Educate. Discover. Gather. Evolve.
In Conversation with TL Network’s John Lovell and Christine James
Despite worldwide political unrest especially south of the border with President Trump in the headlines daily, top executives of North America’s largest network of professional travel agents, Travel Leaders Network cite little to no effect in business at its annual international trade show.
Judging by the record numbers of registrants at the first-ever Travel Leaders EDGE Conference held earlier this summer in Las Vegas, travel trumps the US President. The travel organization attracted over 2,000 attendees, of which 200 delegates were from Canada, had a sold-out trade show with 500 exhibitors, and introduced a new hotel marketplace, in addition to the dozens of workshops and networking opportunities.
In a Canadian Travel Press exclusive, John Lovell, CTC, president of Travel Leaders Network and Leisure Group and TL Network Canada vice-president, Christine James, share some success stories, the effect of new programs for Canadian members and whether the “Trump Effect” has affected the bottom line at this year’s EDGE Conference.
Canadian Travel Press (CTP): Has there been a Trump Effect for your members at this year’s conference?
John Lovell (JL): Travel brings people together inherently and politics aside, the economy is doing well in the US and in Canada. The US Federal Reserve just pointed out the GDP is going to come in at 2.8% this year. We’re humming along.
Christine James (CJ): I don’t think he has had any influence whatsoever, and, we’re talking to our members. If they didn’t come, it was for another reason. There was no mention of Trump. We also had the second-best Canadian representation at our conference since our tenth anniversary.
CTP: And the tariff situation?
JL: You look at the tariff situation, if you’re a travel agent are you going to have the tariff situation impact your own decision to travel and your livelihood is in travel? I’m not sure that’s the best route to take.
CTP: We have a bad Canadian dollar.
CJ: Yes, our dollar is really sinking. It’ll bounce back, but still better than what it was six months ago when we hit an all-time low. And you know things are so resilient. Even after 9/11 (Canadian travellers) were the first to get back on the saddle and started travelling again. We don’t scare off easily, in general. I think our bad weather also helps us.
CTP: What’s the update on Vacation.com?
CJ: What’s really exciting for the Canadian members at the conference this year is in addition to the great networking opportunity, Vacation.com, our lead generation site which is our consumer website is now open to the general membership. Canadian members can now opt-in and enroll in this free program.
JL: As a brief recap when we rolled the three organizations together, one thing we had was the asset of the Vacation.com website. Through this revamped website, we’re taking the customer on a journey, as they research the various products heavy on content. If they want to reach out to a travel professional they can. We have an inside sales department monitoring the leads to find the professional that has the right experience and specialization.
CTP: So for the successful leads what is the average profit/commission?
JL: The travel professional who fulfills it is compensated very well. Now, we brought them the lead, and we are paying for the SEO and the SEM driving them to the site, so it’s a revenue split, 50:50. Obviously, the member agent/agency can retain that customer and market to that customer in the future. It’s a win-win for everybody.
CTP: What’s the status of Agent Profiler 2.0 for Canadian members?
[Agent Profiler 2.0 introduced earlier this year enables agents for an additional charge to promote their specialties and areas of expertise including certifications and also showcases photos, client testimonials and blog posts. Agent Profiler 1.0 is free.]
JL: We have over 500 agent profiles in CanadianTravelAgents.ca. Customers can select based on the profile and the reviews. The only thing the member has to do is write their profile. Those leads go right over to them.
CJ: Agents on Agent Profiler 2.0 have three times more leads… and that’s their keep. All the commission, 100%, they keep at CanadianTravelAgents.ca.
JL: So, we have new agent programs at Vacation.com and at the TLNetwork.ca websites, big lead generators.
CTP: Now the big message at this conference was the announcement of the American Express partnership called APEX that allows participating travel agents to book travel using their clients’ American Express Membership Rewards points and earn commission for holders of four American Express cards. Currently, APEX is unavailable to Canadian members. What’s the reason?
JL: Honestly, we would love to have it in the Canadian market.
CJ: And so would I.
JL: The APEX program is going to be a game changer for a lot of the agents in the US giving them access to gold status clients and help them to redeem points which on average is leading to a higher sale in terms of commissionable dollars.
CJ: Let the US get a head start, get all the bugs out, and when it comes to Canada, we will have it perfected.
CTP: For potential members considering next year’s conference, what’s a key message here?
JL: They hit on the four pillars of what EDGE means: Educate, Discover, Gather, and Evolve. You come here to learn. They invested their money, time, and they want to be educated. They want to learn and discover new products, new services, new technologies, new thoughts, new ideas, and a new vision. You get a very well-rounded perspective in terms of sharing best practices just by talking to your fellow members.
CJ: The conference is a huge benefit for our membership. It’s a great way to network with other agents, learn best practices, and take them back to grow their business.