Jamie Biesiada
Jamie Biesiada

If 2018 had ended last Monday, when I spoke with Scott Kertes of Vacations by Design, the Garden City, N.Y.-based agency would have finished the year up about 17% over 2017. And 2019 is already looking like it'll outperform 2018.

Why?

"Marketing, marketing, marketing," Kertes said. "Everything is marketing. We have stepped up our marketing efforts. We've created campaigns that we've never had before. We've developed more touchpoints with our customers from email to web to social media to video. We've been involved in more face-to-face, consumer-type of events here in our local community. Everything is a function of the more you put yourself out there, the more you're going to get out of it."

Kertes, a cruise specialist, goes by the moniker "Captain of the Ship" at Vacations by Design. The agency — and Kertes prefers not to use that term, but describes Vacations by Design as a "vacation planning company" — was known as Hartford Holidays Travel for its first 42 years, but underwent a rebrand in the past two years.

"I felt the concept of being a travel agent or travel agency just doesn't work anymore in today's world," he said of what sparked the renaming. "It has very negative connotations and many, many misconceptions, and it doesn't really paint a picture as to the expertise and the specialization that we bring to the table in terms of the service we can provide our customers."

Hence, the change to Vacations by Design and the company's active (and effective) approach to marketing.

"When I first started working in this business, it was something where you hung a sign on the door that said 'travel,' and then you waited for people to come," Kertes said. "And when times were good, lots of people came. When times weren't good, nobody came. But you had no active part in it."

Not so today, Kertes said.

The veteran agent's best marketing advice is to differentiate yourselves from others.

"Especially in my world, in cruising, if you were just a singular consumer going on the internet looking for cruise information, cruise pricing, you're going to find a million different places and a million different sources of information," Kertes said. "If that's all I have to give you — a ship, sailing date and a price — I'm a small fish in a big pond, and I'm going to lose."

Instead, Kertes said, Vacations by Design works to dynamically package products and create themed affinity groups to draw in new clients.

"In other words, I want to eliminate the competition," he said. "That's the advice I would give to people: Find your audience and go after them with unique products and services that they either can't find or have a very hard time finding on their own."

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