“I’ve never been happier to be able to say ‘I told you so,’” Nexion Travel Group president Jackie Friedman told the 600 or so assembled travel advisors and supplier partners at this year’s CoNexion annual conference being held at The Disneyland Resort Hotel in Anaheim, California. Friedman was referring to last year’s conference – the first since COVID-19 upended the travel industry – where she predicted the golden age of travel was just around the corner.
Based on the number of Circle of Excellence winners (140) the host agency saw 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 meeting high sales goals using Nexion Travel Group’s preferred suppliers.)
“We’ve all come through a very tough time and I’m not going to talk about that because we agreed not to,” Friedman said during her keynote on day two of the conference. “But we learned something, right? We learned that this industry is unstoppable.”
“The travel advisor is here to stay,” she told a small group of journalists at an executive roundtable. “The last several years, even throughout the pandemic, we didn’t really see a slowdown in people wanting to come into this industry.”
Just in 2022 alone, Nexion has brought on close to 600 new advisors, 60 to 65% of whom are new to the travel industry. Many others joined in 2020 and 2021.
“This year, we’re on track to bring on our largest number of advisors that we’re brought in in a long time,” Friedman said.
And despite the difficult start, many are thriving. Several of this year’s Circle of Excellence winners joined the industry during the pandemic, said Robbi Hamida, Nexion’s senior vice president of agency operations. Even advisors that have been in Nexion for longer are selling more than they’ve ever sold before.
“We were looking at our top producers,” Friedman said, “and we saw some that we hadn’t seen up there before. And that is so rewarding for me, seeing new people coming into the network or people getting to the point where they have achieved that level of recognition.”
Jam-Packed Three Days
With no new major technological or program launches to announce, this year’s CoNexion is focused on what advisors need most to be more profitable – six information-packed general sessions, three keynotes, 48 educational workshops, a supplier round robin and a busy trade show.
During her welcome, Friedman challenged attendees to make the most of the show by meeting 10 new people.
“We didn’t create the name CoNexion in a vacuum,” she told Travel Market Report in a sit-down one-on-one. “It really is about connecting. And you see it. You see the bonds that they’ve made with other advisors, with suppliers. And they have built businesses around some of those relationships. At the risk of sounding cliché, it really is a family. And each year more and more people come into that family… Even though these advisors 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, have some objectives, seek out and meet with those partners, of course, who you work with, but also seek out new companies you may not have worked with before.”
You Define What Success Means
One of the most important lessons Friedman passed on to attendees was during her keynote speech.
“Success is different for all of us. Please, do not compare yourself to any other travel advisors. You are the ones that define the trajectory that you want to take. You’ve got to figure out what success means to you before you can go after it. And, most importantly, you have to believe in yourself. You have to believe in your ability to be successful.”
In her keynote, Friedman equated being a successful advisor – whatever that means to each individual – to writing your own story, one with 10 chapters.
Chapter one is to first have the vision.
“You need to know what you want your business to look like in three to five years into the future. That’s your vision. It describes your company’s purpose, what you’re striving for and what you want to achieve.”
In the second chapter, it’s time to build a plan.
“Your plan is the roadmap for your business. It guides you in the direction that you want to take. Start by establishing goals and outlining what success looks like to you. They need to be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, and relevant, a time-bound outline of what you’re going to do and when you’re going to do it by.”
Examples of goals Friedman offered included earning a set amount of commission in 12 months, strategically adding destination expertise to your agency, or earning a certification in a specified time frame.
Third chapter is getting tactical.
“This is where you’re going to develop a tactical marketing plan that details the specific actions that you’re going to take to grow your business.”
Part of that, she said, is determining your target customer.
“These are people with a high propensity to take the types of trips that you want to focus on.”
Other chapters in the “story” of each advisor’s business included: retain your customer, qualify your customer, build partnerships, work in your business, keep learning, engage, and have fun.
“Remember, why you chose to work in this industry. For many of us, it was for a love of travel. For some, it was a love of working with people… whatever your reason, we are in an amazing industry and most of us can’t think about doing anything else. The travel industry gets in your blood, doesn’t it? There’s no cure and that’s a good thing.”
Roadmap to Success
During the executive roundtable held for media in attendance at the show, Robbi Hamida, senior vice president of agency operations for Nexion Travel Group offered an update on one of the initiatives launched last year, the Roadmap to Success revamp of Nexion University.
It launched last year with about 691 documents that Hamida said helps advisors “from A to B to C to D of what they needed to know to run their business.” A year later and the resource has grown to more than 1,000 documents.
In addition to helping advisors, Hamida said Roadmap to Success has helped Nexion operationally.
“It’s helped us lower our phone calls, lower the email volume that we’re getting because they’re able to get answers at a glance.”
Hamida also said, Nexion has no plans to slow down the growth of Roadmap to Success.
“We’re happy with what it is now. We just need to take it to where it needs to go next… Agents have been giving us lots of feedback on what is missing and we’re taking all that into account. But it’s become a real super tool for agent learning.”