Optimism Rules At Signature Meeting

by Daniel McCarthy


At Signature Travel Network’s Owner’s Meeting in San Francisco last week, president Alex Sharpe said agents across the world have weathered the storm and now face “such an opportunity in front of us. Sometimes we focus a little too much on the negatives, but the overall message is pretty darn positive: More people feel comfortable traveling.”  

Indeed, he noted, more than half of leisure travelers have been traveling internationally, “to places where they need your consultancy and advice,” he said. “Disruptive and tragic events are an opportunity to talk with clients and build trust.”  

More than 50% of Signature’s 2016 business has been luxury, and while cruising was once 85% of sales, now it’s a little less than half as land and hotel sales continue to grow. 

Silversea’s almost-record year   
Seven months into his return to the industry as the president of Americas, Mark Conroy outlined the $170 million fleet refurbishment plan currently underway at Silversea Cruises.  

Over the next 18 months, Silver Wind, Silver Whisper, Silver Discoverer, Silver Shadow, Silver Explorer, Silver Cloud and Silver Galapagos will all be renovated. Silver Cloud will be converted into “by far the most luxurious expedition ship,” he said. “We’re quite excited.”  

The past year has been one of the best in the cruise line’s history, Conroy said, and if it weren’t for struggles in the Mediterranean  “we would have had the best year in our history.”  

The region, which has historically been one of the best sellers in the cruise industry, is expected to bounce back as things return to normal, he said.  

CNBC: Travel is more important than ever 
CNBC senior analyst Ron Insana and Cachet Consulting’s Anita Mendiratta joined the general session to talk about the importance of travel to the global economy.  

According to Mendiratta, travel is the third-largest economy sector in the world–growing 4.5%–5.5 % annually. In the United States alone, 15.1 million people are directly employed by travel and tourism. 

Forty years ago, 189 million people traveled internationally for work or leisure; that number is expected to grow to over 1.8 billion by 2030.  

Insana said that a recovering global economy and a still-growing U.S. population also provide confidence that people will continue to travel and that agents will continue to grow their business.  

“Those who have the vision and intuition know that these things are cyclical; they pass eventually and life goes on,” he said.  

Viking slowing down  
With 50 ships built in the last five years, Viking River Cruises will slow its growth, said vice president of national accounts Mike Wiersema. “We will never build another 18 ships in one year again,” he joked, referencing Viking’s huge growth in 2014.  

Viking’s 62 river ships represents almost half of all river cruise activity and Wiersema made it clear that, with that kind of volume, agents are more important than ever for the cruise company.  

Viking is currently paying commission on all add-ons on all of its products; agents earn commission on cruise and air, pre and post packages, port charges, taxes and fees, travel protection, gift orders and shipboard credits.  

Even though there is a slowdown in river cruises, Viking is readying itself for a full immersion in its ocean product. “We weren’t satisfied to just be on the river side of the business,” Wiersema said. Viking Sea and Viking Star are already in the water and Viking Sky and Viking Sun are scheduled to enter service in 2017 with two more ships are scheduled to sail by 2020. 

Viking Ocean sailings will feature more time in port than other ocean lines, he said, along with vessels sized to fit just 930 guests, letting them dock in prime locations closer to the heart of a destination. 

Travel Impressions expands its outreach and portfolio   
Scott Wiseman, president of tour operator Travel Impressions, also spoke, telling owners that “keeping you happy is really what keeps the team happy. We are an agent-only business for the last 42 years…and that will be our focus going forward.” Wiseman said that the company will also continue to develop its training tools for agents. “Education has always been the cornerstone for travel impressions…we’re going to continue to develop training and more resources,” he said.  

“The crown jewel” of Travel Impressions’ program, Wiseman said, is its agent rewards program LoyalTI First, which gives agents points for bookings that can be redeemed for gifts and rewards.  

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