Jackie Friedman, the new general manger of host agency Nexion, recently discussed with Home-Based Travel Agent how home-based agents' roles are morphing and what her company is looking for in its members.
Friedman's travel industry experience spans more than 23 years and includes work with both corporate and leisure travel agencies in Canada, the United States and Latin America. Most recently, she served as Nexion's vice president of operations and business development.
Friedman notes changes she has seen in the industry and how Nexion is maintaining its success and offering agents more programs.
The Evolving Home-Based Agent
Friedman says that she sees home-based travel agents evolving in two ways. "It's interesting because going to a lot of trade shows, I see that people are coming from a lot of different industries and turning travel into their second career," she observes.
"They are coming in as specialists and bringing business skills, which are important...[Travel planning] is geared more towards customer segmentation instead of destination," Friedman says. One agent she has met, for example, works with recovering alcoholics. Another focuses on religious groups and another develops programs for a scrapbooking organization.
Secondly, Friedman says that she has noticed that a lot of travel agents are also small business owners. "A lot of agents have worked with restrictions, such as a nine-to-five job and now like the flexibility to meet with customers and have that face-to-face interaction," Friedman says.
This kind of entrepreneurial agent is exactly what Nexion is looking for—and Nexion is doing its part to help agents connect with more customers.
Friedman says Nexion is very focused on its marketing and sales programs. "The most important skill to have is being able to market. Once they get the client, they have to have the sales ability. Third, they have to have the travel knowledge and knowledge of the product or research it later so as to find the right solution. The secret to their success is getting out there."
Getting out there involves going to the places your targeted customers are likely to gather. If the customer segment you are targeting is golfers, be visible at country clubs. If it is religious groups, network at churches.
During the past two years, Nexion has more than doubled its membership to more than 2,100 independent travel professionals. It has implemented programs that both help agents and aide in Nexion's success. "We are looking for serious folks who want to extend their business. We have innovative marketing programs to help them wow clients," Friedman says.
What's New at Nexion
In March, Nexion hosted a "boot camp," which focused training on sales, marketing and desktop tools as well as giving agents insight into the business. Because more and more agents don't want to deal with airline ticketing, last month Nexion started a full-service ticketing desk.
A change to the commission process is also in development. Instead of once a month, agents will be able to get direct deposit into their accounts twice a month. In September, Nexion is launching its first CoNexion Live conference, which connects agents with other agents, suppliers and Nexion staff.