TL Network Canada gives agents the EDGE
What gives travel agents the EDGE over an online booking? For Christine James, TL Network’s vice-president Canada, it’s about the value and credibility that comes with being an expert.
Whether it’s booking a bucket-list cruise around the world or an annual vacation for an African safari or a luxury river cruise, she said many travellers would rather turn to a travel advisor when making a sizeable investment rather than a “faceless” online entity.
“I personally wouldn’t want to just book that online, there’s no feeling. Everybody wants to speak to someone who is the expert, and that’s what we’re doing,” James told Canadian Travel Press at the recent Travel Leaders Network EDGE conference near Washington, DC. “That’s what our educational programs are focused towards: making our advisors experts. And if I’m going
to invest that amount of money, I’d want to talk to an expert. I think that the more we can train our agents to market themselves as a specialist, the more successful they will be.”
Of all the value propositions and tools for its members, James said its online lead-generation program Agent Profiler is key to increasing bookings as many travellers find travel advisors with profiles on the consumer facing site www.canadiantravelagents.ca. Consumers are able to search the profiles to locate a travel agent based on location, destination, specialization or interest.
Of note, Canadian leads delivered to agents are growing at a significantly higher pace than in the US, at 71% versus 35% in terms of year-over-year growth. The average sale from the leads come in at well over $5,000 per booking.
Standing out from the crowd
Agents with ratings and reviews and specific certifications tend to generate even more leads and higher rankings on Google searches.
“Every time we host an event, our Canadian mixers, I get one of our advisors coming up to me and saying ‘oh my god, I just published my profile a few weeks ago and I got a $10,000 booking or a group booking,” she said. “It’s really quality leads that are coming in through the sites and the members that are taking the time to build their profile are really seeing the benefits. It’s instant gratification. It’s not a long wait before they see those leads coming in.”
During the EDGE conference, which stands for Educate. Discover. Gather. Evolve., Jeremy Van Kuyk, vice president, Product and Solutions Delivery, for Travel Leaders Group not only suggested agents build customized profiles, but find a niche to stand out from the crowd.
“Really specialize and find what you are passionate about,” he said. “You’re going to start showing up in Google searches.”
Travel Leaders Network announced a new customized tiered education program for advisors across a range of experience, from highly experienced agents to those who are newer to the industry, and from corporate and leisure focused advisors to owners and managers.
“These tiers have been very thoughtfully tailored to foster talent acceleration in a highly effective manner,” said Roger Block, president of Travel Leaders Network.
On the plus side
The organization also introduced the latest version of Agent Profiler Plus, which will replace the fee-based Agent Profiler 2.0. Along with a new layout, agents will be able to integrate videos and pin destinations they’ve travelled to before.
“We know that a variety of things are important to consumers when searching online, including agent location and expertise, reviews and recommendation scores, certifications and awards, a professional headshot and striking destination photography,” said Van Kuyk. “The reviews are particularly important not only to consumers but, the more reviews an advisor has, it pushes their profile up in organic search and generates a greater number of leads for them.”
According to recent data, 75 million people in the U.S. watch online videos daily and video will account for 80 percent of all consumer internet traffic in the next one to two years.
With Profiler Plus, advisors will be able to post videos to their profile to create a more personal and authentic connection with prospective and existing clients, while the travel stories and photo posting features will allow advisors to share their own photography or select from an existing photo library.
Agents also receive certification as they complete different training modules, which James said can be added to their profiles, to lead to more clients.
“They can actually use that accreditation so they can be a luxury specialist or a groups specialist and, of course, when consumers are looking for a specialist and they see that kind of accreditation next to an advisor, they are going to be drawn to them,” she said.
A banner year for Canada
James said 2018 was a banner year for the company overall and for TL Network Canada, as membership grew to over 600 across the country. She expects that figure will continue to escalate as they bring on a new sales manager.
“In Canada we saw really nice growth across the network,” she said, noting that Canadians are also more resilient when it comes to travelling. “I just think the travelling public has not really pulled back. Our top destinations still remain the same and they’re still strong: Mexico, DR, and Cuba.”
Although Canadians can continue to travel freely to Cuba, she said the newly imposed restrictions banning cruise ships will still impact the market.
“It will be a disappointment because those Canadian cruise consumers that were looking forward to having Cuba on an itinerary are not going to have that option obviously,” she said.
Shannon Smith, director of sales, Ontario for TravelBrands, said she attended the conference to connect with quality agents.
“Travel agents are a huge part of our business because we are a business to business company. Without travel agents, none of us at TravelBrands would have jobs because we rely heavily on them,” she said. “We love spending time with the Canadian affiliates and it’s nice to get that face-to-face exposure especially with the home-based network of agents within TL Network because it’s not like they have a brick and mortar we can go into all the time to see them, so to get that one-on-one face to face interaction is absolutely priceless.”
Meanwhile, Stéphanie Bishop, managing director for Globus family of brands, said the organization represents a huge piece of the company’s business.
“We love coming to the Travel Leaders Network conference, they’re a very special partner of ours,” she said. “The trade is the backbone of our business, it’s very important. We sell complex vacations and it takes a real good travel advisor to sell our product because our product needs to be sold to the right person and Travel Leaders advisors are second to none out there in the marketplace. Canada is doing exceptionally well year-over-year over a number of years and it’s because we have these strong relationships and the breadth and depth of product.”
Finally, Lola Vassiliadis, owner of Cruise Holidays Oakville/Lawrence Park, said she’s been attending various incarnations of the conference over the past 21 years.
“I haven’t missed one,” she said. “It’s the classes, the workshops, learning about the new programs and updates, and the best part is all my friends that I see from year to year, whether it’s cruise line suppliers or just colleagues.”
Vassiliadis was recognized with The Top Distinctive Voyages Sales award during this year’s Power of the Partnership Awards, which recognized its top member agency utilizing Travel Leaders Group’s “Distinctive Voyages” program, which features hundreds of sailings throughout the world that include exclusive, complimentary amenities.
As for how other agents can increase their bookings, she points to getting on board with the programs and tools that TL Network Canada offers.
“Agent Profiler Plus, I’ve got almost all my agents on it,” she said. “We get leads out of it and they’re good leads so they’ve got to use the programs. You’ve got to run it like a business otherwise they won’t grow.”
Echoing James’ initial sentiments, she said while many clients do their research online, they then turn to a travel advisor to make a booking when it involves spending quite a bit of money.
“They want that validation and it’s true that millennials are one of the biggest groups that want to work with travel agents,” she added. “They do their research online and then they will call a travel agent because they want someone experienced.”