WHY IT RATES: Signature is turning to Virtual Connections rather than move its annual conference to a virtual event. -Janeen Christoff, TravelPulse Senior Writer
Alex Sharpe, Signature's president and CEO, launched Signature Virtual Connections to a worldwide audience of 2,000 Signature members and partners. This multifaceted program is the cornerstone of Signature's strategic recovery plan.
Signature Virtual Connections incorporates a wide variety of touchpoints all focused on selling travel in the present reality of COVID-19.
"We need to embrace the new travel landscape and consumer sentiment, with new approaches to selling travel," said Sharpe. "Unfortunately, we had to cancel our annual conference, which would have brought us all together in October, but rather than just move that same format to a virtual event, we decided to rethink our approach. That included spreading a comprehensive series of meetings, training and consumer events over the next four months. This sustained approach is essential, because from what we have experienced over the past five months, what we will share in December may well evolve from what we know today."
During the opening presentation, Sharpe shared that even in these difficult times, interest in joining Signature remains high. "Signature members have acquired new agencies and we have also welcomed new members that have converted from other consortia." New members that joined in 2020 include Boca Raton Travel & Cruises, Cadillac Travel, Edgewood Travel, Elevations Travel, Prestige Travel, Stellar Travel, Travel of America, Unique Romance and Adventure Travel and Vista Travel Associates.
Signature is seeing encouraging trends for cruising and land. Consumer booking trends continue to evolve post-COVID shock, but one thing is clear; the demand for travel is strong. Overall, 2021 land sales, a combination of new reservations and pending future travel credits, are up 50% with FIT business showing the best growth in 2021. Luxury cruising is showing great strength in the Caribbean and Europe. The highest volume of cruise bookings is for Q2 and Q3 2021 departures, in part a reflection of many travelers rebooking their canceled trips for the same time one year later.
A key area of focus for Signature are future cruise and travel credits. Sharpe noted, "Signature members' clients have accumulated over $450 million in future credits since March of this year. Converting these credits to bookings is critical for advisors in the next months." To aid advisors in capturing these sales, Signature is standardizing and sharing credit reports with members. Reporting is being paired with targeted email marketing campaigns and customizable digital tools to help advisors stay connected with clients.
In addition to encouraging advisors to charge fees for their expertise and services, Sharpe also outlined an early commission payment initiative Signature is pursuing with industry partners. This would pay advisors some commission after a booking is made. The current standard is to not pay until closer to travel or even after travel.
"This lag-time, while always difficult, may now be the difference whether a brick and mortar agency will survive or not. Waiting a year or more to be paid for work done today is no longer tenable and does not recognize the critical importance of the travel advisor in the supply chain," said Sharpe. "We currently have agreements with several cruise lines, land suppliers and destination specialists. Each deal is unique and fits the supplier's needs, while helping agencies through this difficult time. I look forward to more suppliers joining this initiative."
Scott Nisbet, CEO of Globus family of brands, stated: "Now more than ever, it is critical that we reach out in creative and meaningful ways to support our agency and advisor community. Our early commission payment program is designed to provide much-needed cash flow during these challenging times."
To meet new consumer preferences, Sharpe announced new Signature Preferred Partners, EmpireCLS Worldwide Chauffeured Services, HVN Travel Group and Memorable Belize. He shared that Signature has also contracted with many new hotel and resort partners.
Signature Virtual Connection events continue with sessions on selling a post-quarantine Hawaii, best practices for converting future cruise and travel credits, and a Discoveries series with Ignacio Maza spotlighting experiences throughout the USA, North and Central America and the Caribbean. "We know the travel landscape will evolve over the next months and we will adjust our content as needed. I'm excited that the span of this series allows us to remain current and nimble while offering Signature members the most up to date information and strategies to sell travel as we launch a meaningful recovery."
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