“I’ve never been happier to be able to say, ‘I told you so,'” said Jackie Friedman, President of Nexion Travel Group, to the approximately 600 travel advisors and supplier partners at this year’s CoNexion Annual Conference held at the Disneyland Resort Hotel in Anaheim, California. Friedman was referring to last year’s conference — the first since COVID-19 turned the travel industry upside down — where she predicted the golden age of travel was just around the corner.
Judging by the number of Circle of Excellence winners (140) the hosting agency has seen this year – more than any other in the company’s history – the golden age of travel has indeed arrived. (Circle of Excellence winners are recognized for achieving high sales targets with Nexion Travel Group’s preferred suppliers.)
“We’ve all been through a very difficult time, and I’m not going to speak about it because we agreed not to,” Friedman said during her keynote address on day two of the conference. “But we learned something, right? We have learned that this industry is unstoppable.”
“The travel advisor is here to stay,” she told a small group of journalists at an executive roundtable. “In the past few years, even during the pandemic, we haven’t really seen a slowdown in people wanting to get into this industry.”
In 2022 alone, Nexion hired nearly 600 new consultants, 60-65% of whom are new to the travel industry. Many more were added in 2020 and 2021.
“This year we are on track to hire the largest number of consultants we have hired in a long time,” Friedman said.
And despite the difficult start, many are doing well. Several of this year’s Circle of Excellence winners have entered the industry during the pandemic, said Robbi Hamida, Nexion’s senior vice president of agency operations. Even consultants who have been with Nexion longer are selling more than ever before.
“We looked at our top producers,” Friedman said, “and we saw some that we haven’t seen up there. And that’s so rewarding for me when I see new people coming into the network or people getting to the point where they’ve achieved that level of recognition.”
Packed three days
With no major new technology or program launches to announce, this year’s CoNexion focuses on what consultants need most to be more profitable – six general information-packed sessions, three keynotes, 48 educational workshops, a suppliers’ roundtable and a busy trade show .
During her welcome, Friedman challenged the contestants to make the most of the show by meeting 10 new people.
“We didn’t create the CoNexion name in a vacuum,” she told Travel Market Report in a one-on-one interview. “It’s really about connecting. And you see it. They see the bonds they have formed with other consultants and suppliers. And they’ve built businesses around some of those relationships. At the risk of sounding cliche, it really is a family. And every year more and more people come into that family… Although these consultants are technically competitors, they don’t act that way.”
Nexion Canada President Mike Foster also encouraged attendees to make the most of the show.
“Plan, set goals, of course find and meet with the partners you work with, but also look for new companies that you may not have worked with before.”
They define what success means
One of the most important lessons Friedman passed on to attendees was her keynote address.
“Success looks different for all of us. Please do not compare yourself to other travel consultants. They are the ones who define the trajectory you want to take. You must figure out what success means to you before you can strive for it. And above all, you have to believe in yourself. You have to believe in your ability to be successful.”
In her keynote, Friedman equated being a successful consultant — whatever that means for each individual — with writing your own story, one with 10 chapters.
Chapter one is to have the vision first.
“You need to know what you want your business to look like three to five years from now. This is your vision. It describes the purpose of your company, what you aspire to and what you want to achieve.”
In the second chapter, it’s time to make a plan.
“Your plan is the roadmap for your business. It guides you in the direction you want to go. Start by setting goals and outlining what success looks like for you. You need to be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable and relevant, a time-bound overview of what you will do and when you will do it.”
Examples of goals Friedman offered were earning a set commission in 12 months, strategically adding destination expertise to your agency, or achieving certification within a specific time frame.
The third chapter gets tactical.
“Here you will develop a tactical marketing plan that outlines the specific actions you will take to grow your business.”
Part of that, she said, is identifying your target customer.
“These are people with a high propensity to do the types of travel that you want to focus on.”
Other chapters in the “story” of each consultant’s business were: retaining customers, qualifying customers, building partnerships, working in Your business, keep learning, getting involved and having fun.
“Remember why you chose to work in this industry. For many of us it was the love of travel. For some it was the love of working with people… whatever your reason, we’re in an amazing industry and most of us can’t think of doing anything else. The travel industry is in your blood, isn’t it? There is no cure and that’s a good thing.”
roadmap to success
During the Executive Roundtable held for the media in attendance at the show, Robbi Hamida, Senior Vice President of Agency Operations at Nexion Travel Group, provided an update on one of the initiatives launched last year, the overhaul of the Roadmap to Nextion University Success.
It launched last year with about 691 documents, which Hamida says helps consultants “know from A to B to C to D what they need to know to run their business.” A year later, the resource has grown to more than 1,000 documents.
In addition to the support of consultants, Hamida said Roadmap to Success has helped Nexion operationally.
“It has helped us reduce our phone calls and the volume of emails we receive because they get answers at a glance.”
Hamida also said Nexion has no plans to slow down Roadmap to Success’ growth.
“We are happy with what it is now. We just need to get it where it needs to go next… Agents have given us a lot of feedback on what’s missing and we’re taking all of that into account. But it’s become a real super tool for agent learning.”