Artist and author Erik Wahl’s presentation kicked off the annual sales meeting and trade show on Nov. 5. // © 2015 Signature Travel Network
Feature image (above): More than 2,200 travel agents and suppliers gathered in Las Vegas for the three-day event. // © 2015 Signature Travel Network
World-renowned graffiti artist, speed-painter and author Erik Wahl splashed neon paint across blank canvases in a pattern of strokes that would — within the span of a few minutes — morph into colorful portraits of Abraham Lincoln, Lady Liberty and Albert Einstein.
After putting the final touches on Lincoln, the speed painter put down his brush and turned to face his audience.
“Look at the future for your organization as if it was a blank canvas,” he said to a crowd of more than 2,200 travel agents and suppliers. “It has limitless possibilities and potential.”
Wahl’s demonstration served as the kick-off for Signature Travel Network’s annual sales meeting and trade show, which ran from Nov. 5-7 at Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. The event, themed “Make Your Mark,” drew record participation, with representatives from 94 percent of Signature’s member agencies in attendance.
The importance of using creativity and customization to grow business and maximize profits was a hot topic throughout the event, which consisted of more than 60 seminars on topics ranging from top social media secrets for increased profits to selling niche travel.
In addition to seminars, members and partners had the opportunity to network during one-on-one appointments at the event’s two-day trade show in Mandalay Bay’s convention center.
The conference also served as a time to reflect on the network’s performance and member success in 2015. This past year saw record growth for the consortia, which brought in an estimated $7 billion in sales. Additionally, the network expanded to include 113 new partners and 11 new member agencies — including social-impact cruise line Fathom and tour operator Globus Family of Brands — and expanded its Hotel and Resort Collection to include 91 new properties in 30 new destinations.
Alex Sharpe, CEO and president of Signature, highlighted the key role that members and preferred partners have played in the overall success of the cooperative.
“What continues to make Signature strong is that we never lose sight of the value of every traveler and the unique talent of every single Signature member,” Sharpe said. “‘Make Your Mark’ underscores the power of Signature's programs and tools, as well as how everything is designed to let each member’s brand shine while helping consultants build even stronger relationships with their clients.”
The consortia also honored the success of member Tim Smith, president of San Diego Travel Group. He was named the second recipient of the Michelle Morgan Leadership Award, given in honor of Signature’s former president who passed away in September 2013. The award was presented by last year’s recipient Carol Lekki, treasurer on Signature’s board of directors and owner of Carol’s Travel Service in Tinley Park, Ill.
Though there was ample time for reflection, Signature’s top executives also used the sales meeting as a platform for discussion about new initiatives in the year ahead.
Signature’s state-of-the-art technology tools will continue to see enhancements. SigNet, the network’s intranet, was recently upgraded to include a bookmarks bar, and an advanced, filter-based search feature will be rolled out in 2016. The network’s mobile app, The Pocket Travel Consultant, has recently been rebranded as a result of a new partnership with Axus, and its initial launch includes a new itinerary management component in addition to up-to-date Travel42 destination guides.
“Consultants do realize how important technology is,” said Karen Yeates, executive vice president of information technologies for Signature. “There’s the fear that suppliers will go around them with direct bookings. If travel agents really add the value of their consulting services with being able to provide clients with this kind of on-demand information, the suppliers can never compete with them. They just can’t take care of clients the same way.”
Other developments in 2016 include a reorganization of Signature’s print marketing materials, which will be published every two months. Themes will vary depending on industry trends and will include topics such as active/adventure travel, family and multigenerational travel and emerging destinations, according to Karryn Christopher, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Signature.
All of these new tools will cater to a “consumer who is ever more sophisticated and informed,” said Ignacio Maza, Signature’s executive vice president.
“Because of that, everything we do goes up a level,” Maza said. “Training, education, seminars, networking opportunities, product knowledge, etc. Our members have a very strong base of knowledge, and we work to provide the insights and resources to serve today’s clients.”
Sharpe said that although election years traditionally have been tough on the consortia, he is excited for what’s to come.
“We are in really good space right now,” he said. “We can’t rest on that; we have to keep pushing forward. 2016 is off to a great start from a sales perspective. We have a lot of work to do to solidify the bookings we’ve already made, but we feel good, and we’re excited about the way forward.”