Representatives from Travel Leaders Group touched down in Toronto to provide details of the new merger of Vacation.com, Travel Leaders Associates and Results! Travel under a single brand.
On Jan. 1, the three major travel agencies will combine to become TL Network, with nearly 7,000 locations on both sides of the border; that’s about 35,000 agents with more than $22 billion in sales. TL Network will be led in Canada by longtime Vacation.com VP Christine James.
Calling it “the dawn of a new day,” executives announced the decision internally last week, and met Thursday in downtown Toronto to provide details to select members of Canada’s travel media.
TL Network representatives say the three companies are all successful on their own, but they’re competing with each other. Now they can work more efficiently and share resources, similar to mergers in the airline and auto rentals industries.
So how will this benefit travel agents who will be part of TL Network? According to the execs, sales volume makes TL Network North America’s largest seller of luxury travel, cruises, and river cruises.
“We’re good partners with these suppliers,” said Steve McGillivray of Travel Leaders Group. “We want to negotiate with suppliers to treat us fairly,” he said, adding that he's not just talking about commissions, but also marketing support.
As the three companies become one, they can also now start sharing resources and expertise. James says she received a slew of excited emails from Vacation.com members once they heard the news last week. “Until now we did not have the [means] to provide Canadian agents with the tools [to best serve] their corporate clients.”
TL Network also wants to help agents make better use of online resources. The execs say the average age of an agent is “50-ish.” The implication is that many agents are lagging in social media savvy, something TL Network execs want to help them correct.
According to John Lovell of Travel Leaders Network, “consumer behaviour is forcing the distribution channel to change.” What they’re finding is that the internet is creating information “overload” for consumers. Many agents are not up to speed with current technology to take advantage of this opportunity.
Millennials, for instance, are a growing consumer segment. “They grew up with ratings and reviews,” says McGillivray. “Before they buy that trek in the Alps they’re going to call a third party to validate [the experience].” Successful agents are already starting to fill the role of that third party advocate.
According to the group’s research, this sense of personal connection with clients is critical — even if it's online — so a benefit the company is hyping to its agents is the Agent Profiler, which includes agent bios, pics, and areas of specialization. A second online tool is TL Network’s website support. This will plug agent websites into TL Network’s content, while still allowing (and encouraging) agents to personalize their digital portals.
“This will be key to all online calls to action,” says Chief Technology Officer Jose Ferreira. “It’s a professional looking website … We can drive traffic and keep the site current. It’s real slick. It’s wonderful.”