Any time a country or region imposes any sort of visa stipulation - even if it’s a waiver - the travel industry sighs a collective groan, knowing the obstacles and headaches to come.
TORONTO — TL Network’s forward bookings for 2019 are coming in strong, thanks to a good economy both here and in the U.S., and relatively affordable fares for international flights. And it doesn’t hurt that consumers are in love with travel and want to see as much of the world as they can.
TL Network’s latest survey shows that 96% of consumers say they intend to travel in 2019, and 89% intend to spend the same or more on their trips as in previous years.
Last year was very good and looking ahead, “we are very encouraged for 2019,” says John Lovell, CTC, President – Leisure Travel, Supplier Relations and Networks, for Travel Leaders Group, the parent organization of TL Network.
Destinations like Asia Pacific and Australia and New Zealand are selling especially well, says Lovell. Egypt and Turkey bookings are both bouncing back. And world cruising, with durations up to 180 days, “is exploding. Expedition cruising is also huge. And river cruising continues to grow. I always say, I just wish we could dredge up a few more rivers, it’s selling that well.”
Issues with low water levels on Europe’s rivers in 2018 didn’t put a dent in bookings, he added, noting that the river cruise companies have been doing a good job with re-routings and keeping passengers informed.
TL Network agencies also saw a “terrific rebound” in Caribbean bookings following the hurricanes in fall 2017.
Solo travel is another growth market, with 36% of consumers in the survey saying they intend to take at least one solo trip in 2019.
Lovell and other TL Network execs were in Toronto yesterday to brief the trade media.
It’s been two years since the formation of TL Network from Vacation.com and other entities and the group is now the largest retail travel agency organization in North America.
Last year the company’s Agent Profiler online lead generation tool saw 25% year over year growth in leads channeled to participating Canadian travel advisors resulting in 5,000 leads delivered.
In 2017 TL Network had some 483 Canadian member advisors on Agent Profiler. By 2018 that number was up to 567. With 5,000 leads for 567 agents, “that’s roughly 10 leads per agent,” says Jeremy Van Kuyk, VP Technology – Travel Leaders Group.
TL Network’s site for Canadian members, CanadianTravelAgents.ca (“we don’t sell travel, we sell travel agents,” says Van Kuyk) got 46,000 new consumer users in 2018, and organic traffic from random Google searches was 55% of that total. Organic search traffic driving consumers to CanadianTravelAgents.ca increased 136% year-over-year.
Much of the content that’s driving those coveted high SEO rankings come from the information in TL Network agent profiles in the Agent Profiler tool. Agents can upgrade to Agent Profiler 2.0 for $15 per month, says Van Kuyk. Advisors taking advantage of Agent Profiler 2.0’s enhanced features can highlight their specialties and certifications, along with consumer ratings and reviews, and as a result are receiving three times more leads than those using the previous generation of the tool.
Christine James, Vice President Canada, TL Network says there are now just shy of 700 TL Network members in Canada, coming in at about 680 agencies. Members are taking advantage of TL Network programs like Distinctive Voyages with 10 premium and luxury cruise lines offering 300+ cruise departures annually, Culinary Collection with 119 culinary themed sailings for 2019 with 11 Preferred Partners, and Amenity Departure Dates.
All of these extras are built-in, says James, allowing TL Network agents to be more competitive in the marketplace.
For education and training, in 2019 TL Network is introducing a new advisor education and training philosophy focused on learning pathways customized to an advisor’s personal achievement and career advancement goals.
The company’s Learning Management System (LMS) now includes 358 individual courses with more than 425 new Canadian users joining the system in 2018. Popular specialist programs include Group Travel, Luxury Travel, Active and Adventure Travel, and Honeymoon and Destination Weddings.
TL Network Canada also has four Regional Conferences on the calendar for 2019, plus 24 Mixers for additional networking and learning opportunities. And this June 2019, the TL Network EDGE conference will take place in Washington, D.C. from June 7 to 10, with more than 2,100 attendees expected.
Reaching out to clients, TL Network’s Canadian marketing engagement program has grown to more than 50 partners and during the past year resulted in more than 220 direct mail and email campaigns and over six million partner funded pieces.
“We are excited to see significant growth in many areas of TL Network including our direct marketing efforts in Canada,” says James. “Our engagement program provides our advisors with beautifully designed marketing materials to inspire their customers and keep them informed about our latest offerings.”
Some 20 – 30% of Canadian traffic through TL Network members is now represented by group bookings, as strong as ever with the popularity of multigenerational travel, notes James.
TL Network is also launching a 2019 Select Agent Guide, and for consumers, Select magazine, coming this spring, says Roger E. Block, CTC, President of Travel Leaders Network. The consumer publication is geared to luxury clientele especially who want to see and experience it all. “People don’t want to just see the Pyramids. They want an immersive trip. They want to meet the locals. We work with DMCs in more than 150 countries to itineraries can be totally customized. This is one of the ways we’re trying to help our customers get the most experiences they can.”
Clients have so much information at their fingertips, says Lovell. “But ultimately they’re looking for confirmation and validation, and the person they turn to for that is a travel advisor.
“At the end of the day, people want that person to hold their hand and walk them through that transaction.”