One year after Travel Leaders Network merged three brands, the company is seeing the fruits of its combination heading into 2018, where all economic indicators bode for continued success, company executives said.
“We’re really encouraged,” said John Lovell, CTC, president of the Travel Leaders Network and Leisure Group. “All the economic indicators point towards a big year” in travel sales.
Speaking at a press conference in New York City, Roger Block, CTC, Travel Leaders president, talked about the cooperation the company is now experiencing following the merger of Vacation.com, the Results! Travel franchise brand and Travel Leaders that took place on Jan. 1, 2017. Since then, Vacation.com was rebranded as Vacation, while Travel Leaders has been integrating the three companies under one corporate culture, he and other executives said.
Block called 2017 “a very rewarding year. When we look at sales, new membership, it was a most successful year.” In total, Travel Leaders added 300 new agents to the network.
The company rolled out a new version of the Vacation.com website at its first annual conference in Spring 2017, designed to drive consumers to its agents, and has been fine tuning it ever since.
Approximately 4,700 advisors are currently listed in the TravelLeaders.com “Find a Travel Agent” website, representing expertise in 135,000 destinations and 53,000 niche specialties, and those agents saw 27 percent more qualified sales leads in 2017 versus 2016 through Travel Leaders’ enhanced Agent Profiler tool.
Focus on sales skills
Through its Vacation website and Agent Profiler tool, Travel Leaders is capturing more consumer travel web search purchasing data, with the desire to increase close rates from about 25 percent today, said Jeremy Van Kuyk, vice president of technology.
“Increasing the closing percentage alone will create huge increases in gross sales,” he said.
Additionally, the company wants to drive deeper destination expertise by better qualifying agents attending fam trips. Perry Lungmus, vice president of sales, said agents attending Travel Leaders approved fam trips will need to meet more “strict criteria” through an online application form.
“That form asks some in-depth questions that will reveal whether they are qualified,” Lungmus said. Suppliers can customize the Travel Leaders 20-question template for their specific product or niche, with the intent being to approve agents with true productivity, tenure and the ability to drive sales post-trip.
Lungmus also spoke about focusing on adventure travel sales, including working more with overseas adventure tour and activity suppliers who haven’t traditionally paid commissions. He explained how there is a large segment of adventure tour operations who “don’t understand how agents offer value,” he said. “Most of these suppliers say they don’t know about the US market and want to learn about the channel.”
Travel Leaders will be working intently with adventure travel associations, their supplier members and agents to better educate both sides of the sales equation.
Refining business travel sales
Block also said Travel Leaders is working with its corporate members to help them source and respond to managed travel opportunities. He called a newly developed lead generation program “one of the most exciting initiatives” for 2018, to be launched later in the first quarter.
Speaking about the expense for smaller agencies to employ a sales team to conduct sales calls and respond to requests for proposals, he described how Travel Leaders is building automated tools that can help identify Travel Leaders agencies best suited for corporate clients. The company is providing additional support through a dedicated corporate sales team of four to assist member agencies, as well as certified sales and account retention training.
Expanded 2018 cruise program
Travel Leaders also announced its 2018 cruise program, doubling the number of itineraries to 3,500 this year, on more than 17 cruise lines. The company’s Distinctive Voyages collection will be adding hosted sailings with Crystal River Cruises, said Karin Viera, vice president of sales.
Distinctive Voyages, which grew passenger bookings by 20 percent last year, includes complimentary amenities like private cocktail receptions and exclusive shore excursions. Non-hosted plans from Travel Leaders include amenities like shipboard credits, specialty dining and prepaid gratuities with 17 cruise lines.
The 2018 offering will also include a “Car and Driver” option in its Distinctive Voyages collection that was soft launched in the fourth quarter of 2017. Clients can opt for a private car and driver for scheduled tours or completely independent use, like visiting a friend or a favorite restaurant, Viera said.
Additionally, Travel Leaders announced that its annual conference will be held June 12-16 in Las Vegas, and has been renamed EDGE, an acronym for “Educate, Discover, Gather, Evolve.” Travel Leaders is expecting upwards of 3,000 attendees. More than 2,100 travel agents and industry executives attended the company’s 2017 conference in Orlando.
Travel Leaders Network now counts 6,800 franchise and consortium agencies as members. Together their 38,000 sellers of travel generate annual travel of approximately $17 billion.