John Lovell, President, Leisure Travel, Supplier Relations & Networks, Travel Leaders Group; Christine James, Vice President Canada, TL Network; Roger E. Block, President, Travel Leaders Network

“Our growth has just been phenomenal”: The latest from Travel Leaders Network

TORONTO — Travel Leaders Network has gone global, with 71 new members representing over 80 countries just one year into an international expansion mandate. The retail travel group is expanding rapidly but it hasn’t lost sight of the importance of TL Network (Canada).

Christine James, Vice President Canada, TL Network was joined yesterday by Roger E. Block, President, Travel Leaders Network and John Lovell, President, Leisure Travel, Supplier Relations & Networks, Travel Leaders Group for an update on the group’s Canadian operations, expansion, travel trends and more.

Any North American traveller jitters from the coronavirus outbreak will take a few weeks to manifest as the global travel industry watches and waits to see if the spread of the virus ramps up, or stays largely contained to Wuhan as it is now.

The U.S. travel industry especially is waiting to see if this election year has any impact on outbound travel, as they often do. But so far so good, says Lovell. “The last four U.S. elections have played out exactly as expected [in terms of a slight downturn]. But this one is totally different and so far we haven’t seen an impact.”

Travel Leaders Group turned the corner from 2019 into 2020 in a very strong position, he added. “Travellers are planning on spending more than last year, and they’re booking longer trips,” he said.

TL Network (Canada) added 28 new members in 2019, and another five year to date in 2020. In Sept. 2019 TL Network (Canada) signed a Consortia Partnership with ACTA, boosting its presence in the retail community even more.

In the U.S. Travel Leaders Network added 283 new members in 2019 and at least according to one study, commands 37% of the retail distribution channel.

Internationally, Travel Leaders’ growth has skyrocketed just one year into its expansion plans. “Our growth has just been phenomenal,” says Lovell.

From Canada, the top selling destinations are very familiar to anyone in this industry. Number one is Mexico, number two is Cuba and number three is the D.R. James – who celebrated her 20th anniversary with TL Network in 2019 – notes that Europe continues its strong showing from Canada, with Europe sales from TL Network members up double-digits year over year. Hosted cruise sailings under the Distinctive Voyages banner are also selling extremely well.

The TL Network (Canada) team expanded last year with the addition of a new Sales Manager, Kory Sterling, and new Business Solutions Manager, Melissa Wheaton.

Of course in July 2019 another familiar name in the Canadian travel industry, Lindsay Pearlman, joined Travel Leaders Network in the newly-created position of Senior Vice President, International Leisure, reporting to Block.

Pearlman was brought on board to work with Travel Leaders Network’s international partners to expand Travel Leaders Network leisure programs throughout Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific.

As Block pointed out yesterday, many of Travel Leaders Network’s international partner agencies have large leisure operations in addition to their corporate divisions. Pearlman’s mission is to help the company grow its leisure division with partners across many countries.

Part of a global expansion initiative that kicked off in January 2019, Travel Leaders Network’s international footprint now covers over 80 countries.

“How are we different from the ‘ABCs’? And by that I mean AmexGBT, BCD and CWT? They’re all great companies but sometimes size is a hindrance, not a help,” says Block.

Meanwhile on the leisure side TL Network is going from strength to strength. A long list of perks, benefits and value-add programs for TL Network advisors includes Agent Profiler, launched a few years ago and now with 612 published advisor profiles on CanadianTravelAgents.ca (up from 560 in 2018). Some 6,800 leads were generated through Agent Profiler in 2019, up from 4,700 the year before. Agents can also take advantage of Profiler Plus, which adds multiple bio pages and space for travel stories, photo albums, client testimonials and more.

Agents using Profiler Plus get six times more leads, says James.

On the 2020 events calendar, TL Network (Canada) has its PEAK Fall Regionals scheduled for Markham on Oct. 6, Toronto on Oct. 8, Edmonton on Oct. 20 and Vancouver on Oct. 22.

Some 11 Mixer events will take place in Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland from February through May, and then also in September and November.

Another 12 Mixer events will take place in the West.

Agents taking part in the 2020 International Summit are looking forward to a high-end trip to Jaipur, taking place March 13 – 16 and hosted by Block.

Meanwhile the EDGE annual conference is so popular and well-attended, sell-out status is almost guaranteed. The 2020 EDGE event takes place at Universal Orlando and names of hopeful attendees are now on a waitlist. “The demand we have from our membership for the EDGE events is incredible,” says Lovell.

Despite challenges in global tourism, from bushfires in Australia to the coronavirus to everything else, “the travel industry isn’t really slowing down,” notes Lovell. “The world’s a big place. There are lots of places to go that are safe.”

He adds: “As travel has become more complex, the role of the travel agent has become more important than ever.”

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