Virtuoso Travel Advisors in Training – Elmwood School

I was thrilled to have been invited to participate in my daughter Ciara’s grade 8 technology class project earlier this year.

My daughter’s teacher, and the school’s Director of Technology, Mr. Matt Perrault, had a project for the girls. He wanted them to design travel services for a targeted client, and come up with a marketing plan. Ideally, he wanted them to use technology to help “sell” the services (and was interested in them using customized itinerary planning and video to help with the promotion.)  In addition, Matt wanted the girls’ projects to not be cookbook recipes for “how to do,” but to show some inspiration, and have an emotional connection for both the student and their proposed client.

Matt knew I was a Virtuoso travel advisor. He asked me to come speak to the class about how I design travel services, and how I deliver info to clients using today’s technology.  I gladly accepted.


But before I visited the class, the first thing I did was look at the school’s technology project design cycle. I wanted to ensure I understood how they approached projects.











Very quickly, I saw similarities in their project planning and design to how I approach my work as a Virtuoso travel advisor.  (See )



After checking with my friend, Helen Nodland, of Virtuoso, I visited the Elmwood grade 8 technology class, and invited them all to become “Virtuosos” with me.



I shared the “six phase” process of collaborative travel planning stages, taking the ideas that Helen had designed for Virtuoso, and marrying them to the grade 8 tech project “design cycle.”  (Thanks, Helen, for the inspiration!)






Virtuosos have a “discover” phase, which is a client interview to review interests, needs, and wants (as well as history and goals). That is followed by a “collaborate” phase. (Both of these first two phases match nicely to the “enquiring and analyzing” of the tech project design cycle.).  Next, for a Virtuoso travel advisor, comes the “design” phase.  (This matches nicely to the “developing ideas” of the tech project.) Only after completing the other phases does a Virtuoso get into the “reserving” or booking of the travel for clients (which matches the “developing the solution” of the tech project). Of course, then the client gets to “experience” the travel services, and return home to “share” results and outcomes (which matches the “evaluating” of the design cycle.)



I reviewed the six phases with the grade 8 class. Preparation is key, so before beginning client work, the discover and collaborate stages are important. Advisors have to be attuned to the uniqueness of a client’s situation, and must also ensure everyone in the party is represented in the plans and activities.


And to position what a Virtuoso travel advisor is all about, and the kind of experiences I try to craft for my clients, I showed the class this video (put together by a UK tour operator).



Even though my first visit was during school “pajama day,” and their normal uniforms were cast aside, their work ethic certainly wasn’t. The girls were keen to get to work.

In sharing my experiences with the grade 8 tech class, I let them know that a Virtuoso travel advisor helps clients maximize their “return on life,” and ensures clients take away wonderful memories from their vacation. A Virtuoso travel advisor helps orchestrate their clients’ travel dreams. And Virtuoso travelers then become VIPs rather than just reservation numbers when I deal with my hotelier partners. I negotiate special amenities on my clients’ behalf.


After grasping the difference between a travel “agent” who transacts sales based on price (which I am NOT), and a travel “advisor” who focuses on a relationship-based consultation services (which I AM), the girls were eager to begin work.  They embraced the Virtuoso advisor role.





This keen group of 18 began brainstorming about the trips they would focus on, who their ideal clients would be, and how they would present the trips to their clients.






Of course, the girls quickly caught on to how everything worked.







Before I knew it, they had broken into smaller teams; and each team had chosen their trip, targeted their demographic, and planned their marketing.






We were off and running!

With their targeted clients’ profiled in their minds (and even avatars selected to represent who they were), and armed with a basic outline of a trip, the teams turned their attention to the collaborative process. 

One tool that the grade 8 class found really helpful was . I use both izento and Virtuoso Travel Folio in collaborating with my clients after the interviewing, as I begin the trip design phase.
Izento is an online itinerary tool that allows me to build customized itineraries for my clients.  It also allows me to get clients’ feedback on proposals, and ensures there is open dialogue.  I could also easily share izento reports with the girls (as clients of mine can open accounts for free), so we focused our collaboration on using that tool.






