Celebrating a banner year, advisors, agency owners, suppliers, and executives from the Signature Travel Network gathered at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas last week for its annual conference, which was themed “Travel Elevates.”
This year, just like in the past for Signature, the member-owned travel cooperative headquartered in El Segundo, California, marked a collaborative and cooperative effort among all its members to push the network further.
“What makes us strong, what makes us better than other networks, is the sharing that happens,” Alex Sharpe, Signature Travel Network’s president and CEO, told attendees.
Part of that showed up in the numbers—this year’s conference marked record attendance for Signature as the conference welcomed almost 20% more advisors than any other year in its history (over 2,300 attendees total)—while other times it has proven true when things go wrong.
“We’ve been fortunate,” Sharpe told TMR. “We see more new advisors, younger advisors, and then we see advisors who are little a more cautious right now because of supplier defaults. We have to address all of it.”
Those supplier defaults, which plagued the entire industry in 2019, makes the collaboration inside Signature’s network, which the group tries to foster, that much more important.
“This industry is community and I think Signature takes it to another level and I think it stems from the fact that our owners are our shareholders,” Sharpe said. “Overall, it fosters the community spirit. They are all willing to tell them their best practices.”
Even when things go badly, like when news breaks about the Dominican Republic or a hurricane hits, Sharpe sees that as an opportunity to demonstrate the value of the advisor channel.
“We don’t wish bad things to happen but at the same time, it only has to happen once and then you own that customer for life.”
Every advisor has a role in that collaborative process, whether it’s veteran members who pass along best practices they carved out from years in business or new advisors who bring a fresh set of eyes.
“We need that kind of feedback and we need to get them comfortable quick. We don’t just want to hear ‘this is great’ but we need their fresh feedback,” he said.
While 2019 marked another year of growth for Signature, it also marked the first Signature Conference for Phil Cappelli, the group’s new senior vice president of preferred partnerships.
Though it was the first with Signature’s side, he’s attended the conference before—Cappelli has spent years on the supplier side that brought him to Signature’s annual conference a number of times.
“It’s kind of like a homecoming,” he said. “A lot of the partners and members are familiar to me. A big reason I came to Signature is that I love this network. It was a logical move for me.”
Cappelli, along with Signature’s EVP of Marketing and Preferred Partnerships Karryn Christopher and the rest of the executive team, will now work with a growing preferred partner network that saw the addition of 54 hotels, two cruise lines, and new destination and land partners in 2020.
New hotels include Cabrits Resort & Spa Kempinski in Portsmouth, Dominica and Helpuna Waikiki in Honolulu. The new cruise lines are the soon-to-launch Virgin Voyages and Avalon River Cruises.
On the land side, Signature as added handcrafted, small-group operator MT Sobek and a number of new tourism board partners including Belize Tourism Board, Catalan Tourist Board, Discover Puerto Rico, Visit Britain, and more.
Overall, Signature increased its preferred partner sales almost 10% in 2019.
Signature has had over a half million cruise tracks this year and over million messages, with a 60% open rate, on its client reach messages. It also relaunched its cruise tool, SIG Cruise Pro program, with a single interface.
This year, Signature will reboot its Hotel Connection program with color coding and sorting. The group also expects the third version of its hotel booking engine, 3.0, to debut with third-party and wholesaler rates all in one screen.
Karen Yeates, the EVP of information technologies, also announced that Signature will now be CRM agnostic, something that was requested from its members.
“There’s obviously been a change in the industry over the years — we have new entrants into the market place, the sun and fun destinations and new CRMs have entered the marketplace and easier to use and less heavy. They’re not hanging all different kind of bookings,” she told TMR.
“It gives us more flexibility when we want to bring new fields onto it and add new functionality,” she added.
Looking to the future, Signature is in the processing of rolling out new digital communication tools that will help its advisors communicate with clients in whatever way the client prefers—advisors will be able to text their clients messages from their desktop directly to their client’s phones. Any replies will hit the advisor on their desktop.
Also looking into the future, Yeates, along with the rest of the technology team at Signature, will continue to look at how new technology will impact the advisor business whether it’s the advent of 5G (by 2024 almost 40% of the general population is expected to be on 5G), artificial intelligence, augmented analytics, and cyber security.
According to Yeates, while the technology coming into the world might seem overwhelming, there is a big positive for advisors and that’s “the movement back to the human connection.”
“Engagement equals trust,” she said.
Training and marketing update
According to Iganacio Maza, Signature’s continuingly developing training programs, which, he said, “was frankly weakness for us,” but is now one of the group’s biggest strengths.
“We’ve had some tremendous success,” he said.
Signature’s Embark Bootcamps, which was launched in 2018 as a way to find, recruit, and nurture new talent coming into the industry, leads the way, according to Maza, as one-quarter of Signature agencies have sent someone through the program during its first year.
Maza, a longtime leader at Signature, and one of its most recognizable ones, also took on a new role in 2019—Maza helped user in a new luxury-focused training initiative called Luxury Summit, a two-day immersion program held in various cities. After a sold out 2019 event, Signature will hold its next one starting on April 22, 2020 in Dallas.
Karyyn Christopher, who also serves as Signature’s EVP of Marketing, told attendees that all of Signature’s marketing programs are “Really designed to highlight you” with personalization for each agency.
“Every one [of the e-marketing materials] is able to be personalized to add a special message or note to really drive home that you’re thinking about them.”