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Business is good at Signature Travel Network.
According to Alex Sharpe, president and CEO of the travel advisor consortia, the network is blowing past revenue goals for 2019.
“We’ve already surpassed 2018 revenue for 2019 in some cases,” said Sharpe at a meeting with TravelAge West at Signature’s 2018 Conference in Las Vegas. “We’re between 70 to 100 percent with many cruise lines, including some that are more premium and contemporary that don’t often book that far out. It’s remarkable.”
The challenge, of course, is to plan for what’s next.
“We’re thinking about how we can add more value and deliver more for our members now so that when the world changes again, we’re best prepared to support them,” he said.
Indeed, Signature has been thinking hard about how to equip its 284 member agencies with the best of the best in travel marketing, technology and training. During the conference — whose theme was “As Unique As You” — 2,200 attendees participated in general sessions, one-on-one appointments with preferred suppliers, more than 50 workshops and a trade show featuring 1,000-plus supplier partner booths and pavilions. Attendees were inspired by keynote speaker Amy Van Dyken, a six-time Olympic gold medal champion swimmer.
We’re thinking about how we can add more value and deliver more for our members now so that when the world changes again, we’re best prepared to support them.
During the conference, advisors and suppliers alike also got a front-row view about what’s new with Signature for 2019.
Luxury 2.0Under his new and expanded role as executive vice president, Ignacio Maza is focusing his attentions on the luxury market, which makes up more than 50 percent of Signature’s sales.
New for next year is the 2019 Luxury Forum in Dallas on April 10, a new event that will feature panels, seminars and speakers from within and outside the industry.
Signature also recently relaunched its luxury magazine, Ultimate Experiences, which reaches advisors’ luxury clients on a quarterly basis. The magazine focuses on experiences and does not include pricing information, complementing Signature’s Travel Magazine, a so-called “mag-a-logue” that focuses on premium travel, includes product pricing and is sent to clients six times a year.
“Both magazines are coming from the advisor to his or her customer with the simple message of ‘call us, call me as your advisor,’” said Karryn Christopher, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Signature. “Our focus is retention — we want to retain the clients who our advisors have, and reactivate clients who haven’t done business with that advisor recently.”
Signature is also prioritizing luxury learning early on; new advisors enrolled in Signature’s Embark training program will learn about luxury, along with general skills.
“In the past, at some companies, selling luxury is considered a Mount Everest,” Maza said. “But you can start today and sell a Crystal Cruise. It’s about being confident, knowing your customer and taking advantage of the tools we have in our network.”
New Technology Karen Yeates, executive vice president of information technologies for Signature, is most excited about the upcoming launch of a new-to-industry platform that simplifies and organizes communication between advisors and clients.
The tool will allow clients to send messages to their advisor via text message, WeChat, iMessage, Facebook Messenger and others, which will then be transmitted to a central processing cloud where Signature will transfer the message to a web application. Advisors will see all client messages in one place, and agent responses will be transferred to the app in which the original message was sent.
According to Yeates, this new program allows customers to drive how they want to communicate with their advisor, while also allowing advisors to respond to clients on their desktops (versus their phones or laptops).
“In the background, it is also saving the communication to their CRM and pushing it back down to ClientBase so they have another place where all their communications are in one place,” Yeates said. “Right now, you have an agency situation where advisors have everything on their phones, and the agency has nothing.”
Yeates says that the contract will be finalized by the end of the year, and integration will start in the first quarter of 2019.
She admits that adoption of last year’s new tool — a consumer-facing hotel booking tool — has been slow. According to Yeates, booking hotels — especially high-end ones — will continue to need consultation between the advisor and the client.
“The B2B tool is where you’ll see a huge benefit because the advisor can see all the information, look through it all and express it to clients in a way they’ll understand,” she said.
As a result, Signature plans to release an updated B2B hotel tool by the end of the year. The tool will have new efficiencies such as the ability for advisors to seamlessly book multiple rooms for the same booking, upend to an existing PNR and store everything in their CRM. Eventually Signature will add a feature that allows advisors to compare Signature rates to third-party content — information that helps advisors explain their value.
Hotels and ResortsSignature’s Hotel & Resorts program, which launched in 2005 with 150 hotels and resorts, now features 1,110 properties in 450 destinations across 90 countries that range from boutique adventure lodges to expansive urban luxury hotels. Signature added more than 100 new hotels and resorts to its program this year.
“We don’t want to add for the sake of adding,” said Richard Lebowitz, the new senior vice president of Signature’s hotel and resort program. “It’s about choosing the right partners that offer our members something they don’t have.”
The program ensures that advisors can offer clients bonus amenities valued at $500 for two-night (and longer) hotel stays.
A relaunch of Suite Privileges program answers agent demand to offer all this and more to clients booking suite categories. This year, clients booking suites and villas in nearly 600 participating properties received a bonus $100 in hotel credit. Lebowitz hopes that more hotels and resorts will opt into the program for 2019
“It’s a win, win, win,” he said. “It’s additional value for the consumers, it’s a higher average daily rate for the hotels and it’s an increased commission for the advisor.”
Updates in Advisor Training“We are looking for new ways to educate advisors,” Maza said. “Of course, we’d like our advisors to sail with Regent for the week, but not everyone has that kind of time.”
As a result, this February, Signature is launching a program — folded into Educational Journeys — where advisors will be able to check out three cruise lines, three hotels and meet with top executives over a long weekend.
“What’s different for 2019 is that there are more Educational Journeys, there’s a wider range of experiences and destinations and we’re giving members these special, additional opportunities to take advantage of,” Maza said.
Last year’s launch of Embark has been deemed a success and will continue next year, with five trainings scheduled at Signature’s El Segundo, Calif., offices (three trainings are for advisors at agencies and two are for independent contractors). The multiday bootcamp-style sessions follow an agent’s completion of Signature’s 14-module online training, and focuses on skills rather than supplier knowledge. Advisors also leave with a support group they can rely on when they go back to work.
According to Sharpe, the idea for Embark came from listening to member feedback; agencies looking for new employees just didn’t have the time to properly train new advisors. Now, he says, agencies know they don’t need to hesitate when it comes to hiring new advisors.
“The biggest ‘aha moment’ happens with folks who weren’t sure they made the right career decision,” Sharpe said. “They are leaving thinking ‘I can do well here.’”
The DetailsSignature Travel Network www.signaturetravelnetwork.com