While the sale of Nexion to Travel Leaders Group has been rumored for months, the recent announcement of Nexion’s acquisition by Tzell, a unit of Travel Leaders, has surprised many. Especially those concerned with the future of independent home based professional agents.
At a basic level, the acquisition is a sign of confidence— not only in Nexion’s agents and management but in the future of independent agents who can be expected to be an increasingly vibrant and powerful force in travel distribution. Nexion is a host agency with an estimated 2,000 members and sales estimated in excess of $200 million.
To the credit of Jackie Friedman (who will remain president) and Sabre, Nexion has grown and prospered despite the economic downturn. To many, Nexion set the standard for host agencies including solid supplier relations, a strong technology platform and innovative marketing. Noteworthy for anyone attending Nexion conferences was the quality of Nexion agents and its agent advisory council.
Friedman, who is also now president of the Professional Association of Travel Hosts (PATH) (PATH represents many established host agencies), was and remains an articulate advocate of professional independent agents and their value to suppliers and the traveling public. She cut cooperative deals with GTM and worked with Vacation.com to give her agents access to Vacation.com’s marketing program. Sabre Holdings has owned Nexion since October 2003 and Nexion has more than tripled in size.
While Nexion agents have been informed of the acquisition, we can’t judge their reaction. But there is little doubt that Travel Leaders has a big stake in making the acquisition work. On the plus side, Travel Leaders has a extremely professional management— not only in Barry Liben, to whom Friedman will report, but Travel Leaders Group’s Mike Batt and Travel Leaders Franchise Groups’s Roger Block.
Travel Leaders' management team both before and after Carlson’s ownership has a strong track record of nurturing stand alone agency groups. Two examples are Results! Travel and Cruise Holidays, not to mention flagship Travel Leaders agencies that includes many former Carlson Wagonlit Travel agencies. Nexion agents will now be affiliated with a strong, innovative pro agent group with a long, proud tradition.
Technology may be a big part of the decision— including Sabre’s newly launched Sabre Red platform, which specifically noted in the media release. A virtual certainty is that Tzell (with sales estimated at $900 million) and Travel Leaders will invest in the marketing and technology tools Nexion agents will need to be competitive and profitable.
There will be no shortfalls in either education or training or other resources Nexion agents need to succeed. Travel Leaders Group’s combined wholly owned and franchised sales are estimated at $6 billion. Travel Leaders and Tzell Travel Group joined together in 2008.
A key point of the transaction as it now stands remains that Nexion will operate under the Tzell Travel umbrella as part of Travel Leaders. Friedman will continue as president of Nexion, reporting directly to Liben, himself a strong manager that has built Tzell into a powerhouse in its own right. Nexion's entire team remains in place to support the agents.
“Nexion fits perfectly within our long-term vision and overarching strategy of remaining one of the travel industry's leading and most respected companies,” Travel Leaders said. “Not only will this acquisition enable us to further expand what we offer agencies under our umbrella, but the addition of Nexion strengthens our portfolio and increases our overall travel volume by more than $200 million annually. In turn, we'll provide Nexion's exceptional agents with a new home that's devoted exclusively to the travel agency industry.”
All acquisitions have a downside, and certainly there are going to be challenges to be faced in this transition. Yet, in the current business jargon, this all adds up to a “win-win” for Nexion agents, for Tzell and for Travel Leaders.
Nexion agents will certainly be well equipped to deal with changes in marketing and technology and the management of their own businesses. They will have a strong brand to work with and the support of a proven, innovative, well financed management team.
In brief, Nexion agents are moving from one powerhouse industry group – Sabre-Holdings - to another - Travel Leaders - and will be on the cutting edge of innovation and client service quality. We wish them great success.