Tom Stieghorst
Tom Stieghorst

Travel Leaders Network has a tradition, started 20 years ago, of organizing an annual trip to an international destination for a small group of its agency owners. This year's summit was in Petra, Jordan.

Roger Block, president of Travel Leaders Network, explained that the trips started informally one year because Travel Leaders chairman Mike Batt, who is Welsh, wanted to show off parts of London that weren't on the typical itinerary that travel agents put together for London-bound clients.

"That's how it all started: how do we take people places to show them, maybe, what is not known," Block said. "We went to Paris, we didn't go to the Louvre, we didn't go to any of the big museums. When we were in Rome we had a private tour of the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel."

Recent destinations have been Auckland, New Zealand, and Kyoto, Japan, places that Block said are a bit underserved given their potential for tourism.

Another purpose behind the summits is to kindle a passion for a new destination -- and for travel in general -- among the agency owners who attend.

"It doesn't matter where, the point is that the more they can experience the world the more excited they get about it and the more they're able to sell it to their customers," Block said. "That's what the whole thing's about."

I was able to talk to many agency owners during my Jordan visit, which was sponsored by Travel Leaders Network. They all were impressed with Jordan and agreed that the trips fire them up for travel.

Typical was Heather Smith, an agent at a Travel Leaders affiliate in Scottsdale, Ariz. Jordan, she said, "was so unfamiliar. After coming here I feel very safe. The Jordanian people are friendly and helpful, and it's clean."

Among the activities for agents and owners at the summit was a dinner under the stars on the opening night at Little Petra; a full day exploring the Petra ruins; and a sunset champagne happy hour in the Wadi Rum desert, followed by dinner in a castle.

"The event is unique in that it is five-star," Smith said. "Everything is top of the line."

The closest as I came to a cruise on this trip was an afternoon sailing excursion on the Gulf of Aqaba, but Block's point certainly applies to cruise-focused agents as well. Everyone gets into travel sales with some love of travel, and it is a good idea to periodically renew that excitement with a cruise or land-based travel to a destination you've never before explored, or a cruise on a line with which you've never previously sailed.

"Your passion for the destination will help you get more sales for your agency," Block said. "I really believe that."

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