Attended By: Joanie Ogg CTC, MCC, Co-founder and Editor – Travel Professional NEWS®
On September 12, 2019 I boarded my non-stop flight on Alaska Airlines headed to the 2019 CoNexion Conference being held in Orlando, Florida. Andy had attended one of the previous CoNexion Conferences and had raved about what a fantastic event it was, so I was excited to be able to cover this for Travel Professional NEWS. Join me as I take you with me to this conference and share the highlights as well as some amazing insights from three very successful Nexion Travel Group members.
I was very fortunate to stay right at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort, which was the host hotel for the conference. The entire property has a lovely Hawaiian and very tropical theme which I loved. In the heart of “Theme park Land” sits a very low key and relaxing resort. My room was large and very well designed with the guests’ comfort in mind. I arrived later in the evening so sadly missed the first official day of the event and Opening Networking Reception. Flying from California to the East Coast is always a bit of a trek. I was very much looking forward to my first day at CoNexion after a good nights rest and getting myself on East Coast time.
The general session started with a sumptuous breakfast and the mood of excitement felt by all the attendees was infectious. More then 1000 attendees were there to network and learn together and rekindle friendships while making new ones. The ballroom was full to the brim with enthusiastic Nexion members, supplier partners and of course the amazing Nexion Travel Group team.
Nexion’s esteemed and so loved President, Jackie Friedman, took the stage and began the day with welcomes for all. I have known Jackie for many, many years and I love to see her up there sharing herself with her members. She is so admired and loved by her team, the members, suppliers and friends like myself. I am so proud of her accomplishments and all that she has achieved during her career.It truly is an honor to call her my friend and colleague.
Jackie impressed us all by managing a panel of Travel Leaders Group executives. The panel talked about the robust programs and services that Nexion members may take advantage of by being part of the Travel Leaders Group family. Some notable highlights of this insightful discussion was a discussion about Nexion’s air program called SNAP (Simple Nexion Air Program) along with all of the bells and whistles available as part of Travel Leaders. There are some amazing tools available and members were encouraged to book air through those easy to use tools and service customers while earning more commission. Air sales at Nexion has grown over 20% year over year. Revenues and commissions on air sales are up more then 18%.
The hotel programs for Nexion are designed to empower the Nexion advisors. The theme for 2019 was about empowerment for the agent members providing the tools needed to enable a seamless and easy way to increase commissions on hotel bookings. The Apex program offers unique contract rates to help the members with a competitive advantage through special rates, upgrades and amenities. There was no question as to the powerful tools being made available to the Nexion members through the relationship with Travel Leaders Group and the agents in attendance were excited to learn about and see all the new offerings for 2020 and beyond.
Next on the stage was Ronald Jacobs, President of Funjet Vacations and representing Apple Leisure Group. I had never had the pleasure of hearing Ron speak before and I have to say that I was so impressed. His message was honest and shared with such obvious compassion. This past year has been a challenging one for growth and management with all the changes that have taken place with the inclusion of brands into Apple Leisure Group.
He addressed those challenges head on and provided great insight into how the company was managing and improving the communications and service of the brands for the travel agent community. This great presentation was followed by CHUBB Travel Protection, ASTA, United Airlines and a brief but heartfelt message from Barry & Julie Karp, the owners of Shore Trips. After the general session the group broke for workshop rotations that included, Agent Profiler, Apex, Royal Caribbean’s Expresso program, public relations techniques and VAX.
Lunch and the next general session featured a fun and very engaging panel mimicking the game Truth or Dare to engage the panelists while still allowing them the opportunity to share their company messages in a lighthearted and humorous way. Panelists represented AmaWaterways, American Airlines, Apple Leisure Group and Universal Parks & Resorts Vacations. Needless to say this was hilarious and such a great way to get their messages to the audience.
Other presentations during this general session included American Airlines and a warm and very heartfelt message from Nexion Travel Group’s President, Jackie Friedman. Jackie talked about how all of the Nexion members are part of something bigger as a group. She shared that the success of each of the Nexion members is the number one goal for the Nexion team. She encouraged the audience to take advantage of all of the educational events and coaching opportunities that avail themselves. To excel means one must engage and Nexion has a multitude of opportunities to do just that.
