CoNexion 2019: Nexion Leaders Showcase What's New

Left to right, Nexion executives gather to brief the media at the annual CoNexion conference, "Engage, Exchange, Excel." It kicked off Thursday at the Universal Orlando Resort, Orlando, FL. Left to right are Robbi Jumaa Hamida, Heather Kindred, Jackie Friedman and Cris de Souza.

With 4,500 member advisors in the United States and 230 or so in Canada, Nexion Travel Group is seeing “steady growth” with many new advisors eager to start a career in the travel industry, Jackie Friedman, Nexion’s president, told reporters during a media briefing Thursday in Orlando.

Speaking at the 2019 CoNexion conference at the Universal Orlando Resort, “we like to say we’re the host with the most,” Friedman said. “Everything is focused on making our advisors as successful as they can possibly be, and we want to help them in ways to be more efficient, but also more profitable.” 

This year’s conference, which Travel Agent will be covering more in upcoming stories, is themed “Engage, Exchange, Excel.”

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Membership Nearing 5,000

With membership now approaching 5,000 advisors, Friedman and her executive team outlined new programs, training, marketing and technology enhancements designed to keep a pipeline of new skilled advisors flowing to Nexion and also to enhance skills, revenue and productivity for long-time advisors.

Participating in the press briefing were Robbi Jumaa Hamida, senior vice president of agency operations; Cris de Souza, vice president of sales and marketing; and Heather Kindred, senior director of business development and education. Also sitting in on the briefing was Mike Foster, president, Nexion Travel Group, Canada.

Here’s a look at some of the tidbits from this briefing.

New Advisors: Friedman says Nexion is “looking for quality” in the types of new agents recruited. So where are those advisors coming from? And who are they?

Many are experienced cruisers who want to monetize their expertise in cruise travel. Friedman said they’re already cruising all the time and already going on cruises with friends and family.

Others are veterans or coming from Travel Leaders of Tomorrow, a training program of Nexion’s parent company, Travel Leaders Group.

Many are younger agents than those joining in the past, too. Forty percent of new advisors who have arrived via the Travel Leaders of Tomorrow program are under 40. “That was really very encouraging to see,” Friedman noted.

Nurses, teachers, people formerly in financial services or sales and marketing, are also big sources for new agents. Most have good soft skills in business, but they need hard skills in how to sell travel, she said.

New NEXstart Cruise: Since more advisors desire to center their business around cruise sales, Nexion announced that, starting in mid-November, it will introduce NEXstart Cruise, a new online training track designed to help advisors desiring to center their business around cruise sales.

With 11 online lessons plus virtual guest lectures, the new training program will provide destination and sales information exclusive to cruising. “Over the years,we have noticed an increased interest in travel advisors selling cruise travel,” said Friedman. “NEXstart is the result of our members wanting education that is highly tailored to this specific topic.”

Modules will focus on popular cruise destination, international travel regulations and requirements, sales skills and travel insurance.

All NEXstart Cruise participants also can take part in monthly group coaching sessions for one year following completion of the program. They’ll also have access to exclusive webinars from Nexion Travel Group’s cruise partners as well as industry experts.

To support this new training effort, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) will give NEXstart Cruise participants four CLIA classes.

“Cruising’s wide variety of ships and destinations make it perfect for specialization,” said Friedman. “We are looking forward to helping Nexion Travel Group members who wish to specialize in this lucrative and growing travel segment.

Business Mix: Sales of cruises and tours are now about even in terms of the volume of what Nexion advisors are selling. Air is still number one for the group.

New Technology & Lead Generation: Last year the Nexion organization and its member agents began a changeover to new technology, which Friedman called a “challenge,” and said agents were very patient with Nexion during the process.

“Now that we have the fundamental infrastructure in place, we can build on top of that,” she said, noting that one priority is lead generation. The group is taking some science from sister brands, Vacation.com and TravelLeaders.com so look for new lead generation enhancements in 2020.

Hamida said that Nexion’s new technology platform all evolves around engagement, as agents are bombarded by so many things. It’s about “getting them to read the messaging, stop and read and take advantage” of opportunities, better manage their time and market to customers.

CoNexion Conference: This year’s CoNexion conference was “the first to sell out as early as it did,” said Hamida. That happened early in the summer.

So, approximately 500 advisors plus travel supplier representatives and Nexion staff are participating this week at the Universal Orlando Resort’s conference facilities, a total of about 750 people.

General sessions, workshops, roundtables and myExperienceZone are under way, so agents can check out new technology and hobnob with top industry sales executives. They’re learning to set up their business or enhance their business, plus networking with other agents and learning about travel products.

