PaxnewsWest.com sat down with Christine James, vice-president Canada, TL Network and Roger Block, president, Travel Leaders Network at the company’s recent Vancouver annual regional meetings to talk about the business of selling travel.
PNW: What’s new at Travel Leaders Network?
Roger Block: We’ve got some enhancements going on to our existing program, and we merged our three divisions.
We had three different groups: Travel Leaders, which was a franchise group; Results Travel and Vacation.com. There was a lot of reasons for it; there were acquisitions. Travel Leaders group started in 2008; we have gone from one franchise company with $5 billion US in sales to Travel Leaders group which is $22 billion US.
We were splitting our buying power three different ways, which in negotiations is probably not the smartest. By leveraging all three, we’ve been able to increase our marketing funds, the amount of pieces we do and the number of promotions we do. I think this year we’ll be about to do 130 to 135 different promotions with various suppliers. As an agency, you don’t have to do them all, but on the other hand, you choose which ones you want and some of the agencies participate in the vast majority and some don’t.
What we’ve really been able to do is allow people to take advantage and really go with whatever their model is.
The franchise group developed specialty education programs and what we found was, for example, was to be a wedding/honeymoon or luxury vacation specialist, it’s not just a four-hour course. Most of the people that go through one of our training programs, to be certified, take about a year to a year and a half. It’s online training, it’s in-person training. It’s really, really getting in-depth.
We know the consumer wants to talk to specialists. We know the comsumer wants to talk to somebody who has an in-depth knowledge of a destination or a type of cruise, or whatever their interest. And they are seeking those people out. We are seeing our average transaction continue to grow. We are seeing the number of consumers who are saying I would like help with whatever through our agent profiler lead source. It continues to grow.
Christine: We have a separate consumer website for Canada – canadiantravelagents.ca – and currently we have 450 of our agents that have published their profiles. The customers come into the site, they can search by specialist. They can search by [agency location]. Year to date – Oct. 1 – we’ve delivered over 3,020 leads to our active profiles and that’s a 55 per cent increase over the same time last year.
And when we look at the average sale, it is upwards of $5,000.
Roger: One thing Christine didn’t mention: how would you like to be able to close 25 per cent of your leads? Our closing rate is that high. And these people have never dealt with our agents before. They are going online and saying I’d like a specialist in African safaris, Alaska cruise, whatever.
PNW: How is the company’s growth?
Christine: We’ve had great growth in Canada. This year we’ve signed up 42 new members across Canada, split 21 in Eastern Canada and 21 out west. There are close to 700 locations in Canada, with about 85 to 90 per per cent bricks and mortar. And still growing, year over year.
Everyone uses their own brand, it is an affiliate model in Canada under the Travel Leaders network brand.
Our philosophy with our membership, that’s something I think has really helped us with our growth as well as our retention of membership. We say whatever you’ve got that you feel is better, or that’s your sweet spot, keep that. We just want to add to what you’ve got to help you grow.
PNW: How do you see travel over the next couple of years?
Christine: When I look to future bookings, it’s really healthy. Our hot sellers are Cuba, the DR, Jamaica, Mexico East. In Europe, Italy is still the strongest seller and in North America it’s Vegas and Florida. We’ve seen a spike in adventure travel as well.
Roger: What’s surprising is how much we are growing in the luxury and upscale sectors. The river cruise segment is really growing for us. The Med is looking fairly good. It’s not just mass-market, our group is really selling higher and higher end business.
If I were an agency next year, I’d be looking at a strong year, I’d be promoting, I’d be [looking at] how to acquire more agents, how to involve myself with the new technology, so I can become as efficient as possible. I think '18 is going to be a good year.