CoNexion 2019: More Top Takeaways for Advisors

Five hundred Nexion Travel Group members attended the sold-out “Engage, Exchange, Excel” 2019 CoNexion conference in Orlando last week -- hearing "intel” from top Nexion and Travel Leaders Group executives.

Motivational speaker Scott Chesney gave a rousing talk that had the crowd on its feet. Agents also heard updates from The Travel Institute and ASTA, as well as listened to supplier discussions about what's new. 

Over several days, the Nexion members attended General Sessions, workshops, training and networking events that unfolded at the Universal Orlando Resort's conference facilities at Loews Royal Pacific Resort. Travel Agent was on site, and here are some additional tidbits.

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Travel Leaders Discussion 

Jackie Friedman, president, Nexion Travel Group, moderated the General Session panel discussion by executives from parent company Travel Leaders Group. She said the Nexion members benefit sizably from the parent group's resources and programs -- noting that they "can give you a competitive advantage."

For example, discussing the Apex program, a program of Travel Leaders Group in collaboration with American Express, was Angie Licea, senior vice president and general manager, strategic partnerships, Travel Leaders Group.

One recent change? The Apex training is now 4.5 hours, not eight, according to Licea, so it's more productive and easier for agents. She urged the Nexion agents to just "get started."

Through Apex, Nexion agents can inspire customer loyalty, attract new clients, generate new revenue streams and offer travel deals to help close the sale. In terms of the membership rewards and redemption component of that program, Licea said, "Anyone here not taking advantage of this part of the program, you're missing out."

Also participating in the discussion were Peter Vlitas, senior vice president - airline operations; Stephen MGillivray, chief marketing and communications officer; and Michael Heflin, senior vice president - hotel operations, each of whom also offered tips for agents within their specialties.

Much discussion focused on promotions, resources and retention marketing. Creating a buzz, the discussion revealed that Royal Caribbean International's research shows that when a customer returns to the cruise brand for another voyage, two thirds of repeat guests have booked with a different travel agent than they did for the prior cruise.   

Roger Block, president, Travel Leaders Group, (shown in the photo at right) talked to the audience of advisors about instilling loyalty in customers so they don't jump ship.

"Think about what Starbucks has done with coffee and how much they can charge," says Block. Yes, the brand's prices can be high, the coffee concoctions have names that no one had heard of just a few years back, and yet the brand loyalty is unwavering.

"What Starbucks has done is something we as an industry have to do," said Block. "You can be an order taker and your value to your customer is very low, or you can go up the curve and be what we're calling the 'trusted advisor,' where your clients trust you to plan all of their vacation activities," he said. 

He said the group has developed a four-tier system to help advisors get to that trusted advisor level. It's not just education but personal travel experiences as well, as advisors share ideas and help plan activities for clients on vacation.

Travel Leaders Group offers webinars, expos and specialty courses (including luxury, active/adventure, honeymoons/destination weddings, group sales and so on) that help agents elevate their game so consumers remain loyal and advisors increase their own profitability.

Block also urged the advisors to use www.agentuniverse.com as a resource for information on all Travel Leaders Group training and resources. 

Executive Press Briefing 

Jackie Friedman, president, Nexion Travel Group, and her executive team briefed media about “steady growth,” the growing number of Nexion members (now approaching 5,000) and what’s new for technology, marketing and training programs. Read more about that in our story published Friday.

One standout? Nexion is introducing a new NEXstart Cruise training program. It’s designed for new and existing Nexion agents who desire to specialize in cruise sales, now rivaling tour sales in the organization’s revenue performance.

Universal Entertainment Update

The conference host destination was Universal Orlando Resort, and T.J. Mannarino, vice president of Art, Design & Entertainment there, discussed how the entertainment unfolds at the parks. It's a two-fold process, he said. 

Universal Creative develops the attractions (buildings) and formal shows in the parks, while his group, Universal Art, Design & Entertainment, creates the “live component” of what the parks present. That means creating opportunities for guests to come face to face with characters in the park, such as villagers and others from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Mannarino's goal is to bring a story to park goers in a one-on-one manner, noting it’s all about “how do we really engage our guests? How do we really bring the story to them?”

In addition, his department creates the live entertainment for three specialty programs --- Mardi Gras in spring with themed programming and 14 floats in a nightly parade; Halloween Horror Nights in fall; and Holiday Season programming that -- in partnership with Macy’s -- includes a holiday parade. He showed a "fearful guest's encounter" with Halloween Horror Nights that had the audience laughing and clapping at the end. 

In addition, at Mardi Gras or holiday time, too, guests also can ride on floats and help guide massive helium balloons. It creates “memorable moments, which is what live entertainment is all about,” he said. But he said, it’s not just big options, but smaller elements too that engage guests throughout the parks, such as the Blues Brothers street show and the Raptor Encounter.

He provided a few comparable “takeaway” elements based on the Nexion theme for the show, saying that it's important to "engage your audience, bring them into your story, interact with them.”

NEXtalk Front-Line Advice

During the conference, several front-line sellers who are Nexion members provided personal advice and tips in a NEXtalk series of chats for advisors; participating were Melinda Fortunato, Brandi Vincent and Elizabeth Caran.

Another such program covered by Travel Agent in a separate story gives NEXtalk insight by agency owner Rick Scadlock about how to make more money on group sales by using Facebook.

Professional Certifications Matter

Consumers desire to consult with a travel advisor who is professional and knowledgeable, according to Diane Petras, president of The Travel Institute, who talked about how she'd like to change the way agents think about the institute.

She stressed that agents should think of her organization as the My Travel Institute because it is the agents’ institute, formed 50 years ago “when the industry came together to form it as an independent, nonprofit entity dedicated to your success by providing you with college-level education, certification and testing.”

That results in several certification levels -- CTA for front-line, and CTC for management, and CTIE for leadership. “Certification matters,” she told the agent group, adding that “it matters more today than it did 50 years ago because anybody can become a travel agent. There is no experience necessary. There is no training that is mandatory."

"And that makes it tremendously appealing to enter this industry and that’s wonderful, but we risk maintaining the value that we have in the eyes of the traveling consumer because their standards are high," Petras said. "So our standards need to be higher in the area of industry knowledge, of communication skills, listening skills, just general geography, general business acumen, and that’s why certification matter.”

She said more than 25,563 people have graduated from The Travel Institute. Showing firsthand feedback from graduates who said it enhanced their professionalism and revenue, she urged the agents to sign up for a certification program: “You have to get started to be great.”

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