TORONTO — When Nexion got its start in 1995, airlines were capping and then cutting commissions. The caps and cuts, combined with the exponential growth of OTAs in those days, made for a one-two punch for travel agencies, and many predicted that the traditional retail distribution chain would never recover.
And yet Nexion and its agencies, and thousands more travel retailers, are still here 25 years later. Navigating a pandemic, for sure, but still here.
Bookended by these challenges in the mid-1990s and now in 2020 with COVID-19, Nexion has flourished, says Jackie Friedman, President, Nexion Travel Group.
Friedman spoke at the CoNexion media conference, via Zoom, along with Mike Foster, President, Nexion Travel Group Canada, and other Nexion executives. More than 1,000 attended CoNexion 2020, virtually of course.
Friedman says Nexion staff “are so proud of everything our members are doing, and we’re proud of their resiliency” as they deal with the pandemic and its impact on travel and the industry.
Nexion now has close to 5,000 members, down from just over 5,000 pre-COVID.
While some agencies have been forced to close as a result of the pandemic, Friedman says she’s surprised by how many inquiries she’s getting from people who are new to the industry, who are interested in becoming travel agents. “People are still interested in a career as a travel advisor,” she said. “And that’s true in Canada and the U.S.”
Foster backed up Friedman’s take, saying he too is seeing an uptick in inquiries. “We’ve seen more and more people looking to enter the industry. Also, for travel advisors who are looking to go home-based, or are maybe thinking about switching host agencies, this is the best time ever for that,” says Foster.
It’s also an opportune time to fine-tune the business. “It’s hard to fix your plane while you’re flying,” says Foster. “And we’re on the tarmac now. What’s the future for your business? What’s your marketing plan? Do you have a niche? These are all great questions to ask right now.”
At the media conference, Nexion’s execs offered an overview of everything from marketing, to education opportunities, to upcoming virtual events.
Marketing is “obviously a little different this year,” said Friedman. The host agency is continuing with its Escape campaign. “We had to stop, take a pause and really assess the readiness of clients and agents,” says Friedman. “We have adjusted our messaging accordingly.”
For education, Nexion is offering both ‘back to basics’ learning, with quick-learn webinars from experts, and a ‘chaos to control’ approach, ensuring that members know the tools available to them to upgrade their skills during this downtime.
Agents are also getting all sorts of marketing tips and inspirational ideas from Friedman herself, as she offers up weekly videos. ‘Jackie’s Friday Quick Bit’ is filmed live at Jackie’s house, giving Nexion members a chance to connect with Friedman and others. “We pick a hot topic, we try to keep the videos positive and informative,” says Friedman. Recent topics have including travel shaming and the importance of partnerships.
With everyone so adept with all things virtual now, Nexion’s lineup of upcoming virtual events will no doubt draw a crowd. In addition to CoNexion 2020, there’s also virtual versions of Corporate CoNexions, the Luxury Sales Summit and the Group Sales Summit on the calendar.
Friedman says staff are looking forward to in-person events for 2021, including Essentials, Boot Camp, the Group Sales Summit, Regional events and the Marketing Symposium. In addition, CoNexion 2021 is scheduled to take place onboard Norwegian Joy.
Many agents are wondering what consumers are thinking right now. Do they want to travel? Are they receptive to travel marketing? “The best way to find out what consumers want to hear about is to talk to them,” says Friedman. “Connect with them. And remember, you can’t sell from your own risk tolerance.”
The travel industry, known for its resiliency, will bounce back from COVID-19, says Friedman. “The pent-up demand, it’s real,” says Friedman. “People can’t wait to travel again. There’s definitely a bright future for those who can stick this pandemic out.”