It's not just the rhinestones shining brightly in Nashville, Tennessee this week.
When it comes to the travel industry, "the news today is excellent and the forecast for tomorrow is even better," Roger Block, president of Travel Leaders Network, told more than 1,700 attendees at this year's Travel Leaders Network EDGE conference.
The numbers and trends, he added, are all pointing the right direction.
Those numbers include:
- Some 1,300 travel advisors attending the sold out EDGE conference, which Block added, could have surpassed 2,000 had the space at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center allowed it.
- 86 new Travel Leaders Network Affiliate members in 2023 Q1 alone (48 in Canada in 2022, the highest-ever in a single year)
- 215,000 leads – representing $324 million in sales and $29 million in commission – delivered to members in 2022 – 43% higher than in 2021 and 24% higher than the pre-pandemic high of 2019
- 97,000 leads since January 1, 2023, putting lead generation numbers on the path to surpass 2022 by 54%
- Billions – The number of dollars Travel Leaders Network sells in cruise alone
"A year ago, we spoke about travel rebounding quickly and building some serious momentum," Block said. "It turns out people from every corner of the country couldn't wait to travel again and they come to you, their trusted travel advisors to make that happen. Not only did bookings and sales bound back, but we've experienced a significant higher average sale per transaction. This is the news we've literally waited years to report… the news in the travel industry today is excellent and the forecast for tomorrow is even better."
Luxury Perception Problem
While the numbers for Travel Leaders Network are almost better than they've ever been, one area in which Block says the consortium continues to lag behind is the perception of the group as a mass market-focused group.
"A lot of people consider us nothing but mass market retailers. It's anything but that," he said.
"Perception is one of those things that's hard to break," he told TMR in a sit-down interview. "I think people are surprised when they look at our numbers."
Suppliers, he added, are less surprised. "They now realize who and what we're doing," he said.
Without naming names, John Lovell, president of Travel Leaders Group, told trade press during a media session that the amount of luxury bookings Travel Leaders Network makes outpaces any of the more well-known luxury consortia.
"In some cases, it's not even close," Lovell said, adding "I can talk to any luxury supplier, they know our value. And, our value, in some cases, can be 40% of their overall business."
But while Block said he'd like to see the industry as a whole have a better understanding of Travel Leaders Network's luxury capabilities and numbers, he added he doesn't need Travel Leaders Network to be known as a luxury consortium.
Because of its massive size, Travel Leaders Network can be all things to all advisors. An advisor that wants to focus on mass market or premium will find all the preferred suppliers and tools they need to be successful, just as an advisor that wants to only focus on luxury travel will.
In addition to sharing the rosy outlook for advisors, Travel Leaders Network executives talked about what's new with the consortium including two new Leader Alliances and an all-new cruise booking platform currently in beta testing.
Travel Leaders Network is tossing out its CruisePro cruise booking system, which has been in place since 2012, and replacing it with an all-new booking engine.
"Thousands of agents have relied on CruisePro for the past decade to book cruises for their clients," said Cory Voss, vice president of technology for Travel Leaders Group. "Over the past three years it has become increasingly clear that CruisePro was no longer meeting your needs and therefore no longer meeting our needs."
Complete, which Voss referred to as a "silver bullet," allows advisors to access real time pricing and availability for 22 major ocean and river cruise lines.
The one-stop shop enables advisors to provide clients with emailed quick quotes, book into their own agency groups, compare and share up to four sailings across four different brands in a single email, book up to four cabins (each with different passenger counts, stateroom categories, and prices) on the same sailing at the same time, and allows for full post-booking modifications, as well as the ability to work on three different itineraries for three different clients at the same time.
Cruise Complete also integrates fully with ClientBase and AgentMate, and Canadian advisors using the system will find all pricing in Canadian dollars.
The booking engine, which comes fully online by the end of June is free for members to use for the first six months, then costs $300 per agency for the year. However, for every booking made on the system, agencies will earn a $5 per booking credit, up to $300 annually to offset the cost.
New Leader Alliances
Travel Leaders Network's Leaders Alliances are sub-communities for like-minded agencies to network and help each other. The Alliances launched in 2021 with the Luxury Leaders Alliance and the Independent Advisor Networks Leaders Alliance.
"Because of TLN's size, we are fortunate enough to have many member who are incredibly successful in their areas," said Block. "It made sense to develop communities where these people could learn from their peers. Alliance members have proven their expertise through their sales, and by banding together, can have better access to supplier partners in their area, new ideas, and new contacts."
This past February, TLN launched the Honeymoon & Destination Wedding Leaders Alliance, which is open to TLN members with more than $500,000 in annual honeymoon and/or destination wedding sales. Some 53 agencies and/or advisors have already been accepted into the Alliance.
Starting in June, Travel Leaders will launch the Technology Leaders Alliance, open only to owner and manager-level members who use technology to increase sales and productivity.
Other tech and marketing enhancements within the Travel Leaders Network this year are:
- Social Share Pro (complimentary), which, when given permission, shifts the responsibility of posting pre-populated social media content from the advisor to Travel Leaders
- Agent Profiler "Super Agent" (complimentary), which gives advisors the opportunity to earn "Super Agent" status and rise to the top of TravelLeaders.com consumer searches by enhancing their Agent Profiler profiles with customer reviews, multiple bios, photo albums and more
- Direct mail photos, which will see all direct mailers sent to clients be printed with a photo of their travel advisor on them
This year's EDGE conference offers more than 200 workshops, six general sessions, a half-day trade show, an Experience Lounge for attendees to learn about Travel Leaders Network's proprietary services, and more. Two pre-EDGE events included a Luxury Forum for members of the Luxury Leaders Alliance and a Host Agency Forum for members of the Independent Advisor Leaders Alliance.