Jackie Friedman

Jackie Friedman, President of Nexion
Sometimes life does not go as you had planned. Jackie Friedman knows that first hand. She’s here to tell you how she changed course, and how she gives back to the travel industry through volunteering.

Steve: What is your professional background?

Jackie: I have been the President of Nexion for the past 10 years. Prior to that I worked for Saber Travel Network which is a computer reservation system. I’ve worked with travel agents around the world, helping them do computer systems and helping them be as productive as possible.

Steve: What inspired you to choose the travel industry?

Jackie: It’s an interesting story. I had graduated college with a degree in music theory, education, and composition. I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to make a career out of it. I was floundering a little. Living at home after college my mom really encouraged me to find something that I was passionate about. I had an aunt and an uncle in the travel business, reached out to them, learned more about it. They referred me to an agency in Toronto, and to a travel school. I started as a frontline agent, way back in 1984, and I’ve been in the industry ever since.

Steve: Could you tell us a little bit more about the beginnings of your career?

Jackie: I worked very much like our agents do today. I worked as a frontline agent. That involved selling both leisure and corporate travel. Then I had an opportunity to manage an agency and start from scratch. I went through all the licensing, set up new accounts in Canada. It was a great experience to start a business and to truly have an appreciation of what our independent agents are going through today.

Steve: How has your professional experiences changed your perspective on tourism?

Jackie: Working with independent entrepreneurs who sell all types of travel I really had the opportunity to see the industry through their eyes. I have a tremendous appreciation for the value travel professionals, consultants, advisors, whatever you want to call them, and to the overall experience. It’s really helped me become better at what I do because I have appreciation for what they do and the value they provide.

Steve: When someone asks you, “Why do I need a travel agent?” what do you say?

Jackie: I tell them, “sure, they can take the time and do the research,” and that’s really a good thing. But, to have someone who can validate what they’ve learned, to have someone who has access to resources that consumers may not have access to, someone who has the time to find the perfect location, is both a tremendous value and benefit. Unfortunately, there are people who don’t realize the value of an agent, until they run into some difficulties and they’re on their own trying to get theirs resolved.

So yes, consumers can have access to a lot of information, they can book a lot of vacations on their own. They don’t know if they have the complete picture, and they don’t necessarily have the same depth of expertise that travel professionals can bring to the table.

Steve: How should an independent travel agent choose the host agency that is right for them?

Jackie: No one agency is good for everybody. It’s important to do your homework. Take note of what you need, what’s important for you to know. What products, what services, what support, what marketing, what would help you with the business you want to operate. Again, do your homework. Attend some of the industry shows where several host agencies are. You can look at review sites – there are a couple, findahosttravelagency.com, hostagencyreviews.com. Interview prospective host agencies. Interview agents affiliated with them and get their perspective. Lastly, go with your gut. You can do all the homework in the world - you’ll know what feels right, based on the conversations you’ve had. It’s also based off the host agencies to tick off the boxes for what’s most important to you.

Steve: Here comes a hard ball. What are the most difficult decisions you must make?

Jackie: Some of the most difficult decisions come around finding the right balance. The balance between meeting the interest of all the different stakeholders that we’re responsible for. What’s best for our agents? What’s best for our supplier partners? What’s best for the consumers? What’s best for our company? Finding the right balance, and trying to make everyone a winner, is sometimes challenging. To me, the best relationships come when everybody feels they are a winner in the overall transaction.

Steve: What trends in the travel industry do you foresee in the near future? What about the long term?

Jackie: A couple things. I see more new people coming into the industry. It could be an encore career, or it could be a retirement career. It could be a first career. There certainly is no slowdown in folks who are interested in working in the travel industry. However, the way they are working in the industry is different from ten, fifteen years ago. More and more agents are specializing. They’re realizing they need to learn more, about less, versus less about more. They can really target what they want to sell, who they want to sell to, and what they need to know to sell it. That specialization, that deep knowledge, the expertise, is also leading to a trend that I’m very encouraged by – more and more consumers are turning back – they’re interested in working with travel agents. They realize that they can access information online, but that expertise and that specialization, is really attracting them back to agents. This is a great thing for all of us.

Steve: What has been your greatest accomplishment in your career?

Jackie: Honestly, the greatest accomplishment in my career is growing this business. The realization is, the only way I can grow this business is by helping our agents to grow. That’s all we do, we host independents. As we achieve our goals, our growth goals, and are recognized by the industry, I will never stop appreciating the role the independent agents play in terms of helping us achieve that level of success. What I’m saying is, my success is totally reliant on all of our agents.

