Signature Makes its Mark

Consortium sets priorities, and sights, on 2009

By: By Deanna Ting


Signature Travel Network

Michelle Morgan, CTC and president of Signature Travel Network, opened the general session of Signature’s 2008 Sales Meeting with a resounding “Happy New Year!” to which an audience of nearly 1,700 — more than 1,000 frontline agents and agency owners and managers included — answered in applause and cheers. It was a greeting that certainly struck a chord with many agents in attendance, setting the tone for the network’s positive outlook for the year ahead.

Photo: Signature Travel Network 2008 Meeting // (c) 2008
Hundreds of suppliers met with agent members on the
trade show floor. From left to right: Michael Ginsburg,
Michael’s Travel Centre; Dave Ferran, Classic Vacations;
Susan Reder, Altour/Classic Cruise and Travel; Greg Bernd, Classic
Vacations; Filomena Andre, Signature Travel Network; Scott
Kluesner, Classic Cruise and Travel; and Caren Ginsburg,
Michael’s Travel Centre // © Signature Travel Network

Bidding adieu to 2008, and welcoming 2009 with open arms, was a prominent theme throughout the two-day sales meeting — Signature’s biggest — which was recently hosted at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. Conference speakers and workshop topics centered on the future, and what individual agents and agencies can do in order to ensure success in 2009.

“Our 2008 conference was our biggest and best ever,” said Morgan. “The feedback from our network has been phenomenal. We had nearly 100 percent representation from our member agencies this year, and I am proud of the commitment demonstrated by Signature’s members/owners during these challenging times. Our mission was to educate, enlighten, and motivate more than 1,000 sales professionals who attended our meeting.”

Following Morgan’s introduction, Tim Smith, chairman of Signature’s board of directors, did just that, addressing agent members directly and encouraging them to “move the industry forward” and thanking them for their tireless efforts.

“It’s all meaningless without the frontline agent,” Smith said. “If we don’t have you engaged, it’s not going to work.”

The Marina Del Rey, Calif.-based travel network has more than 7,000 individual agent members in 37 U.S. states who, together, generate approximately $4.2 billion in yearly sales. This year, Signature also saw its network grow with the addition of agencies such as Strictly Vacations from Santa Barbara, Calif., and Kingwood Travel of Texas.

While Smith acknowledged the economic challenges facing the industry right now, he also noted, “We’re still being challenged by the same customer base. There might be less discretionary outcome, but they’re still there and they still want to travel.”

Photo: Signature Travel Network 2 // (c) 2008
Signature’s annual sales meeting and trade show saw its
biggest attendance numbers ever in 2008. Jeanne
Underwood, Crystal Cruises; Ellen Kalish, CruiseCenter
Houston; Tim Smith, San Diego Travel Group and
Signature Travel Network chairman of the board of
directors; Michael von Wittenau, Signature Travel
Network; Jay Shapiro, Five Star Travel; Eric
Graves, Crystal Cruises // © Signature Travel Network

Banking on that fact, Signature also announced the launch of its new marketing campaign for 2009, “Priorities.” The new campaign, which will be applied to all member communications next year, emphasizes why travel remains a priority for consumers. Agents will have access to a Priorities Tool Kit that includes sales tools for online marketing, direct mail and other forms of communications in the next few months.

Smith ended his speech with a call to action. “We live in a time where you can make a difference,” he said. “Even though you have the power of one, you’re never alone. You always have the power of the collective, a synergy [that consists of] you with Signature at your back.”

Part of that support arrived in the form of 15 comprehensive seminars, held on the first day of the conference. Topics included client loyalty programs, river cruising, emerging destinations, the latest technology tools, consulting fees and more. Among the workshop leaders were Laila Rach, dean of New York University’s Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management, as well as Robert Joselyn, CTC and head of Joselyn, Tepper & Associates and Rudi Schreiner, president of AmaWaterways. Some workshops, noted Signature executive vice president, Ignacio Maza, were standing-room only, including a South Africa — Destination Training program attended by 160 or more agents.

“The seminars were excellent,” said Carrie Mezes, an agent from Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Travel Creations. The 27-year industry veteran added, “Even though I thought I knew everything about all of them, I learned something new.”

Signature agents who attended the meeting also had the opportunity to meet with more than 600 supplier partners from around the world during the network’s annual trade show. Exhibiting hotels, tourist offices, airlines and cruise lines included Oberoi Hotels & Resorts, Japan National Tourist Office, Virgin Charter and Seabourn Cruises. Destinations that made a big splash on the show floor included Canada, Hawaii and Tahiti.

During the conference, Signature also announced the launch of its 2009 Hotel & Resort program, distributing copies of its 2009 Hotel & Resort directory, which features more than 600 hotels, resorts, lodges and spas. Next year, all participating hotels will offer complimentary daily breakfast for two and most will have additional complimentary amenities such as rounds of golf, spa treatments, airport transfers and meals, in addition to late check-out, early check-in, preferential rates and VIP welcomes. New properties added for 2009 include the Royal Malewane in South Africa, the Park Hyatt Shanghai, the St. Regis Punta Mita, the Paradores in Spain, The Resort at Pelican Hill, the Montage Beverly Hills and The Ritz-Carlton Palm Beach.

Signature’s 2009 Annual Sales Meeting and Trade Show will take place from Dec. 3-5, 2009, at The Signature at MGM Grand in Las Vegas.