Editor's Note: Headquarters Happenings is a regular feature that keeps you updated on the major travel agencies, host agencies, travel agency consortia, cooperatives, travel networks and franchise groups. Top executives detail how their groups grow their businesses and how their initiatives can help travel agents succeed.
At the first annual conference of the newly combined Travel Leaders Network, the agency marketing group rolled out an interactive consumer website that it said will “revolutionize” the way consumers find travel agents and drive incremental growth.
The site, a repurposed Vacation.com site, now branded simply as Vacation, was arguably the biggest announcement at the Travel Leaders Network International Conference in Orlando this month. The six-day conference represented the first time that Vacation.com, Travel Leaders Associates and Results! Travel, the three groups that merged in January to form Travel Leaders Network, came together under one roof.
Travel Leaders Network now counts 6,800 franchise and consortium agencies as members. Together their 38,000 sellers of travel generate annual travel of $17 billion. It claims to be the travel agency industry’s largest seller of cruises, tours, luxury and corporate travel.
“We’ve created one powerful force that helps each of you compete more effectively for the hearts and minds of the traveling public,” Travel Leaders Network president Roger Block, CTC, told conference attendees.
Former Vacation.com president John Lovell, CTC, took the opportunity to explain the decision to combine the leisure agency consortium with Travel Leaders’ two franchise agency groups. “We were doing things three and four times, really spreading our resources. We needed to rationalize the organization.” As one entity, the groups can use their resources to better effect––“and make us all a little more money along the way,” said Lovell, whose title is now president of Travel Leaders Network, Leisure Group and Hotel Division. “Our size is our differentiator.”
All-new ‘Vacation’ website
The “rebirth” of the Vacation.com URL, which Lovell described as being an “underutilized asset,” represents a seven-figure investment of those resources. Travel Leaders is positioning Vacation as a new brand “centered on the lifestyle journey of the customer.”
The content-rich interactive consumer website, scheduled to launch in beta this month, uses a B2B methodology called “perpetual demand generation.” The aim is to connect emotionally with consumers early in the shopping process and throughout their shopping journey and, at the right moment, inspire them to consult a travel agent, ultimately connecting them with a qualified Travel Leaders Network agent.
Travel Leaders said the process will drive business from consumers who may not have even considered using a travel agent.
The Vacation site will initially target the romance market. Consumers researching honeymoon and destination wedding travel online will see Vacation high up in their search results, thanks in part to the quality of its original content, said Stephen McGillivray, CTC, chief marketing officer for Travel Leaders Groups. After an individual clicks on the Vacation site, it will begin feeding them articles, podcasts, videos, infographics, interactive slideshows and online quizzes, all timed to match different steps in the buying process.
Along the way, the site will gather data about the consumer’s needs and preferences, while also assessing their readiness to interact with a travel agent. “At some point we’ll introduce the idea that your honeymoon to the South of France will be a better experience if someone helps you,” McGillivray said. “When they’ve absorbed enough information, we will engage them and hand them to a qualified Travel Leaders agency,” McGillivray said.
Stephen McGillivray, CTC, chief marketing officer, Travel Leaders Group
Travel Leaders Network executives also updated attendees on other programs designed to support their business. Among them is Agent Profiler, the lead generation tool behind the consumer website Travelleaders.com.
Last year, Agent Profiler delivered more than 100,000 leads to Travel Leaders agents, representing over $150 million in sales, according to Brian Hegarty, vice president of marketing for Travel leaders Group. Through the first quarter of this year, lead volume is outpacing goals by 40%. Now Agent Profiler has been upgraded so agents can expand their profiles with customer testimonials, blogposts, more photos and additional pages for each area of expertise.
On the customer engagement front, Travel Leaders Network said it pushes out 350 targeted print and email consumer promotions annually on behalf of its agents. Promotions are always under the agency’s name and with the permission of the agency, McGillivray emphasized. “We’re always going to leave the choice when to talk to your customers up to you.”
A portfolio of consumer magazines available to agents includes a newly expanded quarterly Postcards magazine for affluent customers, plus two new annual print publications, Inspired magazine and Bucket List Vacations. Also new: consortium member agents can now place their own offers in Postcards.
One marketing enhancement announced at the conference was aimed at Travel Leaders’ Canadian members. Going forward, all direct mail promotions in Canada will feature Canadian pricing. “Our Canadian members are a vibrant, very important part of Travel Leaders Network,” McGillivray said.
The group also announced an initiative to drive social media engagement via user-generated content that agents can use to connect to consumers. “We’ve built for you a singular digital hub of real content. Without it we’re not authentic. These are real stories. This is what’s driving digital engagement,” said Darren Press, creative director for Travel Leaders Group.
Hand in hand with that effort is a new website, iTravelbetter.com, that features articles, images, and narratives tied to specific promotions, as well as links to Travel Leaders agents. The content is designed to be shared by agents and consumers via social media.
Tops among the supplier programs that Travel Leaders Network spotlighted during the conference was its cruise offerings. These include its Distinctive Voyages program of hosted cruises, available on more than 500 departures; an amenities program available on nearly 2,700 sailings with 17 cruise lines, and its Culinary Collection of themed cruises.
Selling corporate travel
Travel Leaders Network also focuses heavily on corporate travel. “Our business solution is a clear differentiator between us and other agency networks,” McGillivray said.
At the conference, the organization launched Customer Success 2.0, an enhanced six-month-long intensive training program that aims to improve customer retention in part by teaching agents how to demonstrate ROI to corporate customers. The program complements Travel Leaders’ Professional Selling Certificate, a nine-month training program that has yielded an average increase of 230% in business client acquisition for participating agents.
The organization said it is also investing in corporate travel lead generation through its TravelLeadersBusiness.com website, and this year is doubling its investment in paid online search.
Also on the corporate front, last October Travel Leaders rolled out Travel Leaders 24, its own after-hours service. And in December it signed an agreement with Lufthansa City Center Business Travel, a global agency franchise group with locations in more than 90 countries, to help its agents service corporate clients with overseas offices.