Next on the agenda was the presentation of awards to several of Nexion’s Supplier Partners. Some of the award winners included our friends at AmaWaterways for Best Overall and Best River Cruise Line. Royal Caribbean and Celebrity both won Best Contemporary Cruise Line and Best Premium Cruise Line. There were smiles and hugs all around as representatives of the winners took the stage to receive their awards. It should be noted that all of these coveted awards are voted on by the members of Nexion. The 2019 Supplier Humanitarian of the Year was awarded to Royal Caribbean International for their support over the course of the year providing relief for hurricanes and other natural disasters as well as poverty, sustainable tourism, cultural heritage preservation and philanthropic initiatives.
More speakers rounded out the afternoon lunch session that was followed by another robust Workshop Rotation for the members to experience. Workshops featured topics such as De-mystifying the Balanced Life, Engagement Marketing, The Business of Being a New Travel Advisor and more. At 3:30 the Trade Show opened in the Pacifica Ballroom and it bustled with energy and excitement as the agents took this time and opportunity to get up front and personal with the suppliers in attendance. I had a chance to walk through before the agents entered the room and was astounded at the number and variety of supplier booths set up. The turnout was tremendous, just making it very clear how supportive the suppliers are of the Nexion Travel Group and how important the Nexion members are to their companies. The tradeshow floor stayed busy and bustling till it closed at 6:00pm.
We all had a little time to freshen up for the evening’s events. There were several hosted cocktail receptions that were followed by a simply amazing night. It took place at Universal Orlando and was a Private Party at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter ™ – Hogsmeade™. Buses took everyone to this enchanting and magical place where we enjoyed rides, delicious food, drinks and my new personal favorite “Butterbeer”. We all had a wonderful evening in this magical and mystical setting under a full moon. Oh, and it was also Friday, September 13th!
Day 3 of CoNexion began early at 8:00am with a Breakfast and General Session. One of my favorite presentations of the day was that given by Michelle Sutter, Director of Sales for Strategic Accounts at Holland America Line. I had not had the opportunity to hear her speak previously and her presentation was simply fantastic. To summarize, she talked about doors and how three doors can improve your everyday. Those are presence, positivity and community. It was really a wonderful presentation and the perfect way to start the day.
Several more speakers came on stage to share their messages including two of my favorite industry power women, Vicki Freed, Sr. VP of Sales and Trade Support with Royal Caribbean International and Dondra Ritzenthaler, Sr. VP of Sales and Trade Support with Celebrity Cruises. I have the honor of moderating a panel each year at CruiseWorld where both these ladies shine with their support and true friendship to travel professionals. It was great to see them sharing here at the Nexion conference. We also heard from Princess Cruises during this morning jam-packed session
Agents broke for Workshop Rotations again and everyone re-grouped for the Lunch and General Session where we heard from panelists representing Delta Air Lines, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Holland America. Now this was not just any panel, but instead was designed using the game Cards Against Humanity where each executive had to use the cards they were dealt to answer questions posed to them by the panel moderators from Nexion. It was seriously hysterical and such a fun way to enjoy hearing their messaging about their respective companies. Kudos to the Nexion team for creating such a great panel session and making it so fun for the panelists and the audience!
An awards ceremony also took place during this session where Nexion advisors who were present received their awards and were recognized by their peers and the suppliers in attendance. Those who were unable to attend this year’s CoNexion were also recognized for their achievements. Networks Leader of the Year was awarded to Tim Larison, owner of Family Travel Gurus in Aurora, Colorado. Bill Tilburg, owner of Global Travel Advisors in Mansfield, Massachusetts was awarded the ACT Mentors Award which recognizes a member who has devoted considerable time and effort to mentoring fellow members of Nexion Travel Group. The Social Pro of the Year award was given to Shylar Bredewold of Odyssean Travel, based in Ontario, Canada. Mary Ann Thoman of Travel Connections in Tulsa, Oklahoma was chosen as NexionTownie of the Year for her time and commitment to NexionTown. Elizabeth Caran, who we have featured in this month’s issue as one of those we interviewed at the event presented to the audience her story “How I built My Business by Adding Independent Contractors” and the audience enjoyed her talk so much. For more information on her recent Ambassador Award, which is Nexion Travel Group’s highest non-sales Advisor Award, make sure to read her interview in the pages to follow.
