Established host agencies are delivering outstanding support to independent agents—support essential to survival and growth in an economic downturn. A good example is Nexion, which is seeing growth in productivity, sales and membership.
With annual ARC and leisure sales of $245 million, 2,100 members and strong support from parent Sabre Holdings and Sabre Travel Network, Nexion, formed in 1995, ranks among the largest host agencies and a pace setter in innovation and support
“Nexion agents have rallied to confront the challenges faced by every agent in an economic downturn,” says Jackie Friedman, general manger of Nexion. “They are using all the resources that Nexion provides—marketing, technology, training and community. Our focus in 2009 is to help our agents accelerate their success.”
One example is Nexion Town, an online community for Nexion agents based on the innovative cubeless platform developed by Sabre Travel Studios. Launched last year, Nexion Town has passed the 2,000-question mark underscoring the excellent reception of the community by Nexion agents. More than 800 agents regularly use the community, Friedman reports.
Nexion initiatives such as Boot Camp bring agents together for support and training.
Another example is Nexion’s Strategic Sales Coach program launched last month. The new pilot program is focused on helping agents improve sales in a recession and includes one-on-one coaching on customized action plans. It features weekly coaching calls, guidance on resources useful to the agent and advice on how to reach revenue goals.
“The initial response to our Coach program has been gratifying," says Friedman. "The personal attention and coaching is also paying off for our agents and preferred suppliers. Sales and service quality also benefit—as does Nexion, as we expand awareness among agents of all the tools that our members have available.”
Nexion's program is comprehensive, Friedman notes, and includes quality education and training, marketing support and planning, networking and strong preferred supplier support.
One result is that Nexion is adding on average 45 new agents a month with estimated 5 to 6 percent increases in average sales per agent. January was a record-setting month and February results may be equally solid, Friedman said. “Nexion is holding its own and despite the economy, 2009 may be a year of solid growth.”
Another Nexion initiative is Dialing for Dollars, a new program that encourages agents to make calls and build sales. "The challenge we presented our agents was to generate an incremental $1 million in revenue from January to April and focus on regular contacts with clients," Friedman said.
“The agent's worst enemy isn’t the economy, but indifference. Suppliers are offering tremendous value and savings as well as incentives for our agents to sell effectively,” Friedman said. “Consumers welcome agents' counsel and information on deals and travel options and if agents don’t reach out to their customers, they may book elsewhere”
Nexion's education and training program is one of the crown jewels of Nexion's program and includes the brand-new Targeted Marketing Discovery Series. This includes a series of virtual panels focused on popular destinations or a segment of the travel market to assist agents in making informed decisions on placing the right customer in the right destination or environment. Nexion’s successful three-day Boot Camp training helps build highly productive, profitable and professional agents. And Nexion’s PowerUP! program, launched last year, is tailored to attract and serve the needs of agents who are new to the industry.
As a sign of Nexion’s strength, Friedman says that Nexion will also hold its first standalone National Conference in Orange County, CA, from October 1-3. “Nexion agents have a real sense of community and our preferred suppliers are very supportive. Our suppliers see Nexion agents as productive and professional and offer lots of sales incentives and strong promotions,” Friedman said.
While new initiatives are important, Friedman also sees Nexion’s agents able to benefit from Nexion’s traditional strengths. This includes the resources of Sabre Holdings and Sabre Travel Network. Nexion’s financial strength and that of its parent companies are invaluable assets to agents. Nexion agents also benefit from the host's professional staff of 50.
Another advantage Friedman cites is ClientBase Marketing Services (CBMS). CBMS gives travel agents a way to select primary suppliers, then create, track and automatically send targeted, integrated marketing programs and to get complete tracking reports. Nexion is prepared to fund ClientBase and CBMS for the first year for qualified agents, to help them get started.
In fact, Friedman sees the links with Sabre as a powerful competitive edge for Nexion agents, offering them the best of state-of-the-art technology and marketing. Nexion membership can help agents deliver outstanding client services as part of their customer relations management program.
An industry veteran, Friedman is also vice president of the Professional Association of Travel Hosts (PATH) and is active in ASTA’s influential Corporate Advisory Council (CAC). PATH represents top host agencies, while ASTA’s CAC represents major industry consortia. Friedman is both a CTC and CTIE.
“In a down economy, agents must be prepared to make things happen. At the same time, agents need to be motivated, trained and supported by a strong, well-managed professional host agency they can grow with and have confidence in,” Friedman said.