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Working Together

September 25, 2009 By: George Dooley Travel Agent


Host agencies

Host agencies are helping homebased agents build their careers with hands-on coaching

 The ultimate rebuttal to multilevel marketing (MLM) schemes is the quality of established host agency programs that are delivering business-building results to independent home-based agents.

Independent agents—and there may be many more before the recession ends—have a wide range of choices, which have been tailored to meet their individual objectives, talents and expertise, in host agencies, and a diversity of host agency business models.

There is no better example of this than Nexion, a 2,100- member group founded in 1995 and a unit of Sabre Travel Network and Sabre Holdings. By any standard, Nexion offers outstanding opportunities to independent agents who want to build substantive careers in travel.

Nexion is not only an established host agency, with aggregate sales of
$245 million but one with the ability to deliver a blend of innovation, affordable and useful technology, training—including hands-on coaching for serious-minded newcomers—and award-winning sales and marketing support.

Few, if any, get-rich-quick MLM schemes found on the web can match Nexion’s program for travel professionals. Nexion agents can earn up to 100 percent commissions, get paid twice a month via direct deposit, choose from more than 70 preferred suppliers and access Nexion Cruise Block Space and Cruise Groups Plus.

They get access to a host of services, including consumer amenities, bonus commissions and exclusive shore excursions. There is no ARC bond or accreditation requirement, no long-term GDS contracts and no per-invoice or transaction fees.

“Integrity is at the core of our business,” Jackie Friedman, Nexion’s general manager, said in an interview with Travel Agent. “We are in the travel business for the long haul and our relationship with our agents is based on mutual trust, confidence and integrity.

“Nexion’s task is to deliver value and opportunity. [We are] in [the] business to help agents prosper as independent travel professionals. We want to accelerate agents’ success. We enable agents to operate more efficiently and profitably by reducing costs and increasing revenues. This has proven decisive in the current downturn,” Friedman says.

From her perspective, independent agents can make a major contribution to the industry by delivering the sales and client-service quality that cruise lines, tour operators and a host of industry suppliers need. “We have tested programs that serve agents, their clients and suppliers effectively and affordably,” she says.

Personal Involvement

Friedman holds the view that agents should not expect to succeed simply by setting up an online booking site. “Experience has shown us that successful independent agents must be personally involved in every transaction. [They] must control the booking and have all the services today’s client expects,” she notes.

As more storefront agencies close due to the economic downturn, Friedman is actively seeking out experienced agents who want to stay in the travel business as well as new entrants to the industry. “Despite the recession we are growing in sales and see [an] opportunity ahead,” she says.

Nexion’s PowerUP program, for example, designed to help new entrants get started, is one of many elements in the agency’s education and training program. Forty-nine agents have completed the program to date. As another measure of Nexion’s success, the host will have its first stand-alone national conference, Co-Nexion 2009, from October 1-2 in Orange Country, CA.

Nexion has a dedicated staff of 52, all committed to supporting its agents. The company’s program includes annual conferences, boot camps and Nexion [email protected], all allowing agents to connect with preferred travel suppliers, Nexion support teams and other agents. Weekly training webinars and regular networking calls—all focused on sales, marketing and technology skills—are also featured.

There are also three different types of commission plans that meet the needs of virtually any agent. The crowning jewel is Nexion Town, a social networking community that enables members to share best practices and expertise, and establish relations with new colleagues.

“To reach today’s travel consumer, professional agents must offer personalized service based on in-depth knowledge of supplier products,” says Friedman. “Nexion’s program isn’t just about Nexion, but the array of suppliers—cruise lines, tour operators, car rental firms and hoteliers—that want to work with productive agents.” Established host agencies have credibility with suppliers, she adds.

Tools and Services

With every booking, Nexion provides ticketing, operations, fulfillment support and marketing services. The agency does not sell directly to consumers or compete with its agents, who get access to multiple booking, reporting and administrative tools, optional access to the major GDS systems and ticketing fulfillment services.

Nexion also uses a web-based air, car and hotel booking tool for agents who don’t have a GDS, apart from an up-to-the- minute cruise-block space search tool and an online service center to manage accounts. The company also provides an online sales and commission tracking system.

Nexion agents have the advantage of a strong, well-financed parent company that is investing in Nexion and its agents. Unlike MLMs, which constantly struggle for legitimacy, Sabre Travel Network is a brand with global recognition and financial clout, and Friedman believes that matters to agents and to their clients. Nexion is also a member of IATAN, ASTA, CLIA, OSSN and NACTA, apart from the Professional Association of Travel Hosts (PATH), of which Friedman—who is a staunch advocate of a host agency’s value to independent travel agents—is vice president.

“We urge any independent agent to look at the extraordinary diversity of programs that PATH members offer agents, whether they are experienced or new entrants. Despite the current downturn, there are great opportunities ahead,” she says.

Here’s how Vicky Freed, senior vice president of Royal Caribbean, summed it up: “The cultivation of new agents is key to our industry’s future success. We are proud partners with Nexion and look forward to working together to help cultivate the knowledge and expertise of their agents, whether they are just starting out in the travel business or have been in [it] for several years.”

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