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" Virtuoso is the most powerful network of independent luxury travel agencies in the world. "

What do you do when you're the president of the largest travel-booking site on the Internet and you want to take your family on a very special vacation? President Terrell Jones found himself in that predicament last year, and, of course he made most of his arrangements via But he also decided to hire a travel specialist to orchestrate additional intricate details of his vacation.

The specialist, who had extensive first-hand knowledge of the destination and personal relationships with the top travel providers there, was able to clear space in an apparently sold-out five-star hotel, secure a room upgrade, map out a wonderful "off the beaten path" itinerary, and provide the Jones family with a specially requested luxury car to drive during their vacation. In the words of Mr. Jones, "The trip was perfect."

Top Travel Specialists in America

That experience led Jones to seek out the top travel specialists in America in hopes of forging a partnership that would give customers access to specific travel specialists based upon the interests of the customers. As it turns out, the specialist he had utilized is a member of Virtuoso (formerly API Travel Consultants), an exclusive Fort Worth-based network of the top independent upscale leisure travel agencies in North and Latin America. has now launched a "Specialist Referral Network" within its website that will allow customers to search a database of Virtuoso specialist agencies and choose one specializing in the type of travel or destination the customer is seeking.

For a $25 "plan-to-go" fee, the customer is introduced to the specialist travel agency via e-mail, and an expert within the agency will contact the customer for an in-depth interview regarding the desired vacation. The fee is applied toward the service time of the specialist and the first vacation booking. From that point forward, the customer is free to access that specialist indefinitely for no additional fee to

If customers are interested in cruising on a specific ship to a specific destination, the site will introduce them to a specialist who is frequently onboard that ship and familiar with cabins, itineraries, excursions and crew. And, as a member of Virtuoso, the specialist will have access to the best values and complimentary amenities for that cruise ship. In most cases, Virtuoso will have a host onboard the ship to handle customers' needs during their vacation.

Variety of Experts

By utilizing the search engine within the new specialist referral network at, customers will be able to find a wide variety of experts, whether they're interested in the best way to discover Machu Picchu in Peru or the private gardens of Bermuda.

Virtuoso is the most powerful network of independent luxury travel agencies in the world. Comprising 244 agencies in North and Latin America, the privately owned corporation provides marketing, sales, technology support, and exclusive services and products to the member agencies and their clients. Due to its immense buying power in the luxury travel market, Virtuoso has secured exclusive agreements and values with the leading hotels, spas, cruise lines, tour companies, rail lines, airlines and ground operators around the world.

Simply using Virtuoso specialists can automatically entitle travelers to automatic upgrades, complimentary amenities, rare travel opportunities and private events not open to the public.

Experts' Top Hotels Picks in Gourmet Magazine

Virtuoso has been frequently featured in Conde Nast Traveler and other leading travel and lifestyle publications. In May 2000, Gourmet Magazine will include the recommendations of Virtuoso specialists alongside its readers' recommendations in the publications "Best Hotels" issue.


Plenty of Experience

The Virtuoso specialists available via the new specialists referral network at have an average of 20+ years of industry experience. Most are accredited with the Institute of Certified Travel Agents. has carefully chosen specific Virtuoso specialist agencies based upon sales production, frequency of first-hand experience and endorsement recommendations from the leading travel providers for each area of specialization.

Beyond finding a travel specialist, customers will be able to search a database of exclusive Virtuoso offers from the best travel companies in the world. Four search engines - cruises, hotels, land tours and adventure travel - will offer an index of the latest vacation offers. The service has launched with the cruise search engine first, and the other engines will become operational within a few weeks. In addition, each week the website will promote a "Featured Getaway."

"Many of America's most discerning travelers are already utilizing a Virtuoso travel specialist," said Matthew D. Upchurch, CTC, managing principal of Virtuoso. "Now is providing Virtuoso an extraordinary platform to build relationships with other travelers in search of the best travel experiences.

This creative partnership is truly a move "back to the future," reminiscent of decades past when travel agents were valued for their knowledge vs. their ability to merely take orders and print out tickets.

Sharing the Knowledge

" has made it easy for consumers to quickly book a flight, rent a car or reserve a specific hotel," added Upchurch, "but now customers who are in need of personal expertise and want a specialist to create an entire upscale vacation can use as a portal to the unique offerings of Virtuoso. While the advent of direct booking on-line has caused a shake-up in certain tiers of the travel agent community, it's actually being embraced by Virtuoso's specialists, who would rather spend their valuable time in the role of a consultant, who shares in-depth knowledge and connections with clients, versus sitting at a computer terminal all day processing airline tickets.

"Imagine that you could somehow combine the finest couture departments of Neiman-Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom's and Bergdorf Goodman stores under one roof that can be anywhere you want it to be. And imagine you could staff that remarkable store with the most talented service professionals from each of those upscale retailers. You'd have the most comprehensive selection of top designer products and the best personal service available anywhere in the world," said Upchurch. "That's what has now created on-line for discriminating travelers with our Virtuoso specialists."

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