Steve: Are your affiliated with any professional associations?

Jackie: Yes, I am very involved with the industry. I am currently on the Board of Trustees for the Travel Institute. I am a past board member of ASTA, the American Society of Travel Agents. I’m on the Board of Directors of PATH, which is the Professional Association of Travel Hosts. Now, I am involved again in ASTA, at the local chapter level as the vice president of the New VFW local ASTA chapter. I really believe in giving back to the industry both in terms of time and expertise. I make that a priority as I battle to juggle my schedule.

Steve: What about these organizations do you find yourself most passionate about?

Jackie: There is no one answer for everything. In most cases, they end up giving back to the industry by developing professionalism of folks in the industry. Or advocating for the travel agent profession, in the case of ASTA. Just realizing that these folks in the organization complement what we’re trying to do. They offer different types of education, different types of support, and different types of advocacy. Not only do they help me, and my business, but more importantly, they help agents and their businesses.

Steve: How has volunteering affected you personally and professionally?

Jackie: Personally, I have met some fantastic people who bring different perspectives and different expertise so those personal relationships have been great. But it also helps me feel a part of something bigger. I think that’s so important in this industry. This industry is like a family, and the more engaged and involved you get in expanding your horizons, the better you’re going to be in the long run. I can certainly attribute personal growth to taking the time to give back and to volunteer within this industry.

Steve: What advice would you give to someone considering membership within a professional organization?

Jackie: The advice I give them is that they understand what each of these organizations are about, what role they play for the industry, what benefits they have for the agent, and help them to navigate through the choices to understand what’s best . It really depends on what they want to sell. An agent that wants to focus on selling cruises should affiliate with CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association), and get an agent level membership under their host agency, or an agency level membership, if that’s how they’re going to have their attribution with their suppliers. If they are just looking for general knowledge, and just looking for soft skills, CLIA is great, but the Travel Institute has wonderful certification programs that they can take advantage of. ASTA just rolled out their training and education program. That’s a little different from the others. Again, what you want to sell, who you want to sell to, what you need to know, and what will bring that credibility to you and your business. Then, make the right decision based on what’s important to you.

Steve: In the classic saying, “I wish I knew what I know now, when I was younger,” what are some things that you wish you had known ahead of time?

Jackie: One of the things that I thought about over the years that I wish I had done differently, goes back to when I started college. I was so involved in music and so involved in playing in my high school jazz band that I had blinders on. That’s what I thought I wanted to do. I didn’t get that general broad education that I wish I had obtained back then.

On the flip side, that’s what turned me onto the travel industry. I got out of college and I realized I wasn’t specifically trained for something that I was going to do moving forward. In hindsight, I guess it was a good thing. I do wish I had gone and obtained a proper education when I had the opportunity.

Steve: What books, blogs, journals, magazines and other materials about the travel industry would you recommend?

Jackie: I do think that it’s important for agents to be skilled consultants. There are a number of different books out there on selling skills, on consulting skills, on asking the right questions, any number of them that I might recommend, just in terms of developing those soft skills. I also recommend that agents religiously read the various trade publications and/or newsletters that come out just to stay fresh and aware of what’s going on in the industry. Take advantage of a number of social network groups where you can interact and engage with your peers. Think about personal development from two perspectives. Number one, your soft skills as I mentioned: marketing, selling, social media, how you are to communicate with other people. Then also your hard skills: product knowledge, destination knowledge, make sure that you’re reading some news. I would schedule some time in your day to keep abreast of what’s going on, both from a business perspective, and from an industry perspective.

Steve: What are your favorite destinations?

Jackie: That’s a tough one! It depends on what I feel like. One of my all-time favorites that I can always go back to is Italy. I love all parts of Italy. I loved going on an African safari. I love river cruises. I’ve done a river cruise throughout Europe. I’ve done a wonderful river cruise in Vietnam and Cambodia. Probably one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been is in my own home country, Canada. It’s in the west. It’s a beautiful setting called Lake Leland. That arguably is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. Unfortunately, I can’t just answer one destination because I love to travel – which is a great thing, given the industry I’ve chosen to affiliate with!

Steve: What are some fun facts about yourself?

Jackie: I am a former trombone player – don’t ask me to play today because I’m very out of practice. I am a proud aunt – I don’t have kids – I have six nieces and nephews. I love travelling with them, one at a time.