Royal Caribbean International’s Vicki Freed was the recipient of the 2016 Michelle Morgan Leadership Award, which was presented during the gala dinner. // © 2016 Signature Travel Network
Feature image (above): Some 2,200 Signature members and preferred supplier partners gathered for the organization’s annual sales meeting and trade show. // © 2016 Signature Travel Network
A record number of members and preferred partners convened for Signature Travel Network’s 2016 Sales Meeting and Trade Show, held Dec. 9-11 at Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas. This year’s theme was “connect,” and attendees — including 1,334 consultants and 844 preferred partners — did just that during general sessions, workshops, one-on-one meetings, meals, receptions and a trade show.
The opening welcome session featured news from Signature executives including Alex Sharpe, president and CEO; Karen Yeates, executive vice president of information technologies; Karryn Christopher, senior vice president of sales and marketing; Ignacio Maza, executive vice president; and Gina Weyer, vice president of member services and training. Some of the biggest marketing success cited for 2016 were stronger client reach and excellent client engagement rates.
Additionally, Mark Conroy, managing director for the Americas for Silversea Cruises, introduced the crowd to Silver Muse, the company’s newest ship, and Mel Robbins, an award-winning CNN commentator and best-selling author, had the audience in tears and cheers with a speech about her “5 Second Rule,” a method she developed to help people take action when they don’t want to. Additional speakers throughout the conference included Crystal Washington, a social media marketing specialist, and Nolan Burris, president and “chief visioneer” of Future Proof Travel Solutions.
Before the conference’s final day, attendees dressed in their finest for the 60th Anniversary Gala Dinner, during which Vicki Freed, senior vice president of sales, trade support and service for Royal Caribbean International, received the third-annual Michelle Morgan Leadership Award, which honors the memory and work of Michelle Morgan, Signature’s former president who passed away in 2013.
Following are the top takeaways from this year’s conference.
Pocket Travel Consultant
One of the biggest announcements that agents were buzzing about was Signature’s news that it will significantly underwrite the member cost associated with Pocket Travel Consultant, its custom-designed application that employs Axus Travel App’s technology and interface, as well as improve its capabilities.
With Signature’s investment, the mobile itinerary platform — through which travel consultants can plan and organize trips for clients as well as communicate with them during the planning stages of a vacation and while it’s taking place — will now be available for as low as $20 per travel consultant.
“The regular price for a consultant seat with Axus Travel App is more than $240 annually, so Signature’s significant investment in this program will provide a massive reduction in cost,” Yeates said. “I hope this change enables 100 percent of our consultants to engage.”
According to Axus founder Julia Douglas, the company’s partnership with Signature will enable more than 7,000 luxury travel advisors worldwide to use Axus’ technology.
“By being the exclusive itinerary management platform available to Signature members, we can collectively invest in further refinements and enhancements that deliver a premium — and personalized — product to their network,” she said. “Through Signature’s consortia-wide adoption, we hope our initial vision of a truly collaborative ecosystem will be realized through supplier participation and industry-wide engagement.”
Greg Wilshire, director of operations for Axus, also explained how the company’s partnership with Signature is truly a perfect fit, citing how both organizations want to keep the spotlight on the travel agent. According to Wilshire, while Axus technology could be repurposed for consumer use, the founding goals of the startup remain its focus: to make agents lives’ easier.
And now, with Signature’s investment to underwrite the cost of Pocket Travel Consultant for agents, it’s a win-win for all parties, as Signature helps its members have better client engagement, agents can strengthen their client relationships, and Axus can show off its streamlined, easy-to-use platform with the hopes of attracting other consortia and cooperatives, as well as suppliers.
Additionally, Signature will build an auto-import from ClientBase, its members’ CRM tool, to easily transfer information between ClientBase and Pocket Travel Consultant. Signature’s destination guides, cruise itineraries, hotel descriptions, images and amenities were also added to the application.
After announcing that luxury travel products account for more than 50 percent of Signature sales, Yeates detailed 2016’s record client engagement: 81 percent of members participated in the Client Reach program, which achieved a 63 percent open rate on messages sent to clients. Christopher also noted that the organization has invested heavily in e-marketing tools, which have seen open rates that are higher than the industry average (26 percent vs. 21 percent), as well as a rise in click-through rates.
With Signature’s new e-mobile template, this year, members were able to create their own email campaigns; they ultimately sent out 11 million emails using that system, according to Yeates.
“We’ve always been mobile-friendly, but not mobile-oriented,” she said. “Now, there’s been a shift to mobile first.”
Yeates detailed many of Signature’s completed projects from 2016, many of which were improvements and updates to existing programs, including redesigning the agent profile on Signature’s site, adding improved search features within different programs and giving agents the ability to send e-quotes to clients via text.
“You’ll see lots of enhancements within existing technologies, and that’s really where we focused,” Yeates said. “We don’t just develop something, put it out there and move to the next thing. On the technology side, we’ve always been very focused on delivering things to consultants to help them close sales.”
In the opening sessions of the sales conference, Maza announced the 2017 hotels and resorts program, which has expanded to include 978 hotels, resorts, lodges and spas in 460 global destinations. Seventy-seven new properties have joined for 2017, an 8 percent increase year over year.
“We are very proud of the progress we have made with our hotels and resorts program since its launch in 2005,” Maza said. “Our collection now brings together world-class properties in 90 countries all over the globe.”
Additionally, Maza noted a new Signature benefit that agents expressed much enthusiasm for: free Wi-Fi access for clients at all partner properties.
Signature welcomed 19 new agencies to its cooperative, including Casto Travel from San Jose, Calif.; Gulliver’s Travel Service from Fort Worth, Texas; Windsor Travel from Houston, Texas; and World Travel Service from Tulsa, Okla.
“We are thrilled to welcome so many new member agencies into the Signature Travel Network family throughout 2016,” Sharpe said. “I look forward to working with all of them to see how their needs will push us all to greater heights.”
Additionally, Weyer discussed member training and played a new marketing video that Signature is customizing for each agency beginning in January, thanks to the cooperative’s relationship with the American Society for Travel Agents.