Roger Block
Roger on stage at Travel Leaders Network’s recent EDGE conference held in Las Vegas. The conference had more than 2,000 attendees and was one of the company's largest tradeshows ever.

The Business of Vacations: Roger Block

Summer is now in full-swing, and with it comes summer vacations. In fact, according to Generali Global Assistance, 68 percent of Americans plan to take a summer vacation this year, up from 61 percent in 2016.

If you live in Florida, vacation options are plenty. From beaches to theme parks, the Sunshine State has unlimited possibilities. Or maybe you’re more interested in booking a trip to one of our nation’s national parks, museums or large cities. You could be thinking even bigger, with an international trip to experience a new culture. Whatever you choose, Warrington alumni in the travel industry like Rebecca Sforza Monchecourt and Roger Block are thinking of how to make your vacation memorable. We spoke with Sforza Monchecourt and Block about the business of vacations and their tips for your summer travel. Read more from Block below and click here to read about Sforza Monchecourt.

 

Roger Block – President, Travel Leaders Network

Roger Block (BSBA Finance ’74) knew at an early age that he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps. While growing up in Seminole, Florida, Block eagerly observed his father’s career in the banking industry.

“On many occasions, my father would talk about various banking customers and new concepts they were undertaking in the marketplace,” he said. “I always have enjoyed the many facets of business and strategies to achieve success and knew I wanted a career in business.”

Luckily for Block, he wouldn’t have to go far to receive a top-tier business education.

“At the time, the University of Florida was by far the leading university in the field and continues to be a leader today,” he said. “UF was my number one choice of colleges.”

After graduating from UF, Block set out to pursue a career in the banking industry, first at a regional bank holding company in St. Petersburg, Florida in its management training program. In the program, Block was introduced to every division of the bank, from accounting to teller operation, to branch operations to small loan lending, and commercial and real estate lending.

While Block’s experience at the bank allowed him to learn a great deal about its operations, the evolving industry and subsequent bank consolidations made for an unstable career.

“After two mergers, I determined it was time to leave banking and start my own venture,” he said.

It was a project he completed while at the bank that would spark the idea, and career change, that would lead to his success.

“While at the bank, I completed a study on the feasibility of placing a travel agency in each of our branches (which was permitted in banking activity at the time),” he said. “During the study, I looked at the agency distribution model, profitability of the agencies and many other factors. The travel agency industry fascinated me, but was dominated by small, independent agencies, lacking scale and structure.

“The agency community needed a support structure to provide services that an individual agency couldn’t afford.”

In 1982, Block launched Travel Agents International, a startup turnkey franchise company that assisted individuals wishing to start their own travel agency with support services in training, real estate, client marketing and retention, negotiation and more. By 1997, Block had expanded Travel Agents International to 325 locations across the United States. Later that year, Carlson Wagonlit Travel, the world’s second largest agency group at the time, purchased Block’s company and offered him a job in Minneapolis. While the move north was daunting, Block agreed, and was promoted to Executive Vice President the following year.

In 2008, Block was part of a management-led buyout of the company, which would then be rebranded to Travel Leaders, and later Travel Leaders Network. Block currently serves as President of the company, which consists of over 6,800 agencies located across the U.S. and Canada.

“Personally, I think I have one of the most interesting jobs in America,” he said. “All industry is in constant change, and the travel industry is no different. Together, with my management team, we’re constantly evaluating the marketplace, developing new strategies and tactics, creating strategic partnerships, and developing preferred supplier relationships with some of the world’s finest airlines, tour and cruise operators, car rental companies and hoteliers.”

While at the University of Florida, Block learned valuable lessons in building relationships, managing people, meeting deadlines and operating within a budget in his work as production manager of Student Government Productions. He continues to use many of those skills in his role at Travel Leaders Network.

“Strong relationships, built on trust, are key to any successful business, but especially so in the franchise/membership industry,” he said. “Many, many of our members have been part of our company for decades. I’ve been extremely fortunate to develop close, personal relationships with many of our members.”

 

With his experience in the travel industry, we asked Block for his insight on how Travel Leaders Network remains a frontrunner in the industry and tips you can use for your summer travel.  

Q: With more and more people traveling, how is Travel Leaders Network innovating/differentiating itself in the industry and remaining a source for people who are looking to use your franchises when searching for travel help?

Block: “Apex -We recently launched an impressive program, called Apex, created in collaboration with American Express® that allows Amex cardholders to redeem Membership Rewards® points when they book travel with our US-based Travel Leaders agents. This is an exclusive opportunity not available through any other third-party travel agency group. Also, as part of the program, our umbrella company is introducing The Travel Collection by Travel Leaders Group, a special travel benefit for U.S. Consumer Gold and Business Card Members. 

Agent Profiler – Agent Profiler was the travel agency industry’s first online tool to enable consumers to find the perfect travel agent for their needs by selecting from a full-range of travel specialties, destinations and other search options. The tool allows travelers to browse image galleries and bios of thousands of travel agents, see where they have traveled and what they recommend. There are also star ratings and reviews – all of which helps the traveler select the best travel agent most suited for their own travel needs.

Specialist Certifications- We train travel agents in a dozen different specialties, from Adventure Travel and Honeymoon and Destination Weddings to Luxury Travel and Business Travel. Approximately 200 agents per year graduate from one or more of our award-winning rigorous training programs.

Corporate Travel Management -We also have a business travel management division, consisting of agencies that cater to businesses to manage the needs of their travel policies and programs. These services save companies money on travel expenses, as well as frees them up to focus on their core business.”

Q: How do you feel your leadership has helped Travel Leaders Network succeed? 

Block: “While many travel agency owners began as travel agents based on their love of travel (and I have a tremendous passion for travel, myself), having come from a business and financial background, I have a broad view of business strategies that encompasses understanding the critical importance of a viable business plan and constant education, early adoption of technology, understanding the need for adaptability and change, etc., being a good listener and responding to our members’ needs and concerns and adapting accordingly. But most importantly, I know that good leaders do not succeed in a vacuum and that’s why I built a fantastic staff.

The success of Travel Leaders Network is very much about the people: our staff, our agents, our supplier partners. I hired a team of people who are experts in their niche area of the business, whether that is marketing or sales or technology and gave them the needed support to help our company grow. Great leadership is about delegation and being open to new ideas by having faith and confidence in the people you hire to do their jobs.”

Q: Do you have any tips for people who are looking to travel during the summer – tips for finding places to stay, things to do, or anything else you’ve learned from being in the industry?

Block: “My main tip really is to go to TravelLeaders.com and browse the tips and recommendations of the thousands of travel agents featured on the site. Our on-the-ground frontline agents are there to cater to the needs of every traveler. They help travelers cut through the clutter of various possibilities; they are there for the client before, during and after the journey, providing peace of mind wherever the client travels.

A few more specific tips would include to sign up for TSA PreCheck and Global Entry, as these expedited security screening options really do help save travelers time during the airport check-in process. And always travel with travel insurance. One never knows when there may be unexpected weather delays, medical emergencies or work issues that may cause a trip cancellation, missed flight or need for an extended stay. Travel insurance helps to cover travelers in case of such emergencies. Our travel agents can help clients determine a plan that would be best for their needs.”