There was such a feeling of pride being felt by all. The session broke and more Workshop Rotations began featuring topics on selling corporate travel, how to get the phone to ring and many other sales training sessions. During all of the Workshop Rotations throughout the conference, agents had a chance to visit myExperience Zone where they could learn more about all the many offerings available to them as members of the Nexion Travel Group.
At 4:15pm everyone joined once again in the ballroom for the Closing General Session. More Advisor Awards were presented which included those winners of the Circle of Excellence and MillionAir recognitions. These awards are very sought after and those who won are to be commended for their sales and business growth. Robbi Hamida, Senior Vice President Agency Operations and Jackie Friedman, President both closed the final session with their words of praise for the members and words of encouragement and pride for all of the members of Nexion. Prizes were drawn for some incredible cruises and other fabulous travel experiences and there were some very delighted winners.
Nexion Travel Group announced their 2020 CoNexion event at the closing party the same day and they are headed to Disneyland® Resort for Nexion Travel Group’s 25th anniversary. The 2020 CoNexion Conference will take place September 11-13, 2020. Registration opened to all members within a few days of that announcement, and it sold out within that same week.
What a testament to the success of the Nexion events and congratulations to the amazing team. Having arranged events in our industry several times over my years in this business, I can honestly say this was truly one of the most impressive and well-orchestrated conferences I have attended. The feeling of camaraderie and the networking vibe that permeated this group was inspiring. I cannot wait till CoNexion in 2020 taking place September 11-13 at The Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California as they celebrate their 25th Anniversary. I sincerely hope to see many of you there!
CoNexion Agent INTERVIEWS
Elizabeth Caran, Owner
While at CoNexion I had the pleasure of sitting with Elizabeth Caran to discuss her business. Elizabeth was awarded the 2019 Ambassador Award at the event. This is a coveted award and represents brand excellence, support of preferred supplier partners and innovation. It is awarded annually to a Nexion Travel Group member who represents the pinnacle of business success, leadership, mentoring and promotion of the travel industry. Needless to say, it was my honor to spend some time with Elizabeth!
Can you share a little about yourself and how you got started in the travel business?
I was a librarian for 20 years, but I had always really wanted to be a travel agent. I thought about making a career change from my work in library science several times, but the timing was not right for one reason or another. Finally, I just decided the time was right. I came home from work one day and said to my husband, “Honey I want to quit my job and be a travel agent”. He said sure and the rest is history. I quit my job and made the big decision so follow my dreams. I found Nexion Travel Group and have now been running my own travel agency for 7 years. I currently have 11 agents working with me and have had IC’s since the first year of business. They are all friends and each is so successful in their own right.
Do you have a specialty or niche?
My specialty is family… and anywhere we can celebrate with families. I do cruises, Disney and now I am doing a great deal of family travel to Europe. I want kids to see the world. I have two 15 years old and a 13 year old. They know there way around travel and it is such a gift.
Have you attended previous Nexion Travel Group events?
This is my eighth CoNexion. I have been to one each year I have been in this business and have loved every one. The first training event I went to was Agent Essentials, which was perfect to get me started. I did not realize how much I would get from CoNexion till I attended that first one in Dallas. Now I know that if I cannot make it to any other conference of the year I will always make it to CoNexion.
What tool(s) offered by Nexion Travel Group do you find the most helpful in your business?
I think SNAP has been a lifesaver for me. It is a lay over on top of the Sabre GDS and it allows me to access all that the GDS has, but I do not have to know the GDS lingo to use it. Some agents do not want to sell air, but for me I feel it is very important to my clients. Air is a component that I want to be able to offer to my customers. That is one of the things that drew me to Nexion Travel Group since they had such a strong air-booking
Do you have any suggestions for others looking to get started with Nexion Travel Group?
Take advantage of all the programs that Nexion Travel Group has to offer. There are just so many things to avail yourself of to help you grow and prosper in your business. I did not realize how much I was missing till I started to get involved in Nexion Town. It is such a great resource to keep one abreast of all that is going on and new. If you don’t participate in these types of communication tools, you will miss out on so much information that can help you grow your business.
