet Baskas,

“I once found myself stuck at an airport in Kentucky and, after three hours, I decided there needed to be a guide to things to do at airports. Airports are a doorway to a town – the first place a visitor sees when they arrive and the last when they leave. But there is a magic to airports. There are so many stories in that space.  

San Francisco Airport is the only airport in the U.S. with an accredited museum program, so I really try to plan long layovers there because there are 20 museum quality exhibits at any one time. 

Detroit Airport has a monorail in the middle to get you from one place to another, so it’s like an amusement park. I like that there is a secret TSA entrance that you can take through the Westin Hotel. We think of O’Hare in Chicago as having all the neon but Detroit has some too.

I once bought a roller to measure distances and walked through all the terminals at the Los Angeles Airport. I walked from the Tom Bradley International Terminal to where the smaller aircraft are at the other end and it was almost a mile.”


Harriet Baskas who covers the airport industry, looks over oysters at Majordomo. (Photo by Harrison Shiels)


Doug Gollan, Editor in Chief, Private Jet Card Comparisons

“The smaller and medium private aviation jets are like being in an SUV. The benefit is you show up at the airport with your bags 15 minutes before you are ready to go. You’re generally out of the airport in 10 minutes. The only downside is whoever is in your will is going to inherit less money. Just generically it’s about $5,000 to $20,000 per hour depending on the size of the jet and where you’re going. 

The really luxurious jets are the VIP airliners you see more of in the Middle East. Royal Families basically take a Boeing 747 or 777 that would normally have 400 passengers and they custom configure it with staterooms and dining rooms and chandeliers and showers. They have cargo bays for sports cars and polo ponies. Some of these would put Air Force One to shame and make it look utilitarian.”

Christopher Cameron, New York Post Real Estate and Travel Editor

“The real estate market in the Hamptons has been insane this summer. It was already the most expensive but now everybody bought and doubled-up and extended. It’s just a nightmare getting out there right now. A car rental for the weekend is $500. There are no hotel rooms. You have to know somebody with a big mansion. When you’re in one of these mansions surrounded by captains of industry, power players, celebrities and masters of the universe, there are servants who are models and private chefs. They live outrageous lives and I like to write about them.”


Virtuoso Travel Week Las Vegas
Virtuoso is more vital than ever. (Photo by Harrison Shiels)


Read more on Michael Patrick Shiels’ travel blog, The Travel Tattler. Contact Travel Writer Michael Patrick Shiels at [email protected]

Michael Patrick Shiels

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