Jamie Biesiada
Jamie Biesiada

With an election year on the horizon and talk in recent years about a potential recession, the industry has been buzzing about what 2020 will look like.

And Signature Travel Network president and CEO Alex Sharpe is glad people are worried.

"Even though the business is good, I love that everyone's worried, because that means they're focused," Sharpe said. "They're focused, and the suppliers are focused on being your best partner and having the right offer and marketing aggressively early. And the advisors are focused on it, about making sure they identify their group opportunities early on, market properly and all the rest of it."

Sharpe said 2019 will end as Signature's best year on the record books and that he expects many others in the industry to have similarly positive results.

It hasn't been without its challenges -- including hurricanes and the ban on cruises calling in Cuba -- but it's a resilient industry, Sharpe said.

Now, heading into 2020, he is confident in the network's business, a confidence that is only increased with the amount of preparation agencies are undertaking to combat any election-related downturns.

"I think 2020's going to be a really strong year again," he said.

But Sharpe does have some concerns about 2021.

"As we get into the end of the third quarter [of 2020], the beginning of the fourth quarter, which is usually a great time to build future-year business, the whole world is going to be distracted with the chaos that's going to be the U.S. presidential election," he said.

According to the CEO, Signature historically has found elections are more disruptive for the year following the event than for the year it takes place in.

The height of the election cycle falls in the middle of an important time for travel advisors to get clients on the books for the following year.

As an example, Sharpe said, Wave season, which begins in mid-January, is still an important time to get future business on the books. But by the time the calendar turns and it's Jan. 1, there are some mass market cruise lines already at 50% to 60% occupancy.

"Fall is critical, in my opinion, in really building that base of business for the coming year, and that's potentially going to be a little distracting this year," he said.

He urged travel advisors to stay focused on their business throughout 2020 despite the noise from the election and the possibility of changes in the economy.

It's a tactic that has worked time and again in the past. One of the most striking of those times was in the wake of Sept. 11, when Signature's president was Michelle Morgan, who died in 2013 after a long illness. 

At the time, Sharpe distinctly recalls members telling him that without her leadership and support in remaining focused on their agencies, they would have gone out of business after Sept. 11.

Signature's Owners' Meeting was scheduled to take place just a week after the attacks. Unsurprisingly, many balked at the idea of going, but Morgan ensured they still attended. At that meeting, she acknowledged that many would probably lower their marketing budgets to avoid layoffs in tough times ahead, but she wouldn't let them go down that path. Thanks to free marketing credits from Signature, marketing efforts went ahead as planned, which helped many agencies stay afloat.

It was a message that is still applicable today, Sharpe said. "Now is the time to step on the gas and let everyone know we're still in this market. Let everyone know that you're still open for business."


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