Get ready for 2019, the year of “martech,” says Jackie Friedman, president of Nexion LLC, as the convergence of marketing and technology reshapes the way travel advisors (no longer “travel agents,” per the new ASTA nomenclature) interact with their customers.
At Nexion, the year will bring two interesting new priorities: the long-awaited rollout of a new technology backbone that’s been in the works for five years, and a new focus on glitzy personalized marketing tools designed to go out to the end customer.
It all begins with the November “full-blown cutover” to a new operating system that will link Nexion headquarters with its members, dubbed Nexion Powered by AgentMate. It is designed to allow Nexion members to “manage their customers and their bookings, to work in their business, and to work on their business” Friedman told Travel Market Report in an exclusive interview at the CoNexion annual conference onboard Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas last month.
Even while a few Nexion agencies are moving back to brick-and-mortar locations in this improving travel environment, the trend is toward working from home — and for home-based agents, in particular, “the technology that’s included in their membership will really be a game-changer,” Friedman said.
The architects of the new system virtually rebuilt Nexion’s technology base from scratch, changing not only the agent-facing tools but also many of the processes behind them — how Nexion pays commissions to agents and distributes electronic documents, for example. While parts of the new system have been phased in over the past months, November will bring “the big granddaddy of the implementations that we’ve been working toward,” Friedman said.
Reaching out to customers
Next year, the company will also have a renewed focus on travelers, offering up glitzy marketing materials sent out to them under the travel agents’ names. An effort that began last year with two standalone pieces for consumers, and grew in 2018 into a quarterly consumer publication called Escape, now will become “a comprehensive and integrated marketing campaign.”
Each issue of the magazine will be themed, with one each dedicated to family travel, holiday travel, luxury travel, and experiential travel. The magazine will be designed to offer “great content with an extended shelf life,” and will also be available in a fully digital, flip version.
The magazine will be promoted on social media, via emails to consumers and on web banners. Behind the scenes, Nexion travel advisors will be reminded of when the magazine drops and offered tips on how to promote it to get the most out of it, “to make them a part of the marketing program,” Friedman said.
Each issue will be personalized with the agents’ brand on the front and back covers and a personal letter to their customers. In addition, the new Nexion system will automatically send out monthly tactical direct mail components “to help agents move product,” called Escape Insider, where travel suppliers can add special offers around the destinations being highlighted.
In the background, it’s the new technology that makes the marketing possible, of course. “As we grow our consumer databases and canopy them into the marketing, we use a lot of segmentation cohorts to determine who’s the right customer for each piece,” Friedman said. When the pieces go out to consumers, a digital copy is attached to the agents’ records so they know exactly which customers got what and can follow up. Also on the agenda, are standalone direct mail and email campaigns, Friedman said, all integrated around the Escape brand.
Events keep it personal, for agents and customers
In 2019, Nexion is planning more events for members. Here, too, the new database makes it possible to identify the correlations between consumers and travel agents. “To bring Nexion out to where our agents are,” 10 regional meetings are scheduled, including six that combine agent training with an evening event and trade show, to which consumers are invited.
And on the training side, specialty training programs targeting 40-50 travel agents, some by invitation only, are being added to the mix. In addition to Boot Camp and the Agent Essentials program for newbies, Nexion will add a luxury summit for 50 attendees; repeat its Corporate CoNexions for corporate agents; and hold a Master Marketing Symposium offering up “everything you need to know about branding, consumer events, websites, social media, and PR”; plus, the company will provide one-on-one sessions with coaches from the Travel Leaders Group and suppliers’ marketing teams.
Friedman is most proud of the Travel Leaders of Tomorrow program, which she has headed since it began five years ago. The 17-week, “virtual study hall” offers chat rooms and message boards, as well as an independent e-learning program that agents can complete at their own pace.
Also growing this year, is a program launched in May to bring veterans of the U.S. armed forces into the travel industry, by waiving all fees for membership and training. “It’s just the right thing to do; many of them are interested in travel and are well-traveled, and they make great travel agents,” Friedman said. And those with mobility issues can work from home.
In short, she said, in 2019, Nexion is “looking for smart growth. We’re not looking necessarily for people who have experience or a book of business. There’s no shortage of people who are interested in the travel industry. But we want to take some time to make Nexion members as successful as possible.”
With 4,300 members in the U.S. and 330 in Canada, plus a new alliance with the independent contractors in CTS Travel in Mexico, Nexion is looking to a record year in 2019.