Travel Leaders Polishes New Approach

President Roger Block explains why travel  agents are the product in the company’s new platform By: Marilyn Green
Robert Block // © 2014 Travel Leaders Franchise Group
Robert Block // © 2014 Travel Leaders Franchise Group

Travel Leaders Franchise Group is taking on a different tactic to drive business to its agents: presenting the agents themselves as the star product. Roger Block, president of Travel Leaders, says the changed approach, which the company has been developing for four years, is a departure from the traditional practice of generating and following up leads. 

TravelAge West spoke with Block about how the process has changed, why the company is doing it and what results they are seeing thus far.

How big of a departure is this?
It’s a paradigm shift for the company. Selling yourself is a wakeup call — almost as big of a change as charging a fee for corporate air. Research shows this approach is an incredible resource for the agent. Customers already like you and understand your value — that really affects your ability to close.

Why the change in strategy?
The premise is that 95 percent of consumers start their vacation plans online, and this way, we switch from price point to specialty. People buy because of their relationship, and we merchandise the agents on the site.  

What is different about the approach?
What has changed is that in the past, “Brand X Cruise Line” would make a low introductory offer, and a consortium or agency would sell from product and price. The level of creativity was low, and it was essentially a price-based mechanism. The new approach uses specialization as the key. 

Millennials, the largest ever cohort in history, shop through peer reviews. They want to buy from people rather than corporations. Tomorrow’s customer is looking for expertise — a real specialist. If I want to go to Zambia or Botswana and I go the wrong time of the year, the water in Victoria Falls will be diverted to power plants, and I’ll have gone halfway around the world to be disappointed.

Are specializations always destination-based?
The strategy that is paying off is helping consumers find experts in lifestyle (e.g., golfing) and destination.  

I may be a golfer in my area, but I may need someone in Palm Beachto advise me on the best places for a golfer like me and to make my arrangements. The same is true for fishing in Canada and anything else that is important to the vacation, but out of the traveler’s experience. 

Time is a precious commodity, and the traveler’s vacation time is precious — he [or she] doesn’t want to waste it. 

How does this work for the agent?
It’s a re-education process for agents. They lead rock star lives and can help the consumer achieve that sort of travel, too. That is the agent’s value to the consumer.

Our online Agent Profiler is the platform for agents to present themselves with their passion and inspiration as specialists. We tell them: “The leads you receive depend on how you market yourself.” It gives the agent a place to display his passion and enthusiasm that can excite the client. 

There is a template for agents and independent contractors. They are encouraged to create their statements and images to let the consumer know about their knowledge and about their specialty, with the result that the consumers already feel they know the agent before making the initial contact. Travel Leaders is spending a lot of time and money teaching agents how to represent themselves online, sharing their experience and having the right picture up. 

What results are you seeing?
Pages can be indexed by Google, and we’re showing up in top spots around the Internet, which brings in real, qualified leads. And it’s not just higher in numbers of leads — we’re generating quality leads. The average price being sold is three to four times higher than lead price advertising. People are looking for experts for serious purchases. For example, an agent in Richland, Wash., sold two groups Abercrombie & Kent packages in one week. 

The customer, who has chosen the agent by his picture and statement online, already is predisposed to have a favorable connection. It’s extremely important to give the whole gamut of who you are. The whole process forces the agents to market themselves, to take inventory of their interests and skills. If you are not telling a good story, you are cheating yourself. The million-plus dollar producers know all this inherently.

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