Signature Travel Adds Agents, Unveils Plans For 2010

Despite the economic downturn, Signature Travel Network added 29 new members in the past year and reports expanded marketing, increased cruise departures, technology enhancements and new hotel sales programs as part of their 2010 program.


At the recent Annual Owners' Meeting at the Arizona Biltmore, Signature president Michelle Morgan and her staff reviewed the prior year and unveiled a range of new programs and products for 2010. Over ninety percent of Signature's owners attended the four-day conference.


"You deserve a standing ovation,” Morgan told agents. “You’ve emerged victorious after 12 months of business pressures and challenges. The best indicator, of course, is positive sales trends, and sales for quarter four 2009 and into 2010 are consistently improving week over week. Optimism reigns amongst Signature members. “


Morgan said that Signature has enjoyed consistent and measured growth, with 29 new members joining the network in 2009. “"Despite the fact that the board instituted even more stringent requirements for membership, Signature added 29 new members since last year's owners' meeting.”


Signature Travel Network is a member-owned travel cooperative, headquartered in Marina Del Rey, California, with a branch office in New York City. The network was established in 1956 and today includes 190 member agencies with 330 retail locations throughout the USA. Collectively, Signature members generate over $4 billion in annual travel sales.


“The truth of the matter is that Signature has an excellent track record of retaining members probably the best in industry," said Morgan, "New members are amazed at the level and quality of support and it's heartening to hear high levels of praise particularly from owners who have recently moved from other groups. It reconfirms that our member centric model is the most relevant during good times and not so good times."


Among the highlights of the past year, Signature said it has entered into an exclusive partnership with Gourmet Magazine to develop Signature's new Gourmet Travel Specialist Series, a collection of unique culinary cruise vacations.


"This new series of exclusive sailings is available only through Signature's Gourmet Travel Specialists", said Michael von Wittenau, vice president of Strategic Business Development at Signature. "Each sailing features a different culinary expert who will share his or her passion for the cuisine of the destination. Gourmet Travel Specialists guests will enjoy more of what they have been asking for: hands-on cooking classes, select tastings, wine and food pairing dinners, and much more."


One of the first in the new series will be a Mediterranean cruise with Gourmet's executive chef, Sara Moulton. Moulton will be onboard to personally introduce Signature's clients to new exclusive culinary experiences. The seven-night cruise from Athens to Venice with Yachts of Seabourn will depart Athens June 19, 2010.


Signature has also expanded marketing programs for 2010 with more publications and e-marketing campaigns plus added support for member agencies. "In response to the current environment and the need to maintain marketing pressure, Signature will again provide all members with marketing credits, and for the first time, there will be ‘no cost' for printing 2010 publications and direct mail," stated Filomena Andre, vice president of Sales Marketing.


"Signature's goal is to help members stay in touch with their best customers throughout the year and enable them to participate more actively in all marketing campaigns. We want to ensure that marketing reaches customers in all phases of travel planning,” Andre said.

Signature's marketing plan for 2010 will include:

* Seven issues of The Travel Magazine, Signature's cornerstone direct mail publication.

• Four issues of Travel Redefined, aimed at the most affluent clients, with the January edition featuring exclusive Gourmet branded culinary experiences around the world.

• Monthly targeted direct mail campaigns.

• Weekly e-marketing campaigns, which feature extensive editorial, articles and links to interactive destination content.


As another tool for member agents Signature said it has doubled the number of cruise departures to over 1,500 with exclusive privileges for 2010 and enhanced cruise benefits.

"Now more than ever, it is essential for travel counselors to differentiate themselves at point of sale. Our goal is to expand Signature's cruise privileges across the board and deliver a best-in-class portfolio of benefits that enable Signature members to close more sales in 2010," stated Andre.


"As our highest-rated consumer privilege, we have doubled the number of complimentary Private Car Driver shore side experiences next year," stated Andre. Other benefits exclusive to Signature include prepaid gratuities, shipboard credits, shore side experiences, intimate food and wine events, and preferential rates, as well as a wide range of hosted departures featuring on board receptions, cocktail parties and much more.


Signature also expanded its 2010 Hotel Program to feature over 650 hotels with more enhanced consumer privileges. "We are proud of the progress we have made since the launch of the hotel program four years ago," said Ignacio Maza, Signature's executive vice president. "This year we have added one hundred-plus new participating properties to our collection of over 650 world-class hotels, resorts, lodges, spas and unique travel experiences in 77 countries all over the globe."


A few noteworthy additions include Villa D'Este in Lake Como, SLS Beverly Hills, The Ritz London, Waldorf Astoria Towers New York, Peninsula Shanghai, and Hotel Das Cataratas in Brazil.


Signature' also said its exclusive added-value privileges have been enhanced for 2010. All participating hotels now offer breakfast for two daily, and a special Signature amenity such as lunch/dinner for two once during stay, a round of golf, spa treatments, airport transfers, resort credits, and other benefits. These exclusive privileges are in addition to late check-out, early check-in, and upgrades on a space available basis, as well as preferential rates.


On the technology front, Signature has expanded its technology programs to better connect members with clients in relevant, meaningful and real time venues.


Signature is enhancing its proprietary Customer Relationship Management program, ClientConnection, in response to Signature's own research and feedback. Information related to print marketing as well as electronic marketing for each client is pushed directly to the desktop of each travel professional to assist in a more efficient sales process. Information includes product details, booking instructions, and email behaviors.

Enhancements to ClientConnection include:

• Signature members now have the ability to synchronize customer profiles from ClientConnection with Signature's email marketing program. As a result, customers receive email marketing that specifically matches their preferences.

• Integrated and detailed travel specialist profiles and images will be integrated into all email marketing.


A number of other technology improvements slated for 2010 include:

• The release of a consumer-based cruise booking engine.

• Web content and email marketing enhancements to assist members with marketing their presence in social networking venues.

• New developments for mobile applications for leisure travelers, featuring destination content, maps as well as searches for hotel profiles and images.


Signature also announced Signature University, a new online learning management system to support the professional development of its members. Signature University, supported by Skillsoft (a leading provider of e-learning and performance support solutions) will feature three key components:


• Signature Custom Courses – A diverse library of training content focused on maximizing Signature programs and supplier partner products to drive measurable sales results.

• Business Skills Courseware Collection – A resource of business skills such as customer services, sales and effective phone techniques.

• Books24x7 – Online book resource offering access to hundreds of the latest and best business books designed to help management develop leadership skills.