More than 1,100 agents attended Signature Travel Network’s annual meeting // © 2010 Signature Travel Network
Last month, Signature Travel Network held its annual Sales Meeting and Trade Show in Las Vegas, bringing together more than 1,100 travel consultants (nearly 98 percent of its total membership), 620 travel industry representatives and 465 travel companies. Participants at the three-day conference attended workshops, a trade show and a “speed dating-style” session with travel suppliers. Members also learned about a range of new initiatives from the consortium that once again proved why it is one of the most innovative organizations in the travel industry.
Despite a difficult year that saw considerable downsizing and consolidation overall in the travel industry, Signature Travel Network added 38 new member agencies representing 58 new locations in the past 18 months. These additions bring the total number of members to 190 agencies with 356 locations in 38 states. Consortium members now generate $4.2 billion in annual travel sales.
Signature also announced considerable growth in its hotel program. This year, the group added more than 100 new properties to the collection of more than 700 hotels in 400 destinations worldwide.
“We are also enhancing the benefits for members and clients,” said Ignacio Maza, Signature’s executive vice president. “We can now offer breakfast for two included at 100 percent of properties and a second amenity at every property — whether that’s a spa credit, or free golf or a transfer — and, often, an upgrade at time of booking as well. And that really gives member agents an edge with their clients.”
Perhaps the most significant announcements at the conference had to do with Signature’s commitment to technology.
At the meeting itself, Signature unveiled a mobile phone app that that allowed conference attendees to review the overall agenda and access their own personal workshop schedule. Through the app, they could also view a listing of members and participating supplier partners, complete with booth number and detailed contact information. The app included an instant messaging feature so that attendees could reach out to one another during the sales meeting, as well as a social hub where they could write on Signature’s Facebook wall, Tweet about the conference and even upload photos that they took during the event.
In 2011, Signature will launch a mobile application for iPhone, iPad and Android devices called the Pocket Travel Consultant. The customizable, travel-agency branded application will focus on destination-themed content — taking advantage of GPS-based location knowledge — and it will include destination guides, immediate planning/booking of activities, a hotel booking tool, local restaurant and transportation information, as well as destination navigation. The application also provides direct access to Facebook and Twitter in order to share real-time experiences, plus notifications of specials for product interests within the destination.
Signature also recently launched its newest client retention tool — MyTravelSite.com — which is an easy-to-use customized site where clients can create travel blogs and maps and easily tag and share hotel profiles, cruise ships and photos. One-click connection to Facebook and Twitter makes it easy for clients to share their travel blogs with their social networks. Signature will continue to aggressively promote this site to clients throughout 2011.
These examples are typical of the way Signature continues to innovate, often utilizing existing technology in unique ways.
“Every decision we make, when it comes to technology, is measured and determined by how much impact we can have on our members’ businesses,” said Karen Yeates, vice president of Internet Business Solutions. “I think that, on the client relationship side, we definitely are ahead of everyone else.”
“Nobody has what we have when it comes to technology for members. Agents that come to us tell us that directly,” said Michelle Morgan, president of Signature Travel Network. “The consensus is that we’re ahead of others in this industry. We have never built technology for the lowest common denominator and we have always tried to stay out front. Technology has become a pillar to this organization.”
Another key strategy for Signature is expanding its consumer partnerships in 2011, including continuing its work with brands such as Bon Appetit, Architectural Digest and the Food Network.
As an example, Michael von Wittenau, Signature’s vice president of business development, announced that the Food Network Travel program in 2011 would evolve to include escorted land vacations. He also announced that Anne Burrell, a Food Network personality, will host one of Signature’s Food Network at Sea cruises in 2011. The 11-night voyage aboard the Celebrity Silhouette will depart from Rome on Oct. 22, 2011, and call on Cagliari, Sardina; Palma de Mallorca, Spain; and Lisbon, Portugal. Food Network Travel guests will have exclusive access to receptions and evening events featuring recipe items from the Food Network; meet and greets with Burrell; a culinary demonstration by Burrell; interactive, hands-on cooking classes led by chefs from the Food Network; and more.
“These partnerships give members unique, exclusive products that can’t be sold through other retailers. It helps bring in new business and it also increases their value to existing clients,” said Wittenau. “Also, it’s all about the agencies’ brand. For instance, when we go to market, it’s our members’ brand next to the Food Network brand, and that’s a pretty powerful statement.”
With all the new and expanded initiatives, Morgan said she is looking forward to the challenges of the year ahead.
“This annual three-day conference is designed to benefit front-line salespeople: to prepare them for a new sales year, acquaint them with Signature’s latest marketing and technology tools, and to facilitate networking with partners and Signature members,” said Morgan. “Signature is trending to drive double-digit increases over 2010. Yes, next year will be a challenge, but we are confident that Signature members are well positioned to compete in a tough marketplace, armed with powerful technology tools, impactful and strategic marketing and some of the industry’s strongest consumer privileges and supplier partnerships.”