Travel Leaders Network's Roger Block on international expansion

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Travel Leaders Network recently announced an international expansion, growing the number of countries where it is represented to 40. Spearheading the initiative is Travel Leaders Network president Roger Block. Cruise editor Tom Stieghorst spoke with Block at the Travel Leaders Network's International Summit in Petra, Jordan, about the expansion and other topics.

Q: What have you been focused on this year?

Roger Block
Roger Block

A: We did a big international expansion. That's been a focus of mine for the past four or five months, putting that all together. It's going to open up a whole new window for us. We've had a few international members, but we didn't have a big presence overseas. This really opens the door for us to fully expand globally. In so many places, it will allow us to expand our corporate business.

Q: What type of agencies are you gaining?

A: The agencies that we are bringing in have the same business model. Our business model is not call centers; it's more of individual agents. We tend to assign certain agents to an account, so it's a different level of service. One of the things we were looking for is to be able to replicate that service model on an international basis.

Really, it's the culture we were looking for when we brought on agencies: Do you believe in this model, and is this your existing model? If the answers were yes, then we would talk. If their answer was "no, no, no, we don't do it that way, we do it this way," then that just defeats the whole purpose.

Because when we're doing multinational bids, we want to say, this is what the service levels will be in countries A, B, C and D.

Q: If we wind back to the beginning of the year, we're coming off of a huge drop in the stock market. Fast forward to the middle of April, it's really been a lot better than people expected.

A: It has been incredible. We're up double digits in every segment. Last year, Mexico was the one we weren't up by double digits. We're up double digits this year in Mexico. River, we're up double digits. Escorted, we're up double digits. This has been a good year so far. We're almost to the point where it can't not be a good year.

Q: And next year?

A: I'm starting to worry about 2020. Go back to December: It wasn't just the stock market; every prognosticator was talking about recession. So people said, "Oh my God, there's a recession. Maybe we should postpone spending our money." Corporate America: "Maybe we ought to think about cutting back." In an election year, you know both sides are just going to hammer the other. I don't care which side you're on, they're both going to say if the other side is elected, the world is going to fall apart.

Q: And then you've got this long economic expansion that we're in.

A: And that can't last forever. I don't know if that means 2020 is going to be bad, but I think it's going to take more stimulus by both vendors and agencies to keep their sales going up.

If you're a travel agency that typically spends zero money marketing, my sense is your sales have the potential to go down next year. I think those agencies that are active in marketing to both past clients and potential new clients, I think they could have a good year.

Q: What are some of the other benefits of expanding internationally?

A: One of the things I think we're going to learn from this is just the intellectual capital that we're going to be able to spread around by adding people who have had to survive and grow in all different types of government regulation or economic conditions that are totally different than what we've experienced in the U.S.

You know, we've been pretty insular in the U.S. So how do you survive and thrive in other places? One of our new partners is from Vietnam. Communist country -- totally controlled. So how does that all work? Maybe they'll have tidbits that everyone else in the world can use and vice versa.

I'm really looking forward, as we have owner meetings, to have people start talking to each other about "how do you do business in your part of the world?"

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