Alex Sharpe, president and CEO of Signature Travel Network, addressed members during a general session. // © 2017 Signature Travel Network
Feature image (above): Attendees at Signature’s Owners’ Meeting at Phoenix’s Arizona Biltmore Hotel // © 2017 Signature Travel Network
More than 85 percent of Signature Travel Network agency owners braved triple-digit temperatures in Phoenix this year as they convened for the cooperative’s annual Owners’ Meeting, which took place at Arizona Biltmore Hotel from Sept. 13-16.
Alex Sharpe, president and CEO of Signature, opened the first all-attendee general session by unveiling the consortium’s new mission statement, which highlighted its focus on cutting-edge technology; marketing and training programs; and preferred partnerships with suppliers.
“It’s important that we remain relevant by delivering the right things to the right people, at the right time,” he said as he addressed the shareholders.
Indeed, Signature has long been known in the consortia space as pioneers in marketing and technology, offering relevant tools in addition to growing the network strategically across all categories.
Here’s a sneak peek at the organization’s latest updates.
Updates to Technology
Signature’s cutting-edge tech tools save each advisor member approximately $110,475, according to Karen Yeates, executive vice president of information technologies. Notably, success has been reached both with Client Reach, a client communication tool that is used by 80 percent of Signature members, and the Pocket Travel Consultant itinerary builder (powered by Axus), which, with a new, more affordable pricing structure, has seen major growth in the past year.
And the consortium is always on the lookout for new “future-ready, cost-effective IT infrastructure,” Yeates said.
She mentioned the increasing presence of artificial intelligence, virtual reality, drone technology and mobile e-commerce in the tech space, and encouraged advisors to embrace these tools and be ready to integrate them in their businesses down the line.
But, in the short term, several new developments to Signature’s existing tools are in the works, including a new consumer-facing hotel booking engine that can be promoted on a member’s personal website, through e-marketing campaigns, on Signature’s hotel microsite and within Signature’s online publications. The new engine will incorporate accommodation options outside of the 1,050 properties within Signature’s Hotels & Resorts Program, although preferred properties will be shown first, Yeates said. It will be an optional tool available to members at an additional cost and will roll out in the fourth quarter of 2017.
Additionally, Signature is building a new messaging platform for agents to use to message/text quotes to clients. On Signature’s website, there will be a new search function that lets consumers search for consultants by destination, interest, specialty, product expertise or location where the agent is based, and a new interface will soon be unveiled for HotelConnection, the consortium’s online hotel booking engine.
A new web services product is also in the works. Once completed, it will integrate client data in addition to all of Signature’s cruise, tour and hotel content and pricing. Yeates said this new product will increase flexibility for new members that may already have their own third-party or proprietary systems in place. It will be rolled out in 2018.
Executives have also been busy enhancing the co-op’s marketing initiatives, moving toward a more streamlined communication between agents and their clients while offering increased personalization to existing tools.
“We want to make sure [marketing materials] yell your identity,” Sharpe said. “We’re well beyond laserprinting the agency’s name on the back of a brochure.”
Recent enhancements to the consortium’s email E-Wizard include a retargeting initiative that reaches clients by using multiple subject lines; keeping track of clients’ IP addresses; and measuring the number of opened emails and click-throughs. Members will also soon have the ability to customize existing Signature offers by including their own add-ons and pricing structure.
“We’re seeing a higher number of open rates and click-through rates when members are doing a combination of their own campaigns and Signature’s campaign,” said Karryn Christopher, senior vice president of sales and marketing.
Relationships and Growth
The consortium is also in full-growth mode as it wraps a record-breaking year in terms of shareholder distribution.
Fifteen new agency members have been added in 2017, including three international members from Brazil, the Dominican Republic and Australia.
Outreach into Australia stems from a new partnership with Magellan Travel Group, a travel agent cooperative based in Melbourne that’s composed of approximately 130 agencies and more than 600 consultants. As members of Signature’s International Affiliates Program, Magellan agents will have access to the 1,000-plus property portfolio within the consortium’s Hotels and Resorts Program, in addition to the Pocket Travel Consultant.
The organization is evolving internally, too. It was announced at the Owners’ Meeting that Ignacio Maza, Signature’s executive vice president, will soon expand his role to focus specifically on developing the consortium’s role in the luxury travel space — where more than 50 percent of Signature’s business takes place. His new role will include creating new engaging content, such as blogs and articles, in addition to training tools for members.
Advisor members and supplier partners will learn more about each of these developments at the co-op’s annual sales meeting. This year, it will take place Dec. 8-10 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.