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Signature Travel Network is reporting its best year of growth in history, said Alex Sharpe, president and CEO of the consortium, who opened the general session of the 2019 annual Owners’ Meeting. Held Sept. 11-14 in Austin, Texas, the event gathered more than 400 agency owners, preferred partners and travel industry executives. This year’s theme, “Elevate,” celebrated how Signature members and their partners collaborate in order to elevate the travel experience for all.
Sharpe said that Signature is up 14% in overall sales and 30% for member participation in its destination specialist program (which repeatedly sees the highest growth each year). Additionally, more than 50% of Signature member agencies had an advisor attend a Signature Educational Journey this year.
Sharpe also announced that Signature plans to launch its own charitable foundation; more information will be officially revealed at Signature’s Annual Conference in December.
Contributing to the event’s positive atmosphere was a recent win for the travel industry against California’s Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5), which was amended on Aug. 30 to include advisors among professional services exempt on the bill. However, the piece of legislation still serves as a cautionary tale that other U.S. states may follow suit with their own version.
Also during the general session, Eben Peck, executive vice president of advocacy for the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) underlined ASTA’s leadership in the grassroots campaign against AB 5. The process included multiple Sacramento visits (including to all 40 senate offices); many phone calls; two California lobby days attended by 230-plus people; the engagement of 10 supplier companies; and communication through ASTA’s website by 2,765 California residents.
True to form for Signature, technology was a hot topic at the event, as well. Karen Yeates, executive vice president of information technologies for the company, shared during an on-site press conference that her team is actively listening to members and creating what they ask for, particularly regarding tech.
A new advisor communication system is now being rolled out, currently in use by its first group. Called Signature’s Digital Communications tool, in partnership with Kipsu, it will launch for all members by the year’s end; features of the system include each agency having its own dedicated phone number, a single sign-on through Signet (Signature’s intranet) and more.
Additionally, Signature’s new cruise booking engine for advisors in partnership with Odysseus Solutions will undergo a soft launch in October, with onboarding taking place in November and December. Yeates added that the goal is for the product to be fully ready for use before wave season. The tool will enable efficiency, one-stop shopping, easier onboarding of those new to the industry and accurate availability and pricing. A consumer version will be offered during the third quarter of 2020.
Signature’s biggest push on the technology front will be creating its own database and corresponding web service, which will allow for connections to/from any CRM product is expected to be complete in 2021; connecting the database with the organization’s other programs such as Cruise Track should close in mid-2022.
According to Yeates, the database will be essential to the organization’s long-term success and result in attracting new members and obtaining better analytics.
“Client data is the strongest asset we have at Signature,” Yeats reiterated during her general session presentation. “We have been doing this for 15 years, and we have been successful. We want to make sure we are capitalizing on this and staying relevant in the future. It powers all our marketing and all our automation.”
Ignacio Maza, executive vice president for Signature, along with Jean Newman Glock, the company’s managing director of communications and public affairs, presented their top places to visit in 2020. Destinations included Namibia; Slovenia; Jordan; Scotland; Kaikoura, New Zealand; Istanbul, Turkey; Salvador, Brazil; Hokkaido Island, Japan; Detroit, Mich.; and St. Petersburg.
During the press conference, Maza underlined advisors’ responsibility to advocate against overtourism — which undoubtedly helped to inform his top destination picks.
Overtourism brings us two opportunities: It gives us the opportunity to propose other destinations to the consumer. There is always going to be a new frontier to discover. Also, the ability of a good travel advisor is to serve up a destination in a different way and really personalize a destination.
“Overtourism brings us two opportunities: It gives us the opportunity to propose other destinations to the consumer,” he said. “There is always going to be a new frontier to discover. Also, the ability of a good travel advisor is to serve up a destination in a different way and really personalize a destination.”
Maza said another luxury travel trend is the continued search for new places to visit.
“It amazes me today that nothing is too far,” he said. “Think about Bhutan; there are Six Senses and Aman properties there. I think this speaks to the need of the advisors to continue to elevate and deepen their knowledge, and to challenge themselves. We have to surprise and delight clients.”
The DetailsSignature Travel Networkwww.signaturetravelnetwork.com