It is sometimes hard to know you are successful when you are trying so hard to be successful. One goal I really strove for was Circle of Excellence. It is a sales recognition within Nexion’s Preferred Suppliers. It is an achievable goal but you have to focus and work for it. I told myself the first year at CoNexion that I wanted to have my name up on that board as one of the Circle of Excellence winners. I have achieved that goal all but one year. I missed it one year by only $400 and I was so angry with myself and it was heartbreaking. I really focused and set goals for myself and built my business up. I have had it now 3 years in a row and I intend to always be there! I take great pride in achieving that goal.
Mike Edic (Dad), President/Owner
Jennifer Edic (Daughter), Travel Consultant
Pioneer Travel, LLC
Oak Creek, WI
I had the opportunity to sit with Mike Edic and his daughter Jennifer Edic at CoNexion. I was really excited to speak with them. As you all know, I too work with my son and it is so much fun to see our millennial young adults follow us on this travel industry path.
Mike, can you tell me a little about your travel industry background and what led you to choose Nexion Travel Group as your host agency partner?
I started out with the airlines and worked with Continental. I began working with Omega Travel and worked on the corporate side of the travel business. I sold corporate travel primarily for 15 years and I loved it. I decided I wanted to start my own business. I found Nexion Travel Group and after doing some research I knew that they were the perfect fit. March of 2012 I joined Nexion Travel Group and was grandfathered in at their 100% commission plan and it was the best decision I could have made.
I am excited to hear about your business mix and what you and your daughter are focused on selling. Can you share some of that with us?
Well, I love corporate travel and it will always be my favorite. However now I am doing about 80% corporate and many of those clients want to book their leisure vacations with me. Therefore now I do about 20% on the leisure side.
When Jennifer joined me she wanted to focus on Disney since that has always been something she and I loved to experience together.
How long have you been working with your Dad Jennifer?
I have been working with the agency now for 9 months. I am 26 years old. I studied to be a teacher and was previously teaching in Denver. Unexpected changes with that position made me look more closely at working in travel. So I moved back home and began taking all the training I could on Disney and Universal. I was ready to start something new and was excited about joining the agency. My dad has done such a great job building his business and maybe someday I can continue to run it when he wants to slow down.
How are you handling the business relationship with Jennifer? Is she an employee, partner or independent contractor?
Jennifer is an IC with me and she is responsible for creating, managing and running her business. I currently have 7 other ICs working with me.
Let me also share that I don’t get any preferential treatment, even though he is my Dad. I have to earn the respect and build my own business. However, he is dangling a possible trip in front of me if I can reach enough sales before the end of the year and I am focused on that goal.
What is your biggest takeaway from this year’s CoNexion?
The Engagement marketing oﬀerings that we have available to us are so invaluable. The Escape magazine and AgentMate are so useful. Having been in the corporate world I was used to putting everything in the GDS. These new tools are such a compliment to our businesses.
These events are like a family reunion and being able to connect with friends and colleagues is amazing. Networking and picking the brains of fellow successful peers is terrific.
This is my first CoNexion. Everyone seems to know my Dad since he is not typically the quiet guy in the room. It is fun to hang out with him here!
What tool(s) offered by Nexion Travel Group do you find most helpful in your business?
I am using AgentProfiler and I am working on the social media side of things. I am building my business through social media. I don’t have a big book of clientele yet and this is one way I can build my visibility.
If someone were considering partnering with Nexion Travel Group, what would you tell him or her?
Nexion Travel Group has so many things to offer in the training arena. You need to take advantage of that training to grow your business skills. I also recommend finding a mentor within the Nexion Travel Group family to help you along the way. I currently mentor quite a few new agents and giving back in this way is personally very rewarding.
If you have any questions about anything…. The Nexion team is just a phone call or email away. They are so accessible and willing to help.
It literally changed my life when I made the decision to join Nexion Travel Group. My income alone tripled when I joined Nexion Travel Group. I would not have the tremendous success I have today without their support.