To show the class how izento works,  I designed a sample trip to California, got the girls to set up their own izento account, and then invited them to collaborate with me on the proposal. They enjoyed its ease of building a detailed calendar, and keeping all travel reservations (air, hotel, transfers, cruises, etc.) in one spot. And they were able to vote on bookmarked activities, and select tours that were of interest to them.







With the basics understood, the girls jumped right in to tackling the travel dreams they had envisioned for their clients. They began building specific travel services of air, hotel, car,  tours and activities. They worked up very detailed itineraries, and planned out activities that would appeal to each member of the travelling party.





I was very impressed with the thoroughness of each team’s day-to-day planning, and the attention to detail that they showed in their carrying out of the project.  (When they couldn’t find sufficient info online, they actually called the museums in Australia to ensure the times of the tours they were quoting were accurate!).





The teams each designed their own business cards, and brochures;  and made stirring videos to help “pitch” the vacation to their client.  The videos were really quite clever, and tied music to both photos and video – a fantastic bit of promotional work!






The trips the teams had chosen were very interesting too. There was an Australia trippin’ tour, a honeymoon safari to Zambia, and a tour of major European cities of London, Paris and Barcelona!




And there were romantic trips to Italy, a girls’ getaway to Beverly Hills, California; and family trips to NYC, Orlando, Bahamas, and Turks & Caicos.

Each team had to present their marketing materials, show their movies, and “pitch” their vacation proposal to their peers.

Each team took their presentations very seriously, and outlined the reasons behind their choices for the clients. Some teams had taken their design of their business cards to include developing their own company logo. Here’s an example from Dana – hands joined around the  world.

I think each of the teams did an absolutely amazing job! As the presentations continued, everyone was keen to take at least one of the trips being proposed.

I was very proud of all of their hard work, as well as the creativity that inspired their efforts.  I’m sure any of my travel advisor colleagues would be impressed with the completed work products, and would be inspired to do what these 13 year old girls had done.

The Director of Technology, Mr. Matt Perrault, had initially challenged the teams to come up with an emotionally-charged appeal. And if you just take a couple of moments to watch their promotional movies (and just flip through some of their detailed izento itineraries), I’m sure you’ll agree that they all rose to the challenge.

I was blown away!

Ciara and Sophia – NYC at The Carlyle


Hope and Victoria – Zambia Safari


Cailin, Sheetza, Helen – Australia trippin’


Dana -Italy


Cynthia – Bahamas


Faith and Hannah – London, Paris, and Barcelona


Sijyl – Turks and Caicos


Vera, Eryn, and Lucy – Orlando 



I want to take a moment to thank my friends, Helen Nodland and Kristi Greene of Virtuoso – Helen for the inspiration in adapting the Virtuoso collaborative travel planning process; and Kristi for helping me with some tangible Virtuoso product for the “travel advisors in training.”


When Kristi heard of the grade 8 class project, she wanted to ensure the girls had all of the materials they needed to embrace their roles. Kristi very kindly fed-ex’ed me material from her office in Texas – sending 19 copies (for each student, as well as the teacher) of the Virtuoso “Best of the Best” catalogs, along with an equal number of copies of “Virtuoso Life” magazine from Jan-Feb. (As luck would have it, my client, Cindy Harrison, had been interviewed in that same issue


In addition to the publications, Kristi threw in some glorious bling in her Fed Ex package!  Each of the students received a copy of the Virtuoso red sparkly lanyards from Virtuoso Travel Week (which took place at the Bellagio in Las Vegas last August – a gathering of 4000 of the “best of the best” travel advisors, and suppliers from around the globe). Each girl was made an honorary “Virtuoso.”  And a picture of all the girls adorned with their red lanyards, and holding the Virtuoso publications, is at the top of this post.


All in all, it was a fantastic experience!


I think I learned more from the project, and being around these fantastic young women, than they may have learned from me. I certainly appreciated their energy, and enthusiasm for the project. And I really enjoyed seeing their unique takes on how to appeal to their chosen demographic.


Thank you kindly for the invitation, Matt Perrault – and to all 18 of the grade 8 technology class of Elmwood School.  I really had a blast helping you become Virtuoso travel advisors!


Sheila Gallant-Halloran