The theme of Signature Travel Network’s annual conference and trade
show, held Jan. 13 at the Los Angeles Convention Center, was
“connected.” And this year there were more agents than ever to
connect with, as the event was the biggest in the organization’s
history, with over 1,000 members and 500 suppliers in attendance.
Michelle Morgan CTC, president of Signature, told the gathering
that not only was this the biggest conference, but the group had
also hit all-time highs in its cruise and tour sales.
“Collectively, our network realized sales growth exceeding 22
percent in 2006, and advance sales for 2007 look even stronger,”
said Morgan. “We are bullish regarding our future, and all trends
point to a record 2007.”
Morgan also announced that Signature added 14 new member
agencies representing 41 locations during 2006.
“Today our network includes 178 members, 300-plus locations in
25 states and over 1,000 consumer Web sites, collectively
generating over $2.2 billion in annual travel sales,” she said.
“Our goal is to continue to attract quality agencies to our
network, while remaining true to our business principles and member
Signature’s executive vice president, Ignacio Maza, also took
the stage to speak to the crowd regarding overall trends in the
industry. He said that 2006 was a strong year, and that he expected
2007 to continue that trend.
Maza said expectations for the airline industry are the highest
in a long time, with a $2 billion profit projected. He said he
expected to see more fragmentation overseas, and in the U.S. more
consolidation in the industry.
In the cruise industry, Maza cited strong numbers in the
European market and softer numbers in the Caribbean. He also noted
that the seven new ships coming online in 2007 represented only 5
percent growth overall in the industry, which could mean high
demand for cabins on popular itineraries.
In terms of tour vacations, according to Maza, the major trend
is toward finding new ways to make the product more interesting,
more flexible and to provide clients with more freedom. In
particular, family and group travel are growth areas for the
Finally, in the hotel business, rates should be stabilizing
after two years of dramatic increases. Maza said that while hotel
rates might continue to rise, it should be less drastic than in
“And if there is one mantra in the hotel industry, it is that
they refuse to become a commodity,” he said. “Every hotel company
that you will meet with today is doing everything they can to
differentiate and separate and distinguish their product.”
Maza went on to say that one of the most significant changes in
Signature’s approach is the growth in its destination specialist
program, which uses 66 companies in 90 countries.
“A lot of people say that the world is getting smaller, and
frankly, for Signature, I disagree,” Maza said. “I think in the
last couple of years we have proven that our world has, indeed,
gotten bigger. And that’s primarily through our destination
specialist program and our hotel program. Our destination
specialists are our dream makers they are the people that are
on-site, on-destination and that can do extraordinary things for
According to Maza, Signature’s destination specialists can
handle anything from airport transfers to cooking classes.
“Let’s face it, the world is changing by the hour, as we sit
here, things are changing in Bangkok and Buenos Aires and
what-have-you, and it is virtually impossible to know everything
about everywhere,” he said. “That’s why we have these people that
help us resonate all over the world with our customers.”
Maza then turned to the group’s successful hotel program, saying
in the last 12 months it has added 200 hotels in 100 cities.
“Today we’re happy to say that we have 420 partner properties
all over the world, which is unbelievable. We have coverage now in
over 250 cities in 71 countries,” he said. “And it’s really a range
of hotels, experiences and prices.”
Also on the program, was Karen Yeates, vice president of
Internet and Business Solutions, who recapped a number of the
group’s recent accomplishments. One of the key developments was the
launch of ClientConnection, Signature’s proprietary client database
management system, which allows the network to consolidate all
member client information with over 1.5 million segmented names.
Yeates also said her team is negotiating with cruise suppliers to
obtain real time cruise pricing, and show live fares in Signature’s
Intranet and consumer Web sites.
Looking ahead, Yeates said her team is working to develop an
online dynamic packaging technology that will enable its agents to
combine air, car, hotel, cruise, tours and sightseeing components
in one transaction.
Next, Filomena Andre, Signature’s vice president of sales and
marketing, announced that the organization’s print and e-marketing
campaigns in 2006 generated over 10 million consumer impressions.
Andre also announced that in 2007 Signature will expand its
Travel Magazine to a record eight editions, each reaching
“Signature’s marketing approach has stayed consistent for 51
years,” stated Andre. “Our focus is on our members’ brand not
Signature’s. Everything we do is built around the participating
Moving to Las Vegas
Also speaking at the conference were Jan Swartz, of Princess
Cruises/Cunard Line; Charlie Dunwoody and Janet Engel, of Holland
America Line; and Vicki Freed, of Carnival Cruise Lines. Larry
Pimentel, president and CEO of SeaDream Yacht Club, discussed
trends and sales techniques for connecting to upscale clients, and
Lalia Rach, dean of the Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and
Sports Management at New York University, received a standing
ovation after her presentation on understanding customers’
After the general session, members moved to another hall for the
conference’s trade show, which featured over 250 suppliers.
While past conferences have been held at the Century Plaza
Hotel, the next meeting will leave Los Angeles altogether. It will
be held instead at Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas on Dec. 8.
“We have become a nationwide force to be reckoned with,” said
Tim Smith, president of Carefree Vacations/San Diego Travel Group
and chairman of Signature’s board of directors. “Our members are
thrilled to be part of Signature. We believe the best is yet to