Signature Summer Forum

At the Los Angeles Westin, the Forum included guest speakers and advice on building luxury clientele

By: Deborah Dimond

Signature Travel Network held its 2006 Summer Forum in Los Angeles August, 19. In a combination of lectures and trade show, agents were able to meet and learn about 280 of Signature’s partner hotels, resorts, luxury and specialty travel companies.

To begin the day’s events, Ignacio Maza, executive VP of Signature announced the recent changes and improvements to the network since their show in January. The first announcement was the company’s growth, with the addition of over 320 properties worldwide. Eighty of these are new hotels and resorts, each offering exclusive privileges and special rates to the network’s clients. New properties that were highlighted include the Mandarin Oriental New York, Montage Resort in California, La Casa que Canta in Mexico, Rocco Forte Brown’s Hotel in London and the spectacular Oberoi hotels and resorts in India.

In continued efforts to build new preferred supplier relationships, Signature has added the expertise of Exeter International, the leader for Eastern Europe and Russia travel; JDB, the respected FIT company; and Keith Prowse, the top purveyor for theatre tickets, shows and events worldwide.

After outlining the network’s growth Maza addressed the audience of agents, reminding them of their unique position in the travel marketplace and stating that their success hinges on knowing their customers, knowing the products and constantly sharpening their skills.

“The knowledge that you have [about your client] nobody can take away from you, and no one can duplicate or replicate, not the internet, not Expedia, no one can” said Maza.

He continued to call out for agents to be their clients advocate, stating that today’s consumer is bombarded with information and it is the agent’s responsibility to navigate through it with the knowledge of what your client truly wants.

Following Maza’s remarks, Chris Austin, vice president of Global Customer Partnerships - Leisure and Luxury Sales from Starwood Hotels and Resorts presented the recent improvements, additions and changes in the marketing campaigns for his properties. The biggest and most crowd pleasing of his announcements was the addition of the chic but affordable Aloft hotel brand.

The main lecture came to a close as keynote Larry Pimentel, president and CEO of SeaDream Yacht Club, presented ‘The Mindset of the New Affluent Consumer’. He informed agents on the different characteristics and buying habits of the wealthy. He stressed that financial success could be gained by seeking out and servicing these rare customs and eliminating the bulk of an agent’s lesser paying clientele. Doing more for less people was his call to arms.

Upon the conclusion of the general lecture agents were invited to attend any of the eight different workshops on subjects such as successful selling strategies for the luxury market, designing exceptional itineraries, using Signature’s intranet tools and building sales with Signature’s Hotel and Destination Specialist programs and to meet with any of the over 280 supplier partners on the main showroom floor.

At the end of the event Signature hoped to continue the day’s success and announced plans for its 2007 annual Sales Meeting, which is to take place at the Los Angeles Convention Center on January 13th.