Alex Sharpe, President and CEO of Signature Travel Network, launched Signature Virtual Connections to a global audience of 2,000 members and partners in August. The virtual program, all focused on selling travel in a COVID-19 world, is being touted as the cornerstone of Signature’s stimulus package. “We need to embrace the new travel landscape and consumer sentiment, with new approaches to selling travel,” Sharpe said at the event. “Unfortunately, we had to cancel our annual conference, which would have brought us all together in October – but rather than just moving that same format to a virtual event, we decided to rethink our approach.” This approach includes partner updates with advisors; destination presentations led by Ignacio Maza, Executive Vice President; virtual consumer events and more. They will be spread from August to December; However, Karryn Christopher, EVP, Marketing and Privileged Partnerships, told media that virtual events could become a staple and Signature will continue to offer them as an additional form of networking after COVID-19. DAILY NEWSLETTER AND OFFERS Do you like this story? Subscribe to daily news and offers! Presenting the latest news on the latest product launches, offers, sales promotions and executive appointments. Be sure to sign up for this free daily industry newsletter. 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 who have converted from other consortia.” New members who 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. Likewise, while noting that Signature has made an effort to work more with its existing supplier partners, it brought in three new partners during the pandemic. These were: chauffeured services from EmpireCLS Worldwide, which operates in more than 700 cities around the world and has a large part of its fleet to ensure quality; HVN Travel Group, which has a portfolio of over 175,000 residences worldwide (primarily in the contemporary and upscale market, but with five-star options as well); and Memorable Belize, an extension of existing Signature partner Memorable Costa Rica. Obviously, the first two are trying to provide more options for Signature advisors as their clients may seek more road trips or inquire about stays in villas or private residences in the aftermath of COVID-19. Speaking in a press conference at Signature’s virtual conference, Sharpe explained how the various agencies in the network are dealing with the reverse side of COVID-19. Those in the luxury sector have a little less difficulty than those dealing with mass travel, he said. “Luxury people are in a good position to pivot,” said Sharpe. “They have a rapport with their clients and an intimate knowledge of them. Those who are more of a cruise only agency, who might have more of a call center setup compared to a traditional travel agency, they are going to have to work very hard to understand how they can prove their value to customers and how they share. information and position yourself as experts. Sharpe said a few months ago that an owner of a very successful agency within the network revealed that she was not going to chase after late 2020 business at this point. Instead, his sights are set on 2021. “I thought, ‘Wow, if you’ve got the cash reserves to do this, what a phenomenal way to make 2021 your best year ever.’ Sharpe said. “She made the conscious decision that chasing a handful of domestic hotel bookings for the remainder of this year was not going to make a big enough difference. Although she thought her advisers could sell domestic travel, they specialize in Europe. She wanted them to do what they were great at instead. More than ever, he added, agencies must charge service fees. Signature’s Nolan Burris had one-on-one consultations with almost half of the network members on the type of fee structure to adopt. “Do you want to do packages? Do you want to have a menu? He has a bunch of examples because it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution, ”Sharpe said, adding that once the agency decides which route to take, Burris will come back and host a webinar or call. Zoom in with them to set up the fee structure and to help them become more confident in selling their value. The advisors emailed Burris thanking him and saying, “I charged my first fee and the customer didn’t blink.” “We are not talking about a $ 30 transaction fee, we are talking about an advisory fee, such as $ 250 to [plan a trip]. But then you have to back it up and bring the value, ”Sharpe said. At the end of the line? The time that agencies take to re-evaluate the value they deliver to their clients will pay off when the trip returns. “I think we’re going to be in a much better position,” Sharpe said. “Profit per advisor and profit per client will be much higher.” Another truth that evolved from this downturn? “The value of a travel counselor has never been greater,” said Sharpe. He remembers attending an ILTM breakfast in Cannes when a travel advisor stood up and said, “We are not getting enough credit from you.” The advisor added, “When things happened in Mexico and people were afraid to leave, the advisers saved Mexico. When people wouldn’t go to Africa because of Ebola, the travel counselors educated their clients on the geography and made them understand and made them feel comfortable going there, and they brought the travelers back. It was the advisers who led the way. Likewise, said Sharpe, travel counselors are constantly advising their clients on the realities of travel issues and therefore serving as a true advocate for destinations and the industry as a whole. For this reason, the cruise industry is extremely loyal to the travel agent distribution channel, especially today. “They will need the advocacy of the travel counselor community; that’s why you see the cruise lines are putting such great effort into supporting us, ”said Sharpe. “Think about if you were a business owner, who will give someone a full refund and write a check to the travel agent for a commission?” Who’s going to say, “ Even though we didn’t get the money we know you did the job, so we’re going to pay the commission now and if you take that future travel credit and get it changed there? ‘next year we will still pay the commission. It’s not because they’re nice people [and they are nice people], it’s because they need the travel counselor community. “Fortunately, they also recognize that the travel counselor community is going to need their resolute and innovative support to make sure we both get there together,” added Sharpe. Plaza Travel Joins Frosch Frosch International Travel, Inc. has purchased a 51% stake in Plaza Travel of Woodland Hills, California. Plaza Travel has more than 100 advisors and had a turnover of over $ 80 million in 2019. Plaza Travel will retain its brand and no major operational changes are planned for the company, including a long-term commitment. term of Steve Orens, President of Plaza Travel, to remain as a partner to manage and develop the business. Steve Orens of Plaza Travel, with his wife at the Malibu Beach Inn. This partnership gives Plaza Travel the opportunity to accelerate growth in the corporate, entertainment, leisure and independent entrepreneur markets as well as pursue strategic acquisitions. Plaza Travel will benefit from access to innovative technologies and Frosch’s national and global infrastructure and platform. Frosch, headquartered in New York and Houston, generates more than $ 2.2 billion in annual travel expenses; it has 2,200 employees at more than 40 sites around the world. Frosch and Plaza Travel are part of Signature Travel Network. Related Stories Small Businesses at Risk Unless Washington takes action, US Travel Says WTTC to Unveil Coordinated Plan to Save Travel and Tourism by October Signature Travel Network Launches Signature Virtual Connections How Advisors Can Get Their Message Out to local news.