Valerie Wilson gets the Nobel of luxury travel

At Cannes’ Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, Monday 2 December 2019, the annual Mary Gostelow Award was presented to Valerie Wilson, the hugely-admired founder and head of New York-based Valerie Wilson Travel. Over 35 years she has built this into a network over 300 trusted travel advisors, led by her Co-CEOs, her daughters, Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg and Kimberly Wilson Wetty. Joining Valerie Wilson onstage for photos were previous winners of the Award, Mary Gostelow, Matthew Upchurch and Geoffrey Gelardi.

In naming Valerie Wilson for the honour, Gelardi said, “We go back a long time. We go back to the Bel Air hotel many, many years ago, when she was just starting up her agency. She is one of the most respected individuals in the travel industry. She has certainly never been afraid to speak her mind, nor has she ever shied away from controversy. She is one of the most devoted and passionate members of this industry. There are few industry awards that she hasn’t received. I gave her an award in the 90’s – not long after her agency opened – for the highest productivity for Rosewood hotels at the time. Above and beyond all of her industry fame, she is one of the most sophisticated, generous, and certainly one of the most elegant people in our industry.”

After living and traveling internationally, Valerie Ann Wilson decided to open a travel consulting firm to offer what she believed was lacking in the industry… first-hand knowledge and dedicated service. In the past 35+ years, her small consulting firm has flourished and prospered to become one of today’s largest private, women owned, debt free and family managed travel consulting firms in the United States. Despite its growth from a small office business to a travel industry powerhouse, Valerie Wilson Travel has managed to maintain the personalized touch and devotion to customer service that set them apart in the first place. Headquartered in New York City, with an international client base, her company currently has offices nationwide located in the Northeast and Southeast corridors, in the Midwest and on the West Coast.

Accepting the award, Ms Wilson stated, “Thank you for the kind words. I don’t think I deserve them. I just love this industry beyond description. I think that travel is probably the best education you can give to a child and to an adult today, because with each trip you take, you have a new experience, a new exposure, and hopefully you have done something a little better – to make the world a better place. ILTM has certainly done that for many people in the travel industry. I think that probably Matthew Upchurch and Virtuoso did it most for me. Because I was not afraid to be outspoken. I was not afraid to try and create a business 38 years ago when luxury travel really didn’t exist from the agency side in a big way. We all have the opportunity to share this around the world, and make it a better place.”

IFTM’s Global Forum explored the vast reach of 21st-century luxury travel, a reach that extends far further into traveller’s lives. Today, a powerful and influential group of ultra HNW and HNW consumers are ceasing to identify as “luxury travellers”, preferring to view travel as a gateway to experiences like philanthropy, conservation, wellness, cultural & intellectual pursuits, sport and more.

With travel as the means but not an end in itself, individuals in higher-income categories no longer always feel the need to upgrade into luxury as income and wealth rises. Instead, travel categories are converging, and travel brands find themselves at the centre of a vast new, eco-system. So, how do we respond? What do we need to know to navigate through this transformation, and what will “luxury” look like in the future?

The forum featured three keynoters addressing these issues:


Dr Kjell A. Nordström is the interpreter of the new business world. He suggests that our time is unique. We are probably at the beginning – not even the middle – of the fastest business model transformation since the 1850s.

In his talk, Hot Capitalism and the Art of Making Money 4.0, Dr. Kjell explored how technological betterment, institutional innovation and a maelstrom of value changes are setting a whole new agenda.

One of the key predictions of Dr Nordström is the fact that while today, 52% of all people live in the suburbs, by 2050, rather than considering the planet as a collection of 200 countries, we will consider it as a collective of 600 urban environments. “Those 600 urban environments will be 80-85% of the world’s population, and 90-95% of the value created on the planet.”

“We will live on significantly less than 2% of the landmass of this planet”, he went on. “And the interesting this is that we see the same phenomenon in Australia, China, Finland, Canada, the US, Poland and Iran. It seems to be totally independent of system, policies, values, anything.”


Tamara Ingram joined J. Walter Thompson Company in 2016 as CEO, heading up the agency’s global network of more than 12,000 employees, across more than 200 offices and 90 countries. In 2011, Tamara was awarded an OBE by Queen Elizabeth II for services to tourism through her work as Chairman of Visit London.

In her talk, Luxury travel redefined: Branding for the conscious age, Tamara explored how eco-conscious consumers are demanding ethical practices, responsible behaviour and innovation from brands.  

She underlined the importance of well-being in travel – “whether it’s spiritual, whether it’s mental or physical,” stating it is just as instrumental in luxury travel as is experience.”

Ingram said she wanted attendees to leave with three key points. Firstly, that every agency has a sense of purpose, and you have to be able to communicate that purpose… as the conscience-driven consumer is interested in purpose-driven company or brand. The second factor is sustainability, which, she says, is top of every agenda. The third area is transparency. It’s critically important that everything one does is transparent, to one’s people, to the communities around us, and the way we communicate.

“It’s very clear to me that people are making choices based on the stances that brands and companies make. It’s about the ethics. It’s about associating yourself with brands you want to be proud of,” said Ingram.  

“Sustainability is here to stay, and we need to create sustainable cultures around us and make a positive contribution to the world”, she said.


As US Surgeon General, Dr Carmona was committed to improving the quality and quantity of life. He currently holds a leadership role at Canyon Ranch as the Chief of Health Innovations. In his talk, Optimal Wellness as the catalyst for Conscious travel, Dr Carmona explored the journey from wellness warrior to conscious citizen of the world, in an age where everything is interconnected.

“We are at a critical juncture, when this opportunity is before us, of the consciousness of being environmentally sensitive, of understanding social responsibility, understanding that we want to incorporate this new science in optimising our wellness, which in turn will reduce the cost of care, food quality and quantity of life, for we all want to live longer, younger, happier, cheaper… maybe sexier,” said Dr Carmona.

“Think through the consciousness continuum. Think about what each of you can do, to do those socially responsible, environmentally sensitive things, but also to change the health of individuals, communities and our world, and create a sustainable planet,” he added.

This was the finale of the opening Global Forum of the 18th International Luxury Travel Market ILTM. Welcomed by ILTM Portfolio Director Alison Gilmore, the Forum speakers were undoubtedly, taken as a whole, the most relevant and powerful ever.

Yes, it was highly professional and an excellent start to ILTM, which runs in Cannes through Thursday 5 December. #iltm_events


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