WHEN AN AGENCY BRAND IS PARAMOUNT

Going behind the scenes at Signature Travel Network – with group President and CEO Alex Sharpe

As they say, there are different horses for different courses. In this exclusive interview, we went direct to the stables of one of America’s leading networks – but one whose name is little known by the general public. Signature Travel Network President and CEO Alex Sharpe explains why…

EVERY AGENCY THAT IS PART OF OUR NETWORK IS A SHAREHOLDER. OUR MEMBERS ARE PERSONALLY INVESTED IN THE RUNNING OF THE NETWORK AND ENSURING ITS SUCCESS…

There are many factors that make Signature stand out from other travel networks.

  • First, the fact that we are member- owned cooperative. Every agency that is part of our network is a shareholder. Our members are personally invested in the running of the network and ensuring its success;
  • Second, our longevity. Being in the business over 60 years, our network has weathered many storms and we always rise to the challenges and move forward;
  • Third, we promote our members’ brands, not our own. We always want to be in a supportive role in the relationship between our members and their clients;
  • Fourth, our strategy. Our two key questions before embarking on any new initiative are “How will this benefit our members?” and “How will this help us drive more sales to our preferred partners?” If we cannot answer those questions and are not comfortable with these answers, we do not move forward;
  • Fifth, our community. We are a small organization that is very hands-on and very close to our members. More than a network, we truly are a community of like-minded entrepreneurs, each going to market in their own unique way, but tied together by a common set of values that tie us together. Our meetings are family reunions much more than just business conferences;
  • Our track record, we have been very focused and successful over the years, and proud to be the most productive network in North America, in terms of preferred partner sales per member agency, as well as the most engaged, with a higher percentage of preferred partner sellers within a network in the industry;
  • We also have the highest member- retention rate of any network in North America;
  • Finally, our guiding principles: to serve our members and add value to our partners and shareholders.

OUR ADVISORS ARE EXPERTS IN THEIR FIELD AND GO ABOVE AND BEYOND TO FIND THE BEST OPTIONS AND VALUE FOR THEIR CLIENTS

How do you help agencies develop and promote their brand?

All consumer-facing communication and marketing that is created by Signature is personalized for the member at either the agency or advisor level. The highly- personalized approach builds rapport and trust between the traveler and their advisor. Additionally, the traveler as well as the advisor can manage what type of communications are received. Signature also supports members, and their unique brand promises, by developing the relevant content that consistently delivers the inspirational, experiential, meaningful and useful information that discerning travelers want to receive.

Meanwhile, Signature offers customized technology solutions that address individual needs of each member and/or advisor and include extensive web content, online marketing tools and turnkey email marketing programs, on-demand personalized one-to-one communication vehicles and other technological tools that ensure advisors can respond to inquiries and proactively manage the customer experience. These tools comprehensively assist advisors to build a strong trust relationship with their customers. Advisors are further empowered with weekly reports providing them a complete overview of all messages, print and electronic, that their client receives, including e-mail campaign open and click-thru details, which enables the advisor to proactively connect with their clients that show interest in a specific destination or product.

Please tell us a little about Signature Advantage Marketing…

Signature offers expertly planned campaigns across multiple channels and high-impact customer touch points tailored to individual business models. With more than 10 million direct mail pieces and editorial publications every year, Signature provides members with a wide range of personalized marketing tools to ensure every email, magazine or direct mail campaign a client receives is targeted and relevant to their interests and travel needs. A centralized database of more than four million travelers is combined with ongoing analysis and segmentation to help member agencies to maximize the return on every campaign and expand their reach with precision. This data enables Signature to orchestrate highly targeted email and direct mail marketing initiatives for members that drive results. Signature’s most highly circulated publication, The Travel Magazine, and the recently relaunched Ultimate Experiences exemplifies Signature’s commitment to producing original and compelling content that supports our members and attracts new travelers. Supplier-specific and destination-oriented brochures and direct mail pieces feature exclusive and time sensitive offers. One of Signature’s greatest marketing advantages is our proprietary e-marketing program and tools, which puts the power of 1-to- 1 email communication in the hands of the travel advisor. Every Signature advisor has direct access to weekly campaigns that are designed to touch customers across all stages of the buying cycle, from time-sensitive best deals and direct mail automated follow-up, to information-rich newsletters. Signature’s email marketing program continues to surpass the industry average in click-through rates. All digital media and email marketing tools designed by Signature integrate seamlessly with members’ individual online and social media strategies.

How many hotels, resorts, villas and spas are in your network, and how do they qualify to be listed?

As of today, we have over 1,100 partner hotels, resorts, lodges, destination spas and unique places to stay worldwide. Every partner property offers unique Signature privileges to our clients, including breakfast for two daily, complimentary wi- , a special Signature privilege such as a $100 dining or resort credit, in addition to upgrades, early check-in and late check-out, subject to availability, as well as access to best available rates at time of booking. All partner hotels are vetted with our Hotel Committee, which is made up of hotel experts within our network who provide us with guidance and counsel. We also have a Hotel “Mystery Shopper” program, which enables us to gather intelligence as to how our guests are being welcomed and handled on property, based on actual stays by selected members within our network who experience the hotels as our clients would.

OUR GOAL IS TO BECOME THE MOST VALUED BUSINESS PARTNER FOR BOTH OUR MEMBERS AND TRAVEL SUPPLIERS

Signature Travel Network launched a new consumer-facing hotel booking engine earlier this year. Please tell us a little about this.

In April we launched this new platform for our members to showcase more consumer-facing material. We partnered with Freedom Travel Technologies to create and integrate this platform for advisors to connect with their clients’ needs even deeper than before. While it is available for all our advisors to use, it is a feature that they need to choose to participate in. For those who opted in to use the booking engine, it is embedded within their own sites so consumers are not redirected to a third-party site. Everything is right at their clients’ fingertips. The need for this hotel booking engine derived from the trend of consumers booking travel online themselves through third-party affiliates. With this new tool, consumers have access to all the information while still working with the consultants to receive the additional bene ts and be aware of any restrictions outright.

What is your vision for the future of the organization?

Our goal is to become the most valued business partner for both our members and travel suppliers. We want to outperform the competition and continue to be a leader in our eld. We do not aspire to be the biggest travel organization, but we do want to be the best in class. Our guiding principle is to serve our members and advisors by providing industry leading technology, marketing and training, which in turn will allow us to give our supplier partners the customers, matched to their brand, at a premium ADR, and likely to repeat time and time again.


Photo: Alex Sharpe, President and CEO, Signature Travel Network