The Latest From Signature Travel Network’s Owners’ Meeting

Left to Right: Alex Sharpe, Signature's president and CEO, Elaine Lerner with National Discount Cruise Co. and Uf Tukel with WMPH Vacations
Left to Right: Alex Sharpe, Signature's president and CEO, Elaine Lerner with National Discount Cruise Co. and Uf Tukel with WMPH Vacations

Signature Travel Network hosted its annual Owners’ Meeting at the newly renovated Palace Hotel in San Francisco, September 14­–17, 2016. The event, which was themed CONNECT, marked the organization’s 60th anniversary with a celebratory dinner at San Francisco City Hall

Keynote speakers were Anita Mendiratta with CACHET Consulting, Jason Dorsey with the Center for Generational Kinetics and Ron Insana with CNBC

Mendiratta talked about what motivates people to travel and experience other cultures on a personal level. She is a five-time published author and has established herself as a valued advisor to governments, especially in times of crisis (natural, economic, political or otherwise). She has become a sought after speaker, moderator and coach in the advancement of tourism for nations across the globe.

Dorsey spoke about the next generation of travel consumers and advisors, as well as their influence on business development trends. Dorsey’s most recent books include Y-Size Your Business and My Reality Check Bounced. He is a prominent Millennials and Gen Z researcher and speaker. He has been featured as a generational expert on 60 Minutes, 20/20, The Today Show and The Early Show, among others. Adweek calls Dorsey a “research guru” and The New York Times featured him in a cover story on marketing to Millennials.

Insana applied his journalistic perspective to how Wall Street, Main Street and Washington shape the marketplace. Insana is a contributor to CNBC and MSNBC, where he discusses the most pressing economic and market issues of the day. He has written for Money magazine and USA Today and has hosted two nationally syndicated radio programs. He was named one of the "Top 100 Business News Journalists of the 20th Century" and was nominated for a news and documentary Emmy for his role in NBC's coverage of 9/11. He has authored four books about Wall Street and is a highly regarded lecturer on domestic and global economics, financial markets and economic policy issues.

During the member-only portion of the meeting, Signature President and CEO Alex Sharpe, along with Signature’s board of directors, presented high-level updates regarding the strategic direction of the organization, as well as a 360-degree financial overview. Sharpe recently reported positive returns and sales trends. “For our 2015-2016 fiscal year, we are pleased to announce that the most recent round of shareholder distributions were recorded as the highest yet in the organization’s history,” Sharpe said.

Signature’s technology program includes Client Reach, an application that ties Signature consultants to their clients with personalized messages. 

Karen Yeates, Signature’s EVP of information technologies, said that over 80 percent of Signature members use Client Reach, and that some message types have an open rate as high as 91 percent. 

Signature’s Automatic Cruise Track is another technology platform that sends email notifications to consultants telling them about changes to booked cruises, such as pricing changes, itinerary changes and newly added promotions. Year to date, Signature has sent almost 80,000 individual notifications through Automatic Cruise Track.

Travel Trends

This meeting also focused on the sharing of key findings that represent a shift in trends for Signature members. One noticeable trend this year included an increase in luxury brand sales, now accounting for over 50 percent of total member sales. That is up from previous years, and is projected to continue to increase, Signature said. 

In addition, Signature said it continues to create more of a balance in its overall sales mix. “Cruise was once 85 percent of our sales, but is now less than half, which made room for tour operators, destination specialists and hotels and resorts,” said Sharpe. “And yet, in the past two years, we have seen an increase in cruise sales year over year, which reflects the growth of Signature and the strength of the members’ businesses.”


Also during the event, Signature executive staff presented the following workshops: 

Ignacio Maza, executive vice president, shared hotel industry trends, news regarding Signature’s Hotel and Resort Program, as well as fresh perspectives on the luxury travel market. Signature’s Hotel and Resort Collection now features over 950 preferred properties worldwide, offering privileges to Signature members’ clients. 

Karen Yeates, executive vice president of information technologies, provided an overview of notable results for key technology programs, planned enhancements that assist agencies with connectivity between their advisors and clients and efficiencies for consultants. Special mention was made of Client Reach, a proprietary client messaging system, Signature’s proprietary emarketing system and Pocket Travel Consultant by Axus, a private-label travel itinerary app. 

Heidi Podjavorsek, vice president of land and specialty suppliers, presented with Brian Holmberg, director of cruise programs. Together, they reviewed new supplier partners, as well as ways to best leverage preferred products to meet the increased demand for new travel experiences and emerging destinations.

Nolan Burris, training program consultant, hosted two workshops. The first examined the issues related to booking fees on a broad scale and ways to prepare advisors on how to implement them. For his second presentation, he was joined by Gina Weyer, vice president of training and member services, and Tiffany Grant, training director. Together, they explored strategies for recruiting, training and retaining new talent of all ages.

Karryn Christopher, senior vice president of sales and marketing, along with other members of Signature’s marketing team, presented tools designed to expand client reach and drive sales. Additionally, all of Signature’s marketing services were reviewed from email marketing and direct mail to database management and prospecting. Christopher hosted a second workshop with Podjavorsek and Holmberg that reviews how agents can maximize every selling opportunity.

Also at the event, Signature officially welcomed the organization’s 15 newest members. Special events for new members during the meeting include a welcome luncheon and new member forum. These programs are designed to assist new members with understanding the organization’s structure, as well as best practices for maximizing member benefits, Signature said. A full list of the new members is available here. 

Finally, the organization elected its new Board of Directors for 2016-2017. Members serve a two-year term. 

Signature’s 2016/17 Board of Directors:

Chair:               Eric Maryanov, CTC, All-Travel, Los Angeles, California            
Vice Chair:        Steve Orens, CTIE, Plaza Travel, Encino, California
Treasurer:        Carol Lekki, Carol’s Travel Service & Cruise Center, Tinley Park, Illinois
Secretary:        Olga Placeres, Preferred Travel of Naples, Inc., Naples, Florida *Re-elected
Director:          Paul Coleman, CTA, Sun Travel, El Paso, Texas *Re-elected
Director:           Ryan Hansen, Bon Voyage Travel, Tucson, Arizona               
Director:           Craig Hsu, Travel Design USA Inc., Torrance, California *Re-elected
Director:           Jamie Jones, WhirlAway Travel Ltd., Westchester, Pennsylvania  
Director:           Marc Kazlauskas, FROSCH, New York, New York       
Director:           Maegan Sonnier, Travel Machine, Lafayette, Louisiana *Newly elected
Director:           Don Walker, WMPH Vacations, Delray Beach, Florida *Re-elected