The ability to serve clients by selling airfare is a vital tool for home-based independent travel agents to build their businesses, according to an informal survey conducted by host agency, Nexion, of its agent members.
Not only do the agents—all top Nexion performers—see air sales as an important client service, but also as a source of revenue gains. With Nexion, agents now have access to 54 airline agreements from parent company, Tzell Travel, part of Travel Leaders.
The agents who were surveyed—many with decades of experience in competitive markets—also stressed the importance of having a strong partnership with a host agency and the importance of back office support. Nexion president Jackie Friedman reported that, to assist Nexion members in expanding their sales of air, Nexion will launch a new program in the second quarter. Included are new booking tools with graphical interface, personalized and online training for Nexion agents, a dedicated air sales desk and other tools to encourage participation.
“Air sales are critically important tool for our member agents,” said Freidman. “It can set [agents] apart from [their] competitors, prove invaluable to the clients and help build revenues. Air sales are worth considering, with or without a GDS.”
Nexion agent Steve Lincoln, of Lincoln Travel, offered this advice for agents: “ Most agents new to the industry are unaware of the incredible opportunity to capitalize on selling air products. Many are intimidated at the prospect of learning to use a GDS proficiently. My advice would be to align yourself with the host agency that best suits your needs and jump in and learn to use a GDS. It’s a lot like learning a foreign language, you just have to immerse yourself, but once you do you’ll soon realize the potential to accelerate your success and your income."
Lincoln said that his business is approximately 80 percent leisure and 20 percent corporate with a large concentration on international educational travel for university faculty and students. He has been an agent since 1982 and praised Nexion’s ability to offer ARC fulfillment.
“Their air contracts are undoubtedly the best and most lucrative in the industry,” said Lincoln. “They take care of all back office accounting necessities thereby allowing me to concentrate my time and efforts on what I enjoy, selling travel.”
Lincoln also said that the decision to sell air has benefited his overall profitability.
“Comparing my income from the first two-and-a-half months of 2010 to the same period of 2011, my income has increased 467 percent.”
He also praisesd Nexion’s support capabilities.
“Nexion’s back office accounting system is so efficient I don’t have to do anything other than prepare the PNR for ticketing and queue it over. This saves me an immeasurable amount of time. Rather than focus on air contracts, ARC requirements, bonding issues, ARC reports … I can concentrate on other matters. Time is money and any time saved affords me the opportunity to concentrate on building my business."
Another top Nexion agent echoed Lincoln’s sentiments.
Holly Tucker, of Holly Tucker Travel, said, “ I started off in the travel business as a 100 percent leisure agent working at AAA [more than] 22 years ago. Back then, I created my niche by focusing on the “average person” who flew two or three times a year, often times to visit family. I watched for air sales and notified clients, and developed a loyal following because people knew I was watching out for them. When I started as a home-based agent 20 years ago, most of my business was [made up of] this type [of] air—not corporate—[sales] with some leisure packages.”
“As it evolved, my knowledge and focus on air was appreciated by small corporate companies and self-employed business travelers who watched their bottom line. Over the last 20 years, my business evolved from 100 percent leisure to almost 80 percent corporate. The personal service, with attention to detail, with a good knowledge of air travel, especially international, is what makes me valuable to my corporate clients. This knowledge is also what my makes me stand out with my leisure clients, because their air travel needs are just as important to them as well.”
Tucker’s decision to affiliate with Nexion for ARC fulfillment was basic.
“In the beginning, there were so few choices as a home-based agent, I was affiliated with a couple of mom-and-pop agencies and was very unhappy with the drama, disorganization and general attitude toward me and my business. It’s the same amount of work involved for the agency for a $10,000 ticket with a large commission as it is a $100 ticket with no commission and I wanted to keep as much commission on the big ticket. Nexion was the first 'large' non-mom-and-pop agency with good technology and competitive commission splits that treated the home-based agent with respect.
Tucker also sees a basic link between technology and the independent agents success: “The main advantage with Nexion has been the advanced technology, professional operation and their reputation with suppliers. These things are what enabled me to be an efficient and professional home-based agent, and in that sense it has enabled me to be profitable and successful. Those are the tools I especially needed to service corporate clients, and those small tools helped me to stand out to the leisure clients.”
“Nexion has always been committed to better and more efficient technology, and that alone makes them stand out. Yes, you have to have good selling skills, but with today’s technological advances, you have to more than just keep up with technology, you have to be the leader and Nexion has always been that leader in home-based travel,” Tucker said.
Tucker’s advice for agents: “Selling airline tickets can be challenging, but it can be very profitable. It’s complicated and mistakes can be costly but financially it’s very rewarding. But I truly believe you can’t provide the best service to a leisure traveler without being knowledgeable about being able to issue air tickets. Understanding all the aspects of the travel experience, including ticketing, will only make you a better—and more profitable—travel agent.”
Becky Jones, of Becky Jones Travel, agreed with Tucker and Lincoln. Her business is now comprised of 85 percent leisure and 25 percent corporate sales and she has been in the business for 32 years. She said her decision to affiliate with Nexion was based on need.
“I needed a host agency that was also full service with ARC/GDS – Sabre,” Jones said. “The contracts with Nexion are very generous. Rather than use an outside consolidator where they share a portion of their earnings, I can receive 80 percent of those commissions now with Nexion/Tzell. Its a win-win [situation]. I can direct client purchases with our preferred airlines.”
Jones' advice to agents is to sell air.
“Some new agents are not familiar with GDS and do not know the profit potential. A GDS system can be scary to a new person but, with the Nexion team assisting with the booking and ticketing procedures, there is no reason at all for new agents not to take advantage and offer this service to their clients,” she said.
Tony Salamone, of the Tony Salamone Travel Company, also noted the value of air sales. He reported that his business serves mostly international premium leisure travelers and has been in business for 10 years. His decision to affiliate with Nexion for ARC fulfillment was intrinsically tied to the value of being associated with a host agency.
“My company benefits from the enhanced commissions with many preferred airline suppliers in the network and now being a part of the Tzell/Travel Leaders family has increased the value 10-fold. We are able to offer full travel services to our clients in the trip planning process,” Salamone said, urging agent colleagues to consider air sales. “Many new agents may think it’s challenging to issue air tickets, however, depending on the market, it can be very lucrative. My advice is to speak with the support staff at Nexion to understand the systems that are at their disposal.”