Roger Block Pulls No Punches In Opening Address Of Travel Leaders Virtual Conference

with Martha Chapman

Travel Leaders launched its virtual conference yesterday, themed Bridge to the Future, with 3,600 registrants from around the world.

Opening remarks by President Roger Block kicked off the three-day conference. Not beating about the bush, he declared that Covid is causing “immense financial and personal pain” to all in the business, and that “there’s never been a challenge of this magnitude to our livelihoods, to our businesses, and to our way of life.” He noted, “This is hard on everyone, financially and emotionally.”

Roger Block, President

Continuing to take an honest approach to the challenges participants are facing, Block was cautious about fighting Covid: "Well I’m here to tell you we are making progress....slowly. Definitely more slowly than anyone here would like."

However, he added that in the coming months, the role of the travel advisor will be more important than ever before - for both the leisure and corporate client. Travellers are booking, albeit for 2021, 2022 and 2023. “Movement is slow and steady, but in the right direction.”

Block’s personal predictions for a post-Covid world included fewer bricks-and-mortar travel agencies, as well as reconfigured compensation for advisors, based on professional service fees and not simply commissions. This is clearly a priority for the group, which for some months now has been holding and continues to hold seminars and workshops on how both agency owners and travel advisors can switch their thinking to this new model, and how to introduce the concept to clients.

Chief Marketing Officer Steve McGillivray also spoke to the roughly 1,200 travel professionals who tuned into the Opening General Session. Likening this “pause” in our industry to a sports franchise being in the off-season, McGillivray suggested advisors take the opportunity to get better at their specialty; to ask for referrals (and thank people when they get them); and undertake Zoom and Facebook live sessions with their clients.

Steve McGillivray, Chief Marketing Officer

McGillivray said that the three areas of greatest interest to travellers today are health and safety, cancellation flexibility and offers/promotions. With the first two in mind, Travel Leaders has introduced a new Book with Confidence program, which is a free health and safety toolkit for advisors to share with their clients.

The conference’s agenda is a mix of immediate and future business planning sessions, including how to market your agency during Covid, globalizing your RFP, and working with your local media. A networking lounge and keynote speeches will doubtless strive to replicate the experience of a face-to-face event.

Some of the comments in the chat box

Travel Leaders has undertaken a variety of activities to keep its agencies – including 17 new ones added in Canada this year – engaged and loyal since the advent of Covid. These include numerous webinars, workshops and town halls.  One interesting feature for those planning to sell their agency is a “match-up” service with potential buyers. The group is also planning fams for Canadian advisors, hopefully to take place in November.

“If government funding is not renewed by the end of the year, there will be severe consequences:  there’s no way we are out of the woods until the world starts to travel,” said Block. “But in the interim our goal is to lead you out of the challenging times.  Family helping family is what Travel Leaders is all about.”

The overall mood at the convention is surprisingly upbeat, according to Canadian Vice-President Christine James. “The comments on the chat box during our general sessions today were extremely positive and attendees really appreciated the great content being shared.”

Travel Leaders is planning to host its 2021 annual conference – live and in person - at Universal Studios.

Martha Chapman

Martha Chapman Columnist

An OJ columnist since 2006, Martha is responsible for the Biting Questions features as well as special seasonal series. A travel industry lifer known to all in the biz, she frequently covers industry events for Open Jaw.

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