Most advisors are staying at the Royal Pacific Resort at the Universal Orlando Resort, and will head out Saturday for a Universal theme park experience.

One fun element? Hamida, serving as conference host on stage at the general sessions and introducing speakers, was attired in a colorful, cartoon-character suit during the briefing and, earlier in the day, was on stage in a yellow canary colored suit.

“The suits have become a thing,” he quipped, noting that last year he made a conscious decision that none of the suits seen on stage were ever previously worn. So, with seven general sessions there will be seven different suits, plus a half-suit for the Luau last night.

The uniqueness of them is a humorous point of conversation between the agents, who have been asking on social media: “What is Robbi wearing?”

Marketing News & Tools: De Souza talked about Nexion’s focus on expanding its business to consumer marketing program over the past two years, and how it’s evolving the omnichannel Escape marketing platform; the goal is to enable members to reach clients in multiple ways.

Powered by Travel Leaders Network’s engagement platform, the Escape platform gives members access to a suite of consumer-facing tools, which can be branded with their own agency name and call to action.

The brand has created the glossy Escape magazine, a slick, four-color print publication sent to clients and potential clients four times a year. It’s designed to hit the right buttons for “aspirational” travel experiences that tap into the consumer’s bucket list desires and inspire their sense of wonder.

On top of that, e-mail marketing will be layered in as well as marketing on business to consumer Web sites.

The Escape publication will be themed; the fall 2019 one, for example, is ice-focused, providing stories about fantastic holidays on ice. One story in that is “On Top of the World,” a piece about how Silversea’s Kit Van Wagner trains expedition leaders for Arctic excursions. Another is “Five Swiss Storybook Villages,” and others focus on Alaska, Iceland and “Creatures of the Cold” (think polar bears and so on).

It also has travel tips and stunning photography. Inside the front cover, the 40-plus-page publication is personalized to the individual client, saying, for example, “Dear Cindy.”

The front cover itself also has a headline of “Fantastic Holidays on Ice from XYZ Travel Agency,” so the individual agent’s call to action or labeling is on the piece in several areas.That can make even the smallest agency look big to the consumer, improving the agency’s public persona.

Agents get some magazines to send out on a complimentary basis and then can purchase more at a reasonable price as well.

Overall, “Escape has proven to really be a solid foundation,” said De Souza, and Nexion keeps expanding the concept. She adds that Escape Insider, a separate, smaller size booklet that’s “completely offer driven” for 2019, is published nine times a year, and supported by e-mail and social media promotion.

Nexion also has purchased the URL www.escapevacations.com for development (it is not yet ''live") as it expands that business-to-consumer marketing focus.

De Souza also says her department has also taken control over the business-to-consumer digital themed e-mail campaigns. “We’re executing nine this year,” she says, noting that it features the individual advisor as a call to action.

More Training Opportunities: Many new training options are available to Nexion agents. Kindred outlined those for reporters including Boot Camp, set for February and July 2020 in Irving, TX; this focuses on tools, programs and the support Nexion Travel Group offers. It’s appropriate for travel advisors new to Nexion Travel Group, no matter their level of experience in the industry.

Essentials, a five-day course in March, June, October and December 2020, is for those new to the travel industry, focusing on skills to run a successful travel agency, including operations, marketing, selling skills and more.

In “Regionals,” Nexion will offer eight chances in 2020 for its members to meet with executives and supplier partners in their own areas -- Anaheim, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Newark, Orlando and Washington, D.C.

Nexion also is bringing back specialty courses, and members who attend a specialty course can receive ongoing coaching from one of the host agency’s business coaches. For example, in April 2020, a Group Sales Summit will bring together travel partners and experts in group travel to teach members how to expand their business with more group sales, whether cruise, land, tour or air. Location is yet to be determined.

Other specialty programs that are back are Corporate CoNexion for corporate travel (June 2020 in San Francisco); the Marketing Symposium (July 2020 in Minneapolis); Luxury Sales Summit exclusively for luxury travel specialists (November 2020 in New Orleans); Luxury 101 for newer or new-to-luxury advisors (November 2020 in Chicago).

In addition, Nexion Travel Group is continuing the Supplier Experience Day event that debuted in 2019. Hosted at the headquarters of a Nexion Travel Group supplier partner, the event allows a small group of members to go in-depth and learn about the supplier’s offerings and programs, and meet with the supplier’s executives.

Business development and education staff members from Nexion will also do hands-on application training to show attendees how to promote the supplier’s product through myNexion.

“We are looking forward to an exceptional year helping our members improve their skills through education,” said Friedman

Stay tuned for more 2019 CoNexion conference updates here at www.travelagentcentral.com.

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