Update on Travel Leaders’ Amex Partnership, International Expansion

Roger Block (left), president of Travel Leaders Network, and John Lovell (right), president, leisure travel, supplier relations and networks at Travel Leaders Group, at the EDGE Conference.

At this year’s Travel Leaders EDGE Conference, executives shared the latest updates on the company’s growth, both in terms of its implementation of its APEX program and a major international expansion. The event, which took place at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center at National Harbor in Washington, DC, drew more than 2,100 attendees.

“Since we met at last year’s conference it’s been a great year of growth,” says John Lovell, president, leisure travel, supplier relations and networks at Travel Leaders Group, citing the company’s recent agreement with World Travel Holdings as one of the biggest milestones of the year. In January, World Travel Holdings joined Travel Leaders Network, bringing its travel agency franchise and host agency brands Dream Vacations, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc., as well as its more than 35 travel brands, under the Travel Leaders umbrella. The deal marked the first time World Travel Holdings had ever joined an agency network.

“It’s an organization that’s so well respected,” says Lovell. “We looked at our organization and we looked at them and said, you’re going to complement our business.”

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As for the implementation of the APEX program, Travel Leaders’ agreement with American Express that allows Travel Leaders advisors to book travel using their clients’ American Express Membership Rewards points, among other benefits, adoption by advisors has been a bit slower than expected, but executives at the event hope that it will grow.

“I went into it with the expectation that everyone’s going to want to join!” says Roger Block, president of Travel Leaders Network. Working with a company as large and complex as American Express, however, provided some challenges.

“American Express is a big, big organization, and we’re a more nimble organization,” says Lovell. “We’ve had to learn how to work together.”

American Express is a financial institution, which means it is very heavily regulated. As a result, the company has very strict compliance rules, meaning lengthy training for travel agencies looking to adopt the program.

“Once you get into compliance issues, now you’re really trying to match yourself with somebody’s business,” Lovell says. At the same time, he says that American Express has worked with travel leaders to make compliance less time-consuming for travel advisors adopting APEX.

“The amount of training that we had when we first started, we’ve been able to cut that in half,” says Block. “So it’s become much simpler.”

International Expansion

Outside of APEX, Travel Leaders’ other big project has been a bid to expand worldwide. More than 50 new travel agencies have joined the company since February, making for combined representation in 60 countries throughout Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia, offering corporate, MICE and leisure travel.

“We have grown to a point where we’re a true, global travel management company,” says Block.

To manage the expansion, Travel Leaders has adopted a decentralized management structure to provide regional and local support.

“We’re trying to deliver a true, localized service,” says Block. “One of our competitors is trying to regionalize service in three or four different parts of the world, but there are so many different phrases and nuances that trying to have one call center covering every Spanish-speaking country in the world is going to cause problems.”

Travel Leaders is making efforts to standardize operations, however. “Everyone will be using the same systems, the same platforms,” says Block. “Everyone will be using the Travel Leaders brand and Travel Leaders email addresses, and all proposals will be done under the Travel Leaders name, so to consumers or corporate accounts, this is just one account they have to deal with.”

Travel Leaders’ new international agencies will also have access to the company’s Worldwide Hotels and SELECT Hotels programs, as well as its training, education and technology offerings.

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