Too many home-based travel agents are missing profitable selling opportunities by not booking air, Jackie Friedman, president of Nexion, the host agency, told Travel Agent.
A veteran industry leader, Friedman also believes that the decision not to sell air weakens the travel agents value to their clients. “I strongly believe that today's successful agent needs to focus on building a "client for life" and not just focus on transactional business. In order to be able to do that successfully, agents need to be prepared to service their customer on all elements of travel planning, including booking their airline tickets.”
Friedman believes that too many agents direct their customers to book their airline tickets online – a move that can weaken an agents control over the booking. “The best way to ensure that the airline itinerary works for the tour or cruise package is to have the agent handle the booking from end to end.”
There are a number of reasons why agents are reluctant to assist their clients with booking airline tickets, Friedman says. “For some, it is the perception that you can't make money selling airline tickets so they choose not to get involved. For others, it is fear of debit memos. For others still it is a lack of knowledge or training.”
Nexion’s experience tracks with data from a recent ASTA profile of home based agents that notes that between 2002 and 2011, the percentage share of air sales (26 percent) dropped 23 percent. In contrast, hotels cruises and tours all saw strong increases.
“The fact is that most agents entering the industry do not have Global Distribution Systems (GDS) knowledge and don't see the value in learning the cryptic GDS formats. Those that do choose to book air are looking for graphical tools that make the process easy. They may book on airline websites, through consolidators or through the large online travel agencies.”
“These are all options, but may not be the most profitable option for them. At Nexion, we have seen the percentage of agents opting for our GDS fulfillment programs drop over the past several years as the cruise and tour business continued to grow,” she notes.
Now that Nexion is part of Tzell Travel Group and Travel Leaders, Friedman wants to change this. “Nexion agents now have access to over 54 airline contracts and can earn commissions as high as 25 percent on air sales.”
“Most of the commission programs are on international itineraries, however, there are some great opportunities on transcontinental routings and other tactical domestic routings,” Friedman says.
Nexion has also launched a new program to help agents build air sales and realize the profit and service opportunities. “Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for all Nexion agents to take advantage of these commissionable airline contracts, whether they use a GDS or not,” she notes.
Nexion plans on rolling out a new graphical online booking engine in the second quarter of this year, Friedman says. “We are also adding a dedicated air desk to provide support and ticketing fulfillment for non-GDS agents. We will assist booking and ticketing, monitor the PNR post-ticketing and manage any schedule changes as needed.”
Nexion has also ramped up training on booking air for non-air agents, to make things as easy as possible for agents, she reports. “We have recorded and archived these classes so all Nexion agents can refer to the training as needed. We are also looking at providing live training at Nexion’s CoNexion conference in September.”
(Next Week: Nexion agents - both GDS and non-GDS - who have taken advantage of the new Nexion program and have seen their earnings increase - report on how it’s done.)