Signature weighs up cruise program for Australia

Luxury travel network mulls stakeholder benefits of cruise expansion down under

Signature Travel Network is weighing up the stakeholder benefits of an expansion of its cruise business into the Australian market, LATTE can exclusively reveal.

With 33 cruise members – including the likes of Silversea, Regent Seven Seas, Tauck, Seabourn, Viking, Oceania Cruises and PONANT, to name a few – the Los Angeles-based luxury travel consortia currently limits its Australian partners to selling its extensive hotel & resort and DMC programs.

Cruising, as Signature Travel Network’s President, Alex Sharpe says, “is our primary driver”.

“Per location, we’re by far and away the biggest cruise producer in the US,” Sharpe told LATTE.

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“For Oceania [Cruises], we’re their number one overall. Regent [Seven Seas Cruises, we’re] their number one overall. Even though we are small at just 208 shareholders.”

Such is the strength of the luxury cooperative, Signature Travel Network had 80 members participate in the recent christening cruise of Oceania Cruises’ new ship, Vista in Europe.

Alex Sharpe, President/CEO, Signature Travel Network

Part of the secret to Signature’s cruise success is taking “a little bit of risk inventory – not much,” Sharpe says. “It’s not a traditional approach to take in the US market, and frankly it is hard to focus all your members on one particular sail date and ship when we’re selling a portfolio of 33 cruise lines that are preferred with us.”

“It’s a combination of great groups, really pushing on the promotions in the luxury space.”

“We have a wonderful amenity program, we organise hosted dates on luxury, we do amenities on almost all dates for luxury cruise, and because we’re a cooperative, the focus is a bit different. 

Those amenities include providing members with a private car and driver in the port of choice for the client.

Signature’s President/CEO for the past nine years says overall cruise production is so high for the group due to: 1) having a “hell of a cruise program” and, 2) being “very selective” on the agencies signed to the cooperative.

“They’re not all mega agencies. We have a lot of what I’d say small- to mid-size agencies, but really keenly focused.

“The minimum criteria to get into a consortium in the US is usually somewhere between zero and a half a million dollars in revenue. For us, it’s 2 million, which isn’t a huge hurdle but it’s amazing how many people that knocks out.

“We have people that are in the business of travel, not the travel business, and that makes a huge difference.”

Silver Muse, Sydney Harbour

He said that the pandemic some US members of the consortia struggled, and others failed, adding “We’ve had the pick of the litter” as a result.

“We’ve added over a billion dollars in cruise sales through COVID, which has been really helpful coming out the other side. And that’s just accelerating,” Clarke said.

Returning to the potential of launching the cruise program in Australia, Sharpe admits to being a “little envious” of Steve Lloyd and how he launched Cruiseco many years ago when he was working with Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

“I think activating our cruise program in Australia would be a relatively simple task to pull off,” Sharpe said.

“There’s a couple of things. As a cooperative, our members look at me and say what’s in it for us? We want to provide them more value.

“Firstly, our members don’t really compete with them halfway across the world, but indirectly, they probably do. So, if we provide it to them, what’s the value back to the shareholders of the company, both in the investment of time and energy, and then what are the financials look like? 

Silver Shadow at Sydney's Overseas Passenger Terminal ahead of departure on Silversea's 2023 World Cruise

Sharpe continued, saying: “Secondly, Australia has been traditionally a very fragmented cruise market from a distribution perspective. Multiple affiliations from a consortium perspective, people booking through wholesalers, full-ship charters, etc, so aggregating it and getting people focused on booking one has always been a challenge.”

“And then the third thing is our partners there are members there. If they don’t have maybe the cruise program they 100% want – usually where they’re lacking is in the luxury space – but they have some, so they want bits, but they don’t want the whole thing. So it hasn’t made sense for us to create a program that just fills in gaps.

“The value for us would be do it across the board. Provide best in class, and in some way, obviously deliver much better value to them, leveraging our great partnerships with the cruise lines, and then figuring out what’s in it for our shareholders. And so we’ve been talking about that.

“We’re not even in Canada, but again, it’s about how do we create a value proposition that makes sense. We’re very methodical as we look at it.”

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