It has been a “crazy 18 months” for the entire travel industry. Between the slowdown in bookings, a stream of layoff, furloughs, and business turnover, and now ever-changing international protocols and health and safety measures.
But for Jackie Friedman and the team at Nexion Travel Group, the positive momentum is starting to take over.
“Many of us are predicting that the golden age of travel is just around the corner - we are all hearing about this pent-up demand that is just ready to explode. Most importantly, more and more consumers understand the value that you offer and they are looking to work with a travel advisor,” she said.
Just over 300 of Nexion’s advisors along with another 140 or so of its supplier partners gathered in Orlando last week during its CoNexion conference to recap shared experiences during the pandemic, hear about program enhancements, and prepare for what is next
Nexion, just like most other host agencies, saw some turnover from its membership during COVID, but at this point, the group is net-positive in terms of its membership numbers since March 2020.
“There was very little slow down in terms of people looking to come into the travel industry,” Friedman said, noting that the new entrants are coming in for different channels. Some would find their way to Nexion from other hosts, an opportunity that grew out of the pandemic when advisors felt more comfortable moving a more limited number of bookings.
Others came from outside of travel, a new-to-the-industry population that was “interested in taking advance of a slower time to really learn the business,” which has been a massive focus for Nexion over the past year, today, and into the future.
Robbi Friday on stage. Photo: Daniel McCarthy
“We’re seeing a really, solid quality of advisors coming into the business. We’re really, really optimistic about the future once they start building up. Nothing is going to stop them. If they made it past this time,” Friedman said.
“Some of the numbers are so impressive and I can only imagine what’s going to happen once people start traveling again. The independent contractor segment is absolutely the fastest-growing segment of the market, not just Nexion, but folks wanting to be part of that industry. We are very optimistic in terms of that.”
It’s not just Nexion, either. Friedman told TMR that the flexibility that the travel advisor career offers, including the ability to work from anywhere and be in control of their own business, has made it more appealing than ever to a growing population of entrepreneurs.
‘We are the survivors’
During her keynote, Friedman made a point to note that the advisors who were able to make it through the pandemic are now headed in the right direction after months of uncertainty. Even with the new entrants, the core of the advisor community remains in place and ready to accelerate out of the pandemic.
“Layoffs, furloughs, we all had to do more with less,” she said. “I couldn’t be prouder of your perseverance as you helped your clients navigate through the craziness…Trust me, we are headed in the right direction.”
Friedman noted a number of lessons that came from COVID, including advisors having the ability to adapt in the face of adversity and pivot, be flexible, and find new streams of revenue that weren’t considered during normal times.
She also noted that it is “so important to support those who have supported you” during the pandemic and to keep that loyalty to the suppliers that put their advisor partners first during the last year-and-a-half.
“We learned about the power of positivity because attitude is everything,” she said. “We can't always control the outcome but we can control how we respond to it.”
So, how can advisors be ready to take on that demand? Friedman told CoNexion attendees her six tips:
- Start with a positive outlook
- Ensure that you have a solid, written plan to be that roadmap for your business
- Connect with your colleagues, customers, and industry as a whole
- Articulate your value to your clients
- Stay informed because there is more that you need to know than ever before
Kindred on stage. Photo: Daniel McCarthy
Education and new programs
One of the reasons that Nexion has been able to accelerate its membership growth coming out of the survey was by placing a priority on business development and education.
A lot of the group’s programs are built on top of the Travel Leaders of Tomorrow Program, an initiative from its parent company Internova that has been led by program director Heather Kindred. Kindred and her team’s familiarity with virtual learning has allowed them to shift programs throughout the pandemic more easily, and continue to engage with their members.
Continuing that education theme, Nexion made two big announcements during CoNexion.
The first was a new program called Business Success Journeys specifically for its members. The program will be headed by business coach Martin Mussey and will cater to the specific needs of the members, with individual, one-on-one attention and programs available to them.
Mussey told the press last week that the program is designed for the advisors who have graduated from Nexion’s new-to-industry coaching and are looking for an educational and mentorship link to the next level in their careers.
The main feature is Apprentice Journey, which is geared for newer and seasons advisors who, with the help of a coach, will identify what areas of their business they need help in. There’s also Guided Journey for small groups and Journey Planning, a shorter-term option for those who have attended a different Nexion Travel Group education event.
It’s fulfilling a need that members told Nexion’s team they needed and will allow them to continue their education within Nexion’s curriculum instead of going outside of the company.
“You can have a great training program but you can’t expect when things are over, poof, you have a great travel advisor,” Friedman added.
The other big announcement last week was Nexion’s new Roadmap to Success, another education and learning resource for its members.
While Business Success Journeys are designed to be collaborative with a coach, Roadmap is a self-paced, structure learned resource within Nexion University that is available to advisors immediately after their initial welcome cal.
The program is a set of modules that occurs in all areas of the business, including how to book, where to book, product-specific guides, and supplier webinars that will give advisors the tools, and answers, they need during their day-to-day work-life.
According to Nexion’s director of member services Esther Roemmele, the program includes 691 pieces of information through links, videos, pdfs, and other sources that are constantly updated.
“We needed to build the infrastructure to provide members with a better experience once they are onboarded so they could start learning on their own,” she said.