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It was a full house at Signature Travel Network’s annual sales meeting and trade show, which kicked off Nov. 6 at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. More than 2,100 Signature members — both travel consultants and international supplier partners representing 57 countries — were in attendance at the three-day conference. Sixty seminars and workshops were available for attendees, covering topics ranging from luxury and niche market sales to client database analysis and segmentation.
This year’s sales meeting also announced Carol Lekki as the first-ever recipient of the Michelle Morgan Leadership Award, which honors Signature’s former president, Michelle Morgan, who passed away last fall. Lekki sits on Signature’s board of directors as treasurer and is the owner of Carol’s Travel Service in Tinley Park, Ill. Carol’s Travel Service has been a Signature member since 2003.
“Determined and successful, Carol is passionate about our industry and the meaningful difference travel makes in the world,” says Alisa Morgan, who presented the award. Alisa is the director of Internet business solutions for Signature, as well as Michelle’s daughter.
One hot topic at the conference was Signature’s accelerated growth in the past year, which has included 11 new members to the network’s roster and more than 90 new partners in its preferred supplier network. The 2015 Hotels & Resorts directory further demonstrates the network’s expansion: It will feature 870 properties worldwide and be released to the public in early December.
Cutting-edge technology is a top priority for the consortia. Signature recently redesigned its intranet website, SigNet, improving its interface with responsive design and customization options.
In addition, an itinerary management app — one that will particularly benefit consultants who frequently work with FIT travelers — is currently being developed for Signature members and their clients. Features will include real-time updates, a messaging system, automatic pulling of Res Card data, Travel42 guides and more. An initial launch of the highly anticipated tool is scheduled for early 2015.
Hotel microsites that help clients highlight brands with easy filtering, strong imagery and responsive design comprise yet another up-and-coming project.
“Technology is the backbone of everything we do,” says Alex Sharpe, president and CEO of Signature. “Michelle, my predecessor, was absolutely a marketing person first. But she understood the value of technology — you can’t market unless you have a good database. You can’t have a database unless you have technology that helps you aggregate it. Technology allows us to do for our members what they can’t do for themselves.”
Signature’s strategic focus on technology will also help its consultants market and sell to a younger generation.
“Millennials are not going to want to do travel with someone who is giving out pieces of paper,” says Karen Yeates, executive vice president of information technologies for Signature. “They are going to ask, ‘Where is there an app for that?’ They want to have information electronically.”
Ignacio Maza, executive vice president for Signature, reports that the network is already seeing progress in business for 2015 and even 2016. And destination specialists will continue to create extraordinary experiences for the consumer, such as private visits to the Vatican, cooking classes in Venice and sushi-making lessons with a master chef in Tokyo — an element that, according to Maza, separates Signature from other consortia within the larger travel space.
However, Maza says that Signature’s true competition isn’t the other networks.
“Our competition consists of the consumers who are doing it all themselves and don’t believe that we — travel consultants — exist and can add any value,” Maza says. “If we can persuade 1 percent of those people to call us, it would blow our server. It’s not a fight over a slice of the pie; it’s to make the pie bigger.”