Harrison tasked to build Signature’s International Affiliates in ANZ

LATTE chats with Harrison and Alex Sharpe, CEO, Signature Travel Network

The appointment of Lisa Harrison as Signature Travel Network‘s first Managing Director for Australia and New Zealand, revealed by LATTE, comes as the US-based travel consortia reports a continued strengthening in the luxury travel market.

Speaking exclusively with LATTE, Alex Sharpe, President and Chief Executive Officer, Signature Travel Network, said the time to make a “thoughtful” push in the ANZ region was now right.

Sharpe has long, discretely, mooted the vision to further expand Signature’s presence to the next level here, beyond the existing partnerships with Magellan Travel, TravelManagers and a handful of other committed long-term agency partners. The recruitment of Magellan Travel’s former General Manager was key to the strategy. Harrison was the GM at Magellan for two years during COVID, supporting partners through the “most challenging of times”. For the past 12-18 months she has been out of the industry.

Alex Sharpe, President/CEO, Signature Travel Network at the 2023 Conference in Las Vegas | Credit: LATTE

Subscribe to LATTE’s free eNewsletter to keep up to date with everything in the luxury travel industry.

“Despite a lull in traffic and business during the pandemic, the partnership remained strong,” Harrison told LATTE. She had previously worked alongside Sharpe and Kimberly Waters, Vice President, Member Acquisition and Engagement during her stint at Magellan.

Sharpe said coaxing Harrison back to the travel sphere, and to Signature, had been a personal mission.

“Lisa’s appointment is a great first step as we look to grow in the Australia and New Zealand markets, providing time for meaningful conversations with agencies and partners to ensure the brand really resonates well in the marketplace,” Sharpe said.

“I’ve always believed, we’re not a real player in a destination if we’re not in the destination. Having Lisa there is critically important,” Sharpe told LATTE from Los Angeles. “It shows we are committed to the destination.”

“When we originally went to Australia/New Zealand, our relationship was with Magellan and we were an ‘add-on’ to what their offerings were. We had and have really great advocates in Magellan who added great value, but now, we’re going to look at them all as individual agencies and dig in at that level.”

“Lisa will be the face of what we will be doing there. She has extensive relationships already but she will now be able to deepen that focus.”

Harrison said she was “both honoured and excited about working with Signature Travel Network in the Australian and New Zealand markets.” 

Her previous alignment with Signature means Harrison is already very familiar with the value-offering in this market. Plus she has existing relationships in the industry and has “a lot more people to meet”.

Joe Araullo, CEO, TravelManagers and Alex Sharpe, President/CEO, Signature Travel Network

Currently, Signature Travel Network has a small base of seven members in Australia, including TravelManagers, Entourage Travel and Platinum Travel, the original member in Australia, alongside a few existing and former Magellan Travel members. There is also one member agency in New Zealand.

A number of long-standing Signature members in the US also have offices in Australia. Harrison will explore potential synergies with those businesses for a local presence here.

“For some agencies it may be easier to use what their US offices have access to,” Sharpe explained. “We’ll dig in with them as well as that’ll help broaden the network.”

“I’m excited. The members are impressive, the number of members isn’t so impressive today.”

Sharp continued, saying “Our partnership with Magellan was all very positive with the exception of COVID [which] was tough.

“When we made our initial agreement with Magellan, it was exclusive, they were a standalone, and a lot of things changed over time there as they sold to Helloworld, then we moved to a non-exclusive contract when we renewed the arrangement.

“The Magellan network are high performing, high-end agents that fit perfectly with the Signature Travel Network globally. They were perfectly aligned as businesses and it was a really positive partnership,” Sharpe noted.

“I look at it as a great experience but we kind of have to fly on our own and earn our way and make sure that we are providing each of those members the value that they need to join.”

In Australia and New Zealand, Signature Travel Network will consider all agency business models – small, large, multi-agency, boutique, individual advisors.

“I don’t see there is one perfect fit. It’s all about finding likeminded partners,” Harrison said, telling LATTE she has a stable of people and businesses in mind she would “love to see part of the network in time”.

“At the end of the day, the value proposition offering, commercials, member & customer benefits and reputation in market is what’s going to attract people. The building of brand awareness is equally an important aspect.”

“I’m a big believer that any agency owner will want to be part of an organisation that cares about them and has their member agency brand at the forefront of what they do, and that’s what Signature does so well,” she said.

“They are a member-owned cooperative that has the member brand and member in mind and at the heart of everything they do. I feel very aligned.”

Lisa Harrison, newly recruited Managing Director, Australia/New Zealand, Signature Travel Network

Sharpe added that members in Australia will not be shareholders, at least in the current structure. Core to the business is “we know exactly who we work for, and even if they’re not shareholders we’ll still have that same mentality in Australia – that we serve the members.”

“Lisa will be in charge to formulate how we best serve members in Australia and New Zealand, and what that offering will look like. We will take care of our members,” Sharpe added. “We will engage with our members.”

“We will have a portfolio that reflects what they need and how we can be complementary to what they currently have.”

“Signature Travel Network is never about our brand. Everything we do is for our members’ brands and their call to action, and their advisor’s call to action. I can’t imagine operating any differently in Australia to that.”

“Whether they are shareholders or they’re not, it’s just our DNA. Certainly Lisa fits that very well and for us it was a no brainer – it was just a matter of if we could lure her back to the industry and I’m happy to say that we did.”

Luxury market still booming

Sharpe said Signature Travel Network is continuing to capitalise on the thirsty luxury travel segment which shows no signs of abating.

“There were a number of low-hanging fruit opportunities in the US and we did exceptionally well during COVID, and the reason we did well is because we focused on our members. We served the people.”

“We grew over 50% during COVID. We added well over a billion [US] dollars in preferred supplier sales during COVID.” He notes sales during that period weren’t necessarily ‘real sales’, likely fuelled by ‘revenge travel’.

“But now it’s real sales. Now it’s tangible. People had a good comeback year here in 2022 in the US. I think Australia was a little bit behind that curve. ‘23 was a record year and ‘24 looks like it’ll be every bit as good and better.”

“What happened during COVID is we had such tremendous demand because people looked at the way we were serving our members, and our members were bragging about it to their industry friends, and our partners were talking about it.  We had as much as we could handle, and then some.

“And now that the market is back in earnest, like we never imagined, and our members are thriving, it’s opened up a little more bandwidth for us to do this.”

Alex Sharpe, President/CEO, Signature Travel Network

“I wanted to ensure that we were approaching the Australia/New Zealand market strategically and thoughtfully, both for the members and potential members in Australia and New Zealand, but also that there was value in it for our members and shareholders in the US.

“I wanted to make sure when we made the move we did it correctly and that everyone would be proud of it. And I feel good about where we are.”

“We had to have a commitment to have Lisa there to start and we’ll see where this takes us and how we support them.”

Sharpe shared that Harrison’s appointment coincides with the recruitment of another 40 employees at Signature Travel Network since the pandemic.

While the US office has maintained existing communication channels with established members in Australia, having Harrison enables relationship building, viewed by Sharpe as vital Down Under.

“We’ve never had this level of commitment in Australia.”

Harrison will report directly to Waters, based in the United States.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.

WP to LinkedIn Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com