Every one is so personable and so approachable. I feel welcomed and part of this family. This conference has also been so much fun. This business is so exciting.
I am on the advisory board for Nexion Travel Group and am honored to be able to help others grow their business. It feels so great to be able to give back some of the great support I have been given over the last 7 years with Nexion Travel Group.
Savannah Hill, Owner
The Savvy Travel Agency
At the CoNexion Conference in Orlando, Florida, I had the pleasure of sitting with an amazing young woman who is certain to set soar as a travel professional. In fact, in just three short years she already has accomplished so much. Join me here as Savannah shares some insight with our readers.
Can you share a little about yourself and how you got started in the travel business?
I started my travel business a little over three years ago and joined Nexion Travel Group Travel Group at that time. I was a high school teacher for a number of years and then was in math education and research for five years after teaching. When we had our second child, I really wanted to find something that would allow me more flexibility and time to be with my children. We have always loved to travel and my travel agent suggested that perhaps a career in travel would be a great option for me. My travel agent was with Nexion Travel Group and she convinced me that it was the best way to get started and succeed in my new business. Joined in April of 2016 and did the travel Leaders of tomorrow program and was looking to do this as a rather part time gig.
Can you tell me a little about your beautiful family?
We have three children now and are in the process of adopting a child from Columbia. We have a 5-year old son, a 3-year old daughter and another 2-year old daughter. With the goal in mind to have a flexible career to be able to be with my kids and also to travel with them, I knew travel would be perfect. In November of 2016 I found I was pregnant with our third and I knew I had better hustle and get the business going before the third baby was born. I really dug in and focused on my marketing at that time and it worked!
Have you attended a previous CoNexion or other Nexion Travel Group events? If so, what do you feel are the most valuable take-aways?
Training wise I have tried to do as much as I could fit in to my schedule. Agent Essentials was fantastic and I learned so much. I wanted to go to CoNexion in New Orleans, but being pregnant with our third felt I best sit that one out. I was contacted by Jackie and told I was going to be awarded a Rising Star Award and well, I just could not miss that! It was my first CoNexion and I don’t ever plan on missing one.
I have made so many great connections and great friends at the CoNexion events. I have colleagues and friends from all over and coming to these conferences is so great to re-connect with so many of them. I also feel that the connections I make with the suppliers at the events are so valuable. I guess you could even say I stalk some suppliers here. I know how important meeting face to face with them really is for my business.
I was given a great idea at a recent travel event that I would love to share. Before you go to an event such as CoNexion, reach out to the suppliers you are going to want to spend some one on one time with. Send them an email and let them know you are anxious to see them and learn more about what is new with their companies. This lets them know you are very serious about their specific offerings and it is great way to set up a meeting. That way they are prepared and expecting to see you and it shows your enthusiasm for learning more about their brand. It is equally as important to follow-up with your key suppliers after the events.
What tool(s) offered by Nexion Travel Group do you find the most beneficial for your business?
Well, there are so many great tools and programs and it is hard to pick just a few. I would have to say that I really love AgentMate. I am a numbers girl with my background in teaching math and AgentMate is so great. I can track my numbers at any time and make sure I am staying on track with my goals. I run reports and look at projections and this allows me to stay on top of my expected goals. By running these reports I know right where I am and can make additional efforts in certain areas if need be. It is so useful.
I am really finding Agent Profiler to be great for my business as well. I know I need to spend some time to update it so that it can do even more for me. It really is free marketing for your business!
If someone you know was considering being a travel agent, what would you tell them?
Do it! Join Nexion Travel Group and yes be a travel agent! It is a great career and I feel like consumers need us now more then ever. People are transitioning back to hiring experts to help them design their vacation plans. I think many people felt they could do it themselves and have since learned that it is a much better decision to let a travel agent do it for them.
If someone is interested in working from home, this is a great business for that. I wanted to flexibility to be with my family and to take advantage of adventures with them. We are doing just that.
Do you have any additional thoughts you would like to share before we end our time together?
Since joining Nexion Travel Group I have more then tripled my business in just two years. I am so grateful for all the support and encouragement that everyone at Nexion Travel Group has given to me. I know they have helped me to grow my business and I attribute so much of my success to their guidance and encouragement.