Debra Kerper is a Cruise Planners, American Express franchise owner, and winner of the 2012 and 2013 Trendsetter Award // (c) 2013 TravelAge West
With the March 14 deadline for the 2014 Trendsetter Awards just around the corner, TravelAge West spoke with past award winners across all four categories –– Best Use of Social Media, Best Group Booking Sales Effort, Industry Activist and Upward Bound, Rock Star Agent Under 40 –– and asked them about the perks of being an award winner.
Award recipients discussed the way the award has boosted their recognition and credibility within the industry. Along with the honor of being named a Trendsetter, the past winners described the trips they won and offered advice for other travel professionals who are thinking about entering the contest.
Gain Industry Recognition
While the award winners mentioned that the award helped them demonstrate their value to their clients, they all agreed that they gained the most recognition within the industry itself.
Jonathan Alder, luxury travel planner at TravelStore and the 2013 Rock Star Agent Under 40 award winner, said that he is surprised at how often people talk about the award.
“A few of my clients have commented about the award,” Alder said. “But being an award winner really brings a lot of prestige from the vendors and suppliers that we work with.”
Debra Kerper, a Cruise Planners, American Express franchise owner and winner of the 2012 and 2013 Best Group Booking award, said the award helped her raise awareness for a particular segment of the travel market. As an agent at Easy Access Travel, Kerper plans vacations for people with disabilities and mature travelers.
“Winning the award put a stamp of approval on my efforts to help people with special needs, to help them enjoy cruising and travel in general,” Kerper said. “Being honored in front of travel industry leaders who I look up to and admire filled me with enormous pride and a sense of accomplishment.”
Past winners also stressed the way agents can use the award as a marketing tool. Paula Mitchell Manning, travel advisor at Call Lynn 2 Travel and Ticket 2 Travel, won Trendsetter awards in 2008 and 2009 and was recognized as a runner-up in 2011 for her work in support of travel agents. Now the OSSN Los Angeles and Orange County Chapter Director, Manning continues to volunteer as an organizer of educational events for travel agents.
“When I entered my first Trendsetter contest, I had just become a travel agent, and it was like I was banging my head against a wall to get the suppliers to recognize what I was doing,” Manning said. “Once I won that award, it made things easier, and people started to trust me.”
Win a Vacation
Trendsetter Award winners also win great travel prizes –– trips for two to such destinations as Hawaii, England and Mexico.
Kerper, for example, received a five-night, all-inclusive stay for two at the Hard Rock Vallarta with her award in 2013.
“I had promised my sister –– she had recently lost her husband –– that if I won I would take her on the trip,” Kerper said. “So for five fun days we just relaxed and had a good time and laughed and did what sisters do.”
Alder said that his vacation, a five-night Unlimited Luxury stay for two at the Secrets Resort & Spa in Los Cabos, gave him a much-needed break.
“The trip was just a great chance to truly relax,” Alder said. “It really allowed time to just break away from the world for at least a few days.”
For Montrose Travel, the winner of the 2013 Best Use of Social Media award, the travel prize presented a problem, since a trip for two was impossible to divvy up among the entire marketing team.
The company won for its creative use of social media, including the “Say Cheese” photo contest, in which clients sent in vacation shots and voted on their favorites. With this kind of client participation in mind, Montrose Travel came up with a creative way to use the travel prize.
“Since the whole campaign was a team effort, we took the prize and turned it into another marketing contest,” said Kelley Moreno, marketing coordinator for corporate services at Montrose Travel. “We decided as a team that instead of one person enjoying it, we would turn it back into a prize for our consumers.”
Upon launching a new marketing platform called “Travel4Me” –– a personalized way for consumers to identify travel interests and receive targeted offers –– the company offered the trip to Dublin and London as a prize to one randomly selected client who signed up for the program.
Enter Your Story
Considering the benefits of receiving a Trendsetter Award, the past award winners recommended that other agents enter their stories in the contest.
Manning discussed the challenges of being a home-based agent and the way that winning an award can help agents gain attention in the industry.
“Home-based agents shouldn’t be scared to try,” she said. “Sometimes they feel like they’re in this little vacuum and that nobody notices what they do, but the Trendsetter Awards will help them get that notice.”
Chris Martin, manager of leisure sales and marketing at Montrose Travel and one of the team members who helped the company win in 2013, said that the act of entering the contest provides benefit enough for agents.
“Taking the time to put together the entry is time well spent,” Martin said. “Not only does it offer an opportunity to get additional exposure and recognition, but just the process of putting together an entry like this helps you take a step back and get a new perspective.”
Others said that –– no matter the odds –– it’s worth a shot to send in a contest entry.
“It’s such a great award,” Moreno said. “I would just say go for it –– you never know until you try. I would rather try and fail at something rather than not try at all.”