Exclusive: Waterstone and Destinations of Distinction Strike Partnership

Two prominent sales and marketing representation companies are joining forces to offer enhanced services to its clients and travel advisor partners. At its essence, the partnership between Waterstone Marketing and Destinations of Distinction creates a formidable sales, marketing, PR and consulting agency with offices in New Jersey, Florida, San Francisco and London.

Marcelo D. Vazquez, President and CEO of Waterstone will stay on with Waterstone and be the brand’s CEO. Kristen Moore, CEO of Destinations, will join Waterstone as owner and COO and has acquired the company as of January 2023. Both companies will remain separate, though they will share best practices and market efficiencies.

“In seeking this deal, my mission was simple: Strengthen Waterstone today by introducing enhanced servicing of our clients while defining a succession plan for the future,” Vazquez tells Luxury Travel Advisor. He added: “A partnership like this works well only if you have two strong partners who are successful in their own right.”

When the two first began talking Moore says, “We were both adjusting our services, so they aligned with a post-pandemic landscape. The resurgence was starting, and the way the travel advisors were working was so different … [and] as travel evolves, so should we on the supplier side.”

In announcing the partnership to their respective clients, the response has been positive.

More Service for Advisors, Clients

Waterstone’s portfolio include 53 hotels—many of them in Italy but with others in Greece, France and Ireland, as well as in the Caribbean and South America. Beyond the hotel portfolio, it also has seven DMCs, over 1,000 villas across the Mediterranean, three exploration yachts in the Galapagos and more. The company has eight full-time employees and a small office in London. Destinations of Distinction, for its part, represents numerous hotels—mostly in the Caribbean and Indian Ocean—plus yacht charters and private jets. There are four full-time employees at the company, which was founded in 2001 by Moore’s mother, Phyllis Sauter.

While each team may add to its client base where appropriate, that’s not how Moore and Vazquez define “growth.”

“The growth of our companies is centered on expanding the number and the levels of services we provide clients. Taking on more and more hotels has never been our way of growing the business,” says Vazquez, who founded Waterstone in 2002. “Expanding the partnership [and] solidifying trust, that is what our clients have always appreciated at Waterstone—and the same is true for Destinations.”

“Staying true to our ‘boutique’ ethos is still how we want to approach the business,” says Moore. By that, she means retaining each brand’s “high-touch, consultative service.” She adds, “Our focus is on relationship-building between our hotel, villa and DMC clients and the travel advisor community—and always adding value to the proposition.”

In what ways might the brands be cross-polenating? Moore brings a knowledge of the digital distribution landscape, as well as a deep knowledge of the trends and trigger points of younger generations. Vazquez, on the other hand, brings an impressive industry rolodex of contacts, plus a long career in management at some of the most prestigious luxury hospitality and travel brands. Together, Destinations of Distinction and Waterstone intend to develop a suite of services that fortify their clients’ market penetration while offering the travel advisor an enhanced level of access and education.

The purpose of Waterstone and Destinations of Distinction, the duo explained, isn’t strictly to sell hotel rooms and villas; instead, it’s to offer connections between the travel advisor and everyone at the hotel, from the owner to the bellman, and to troubleshoot problems.

Part of the combined Waterstone and Destinations of Distinction team
Parts of the Waterstone and Destinations of Distinction team recently got together following the acquisition. (Photo courtesy of Waterstone Marketing, Destinations of Distinction)

Adds Vazquez: “Kristen and I are always in awe of travel advisors and the incredible skill set they need to be successful. Our businesses have been built in the support of advisors, always striving to make their job easier and more profitable. Both Kristen and I grew up in the travel business; it’s our community and we are passionately loyal to advisors.”

Moore calls the advisors their “bread and butter.”

“The IC model has exploded now and so many advisors are working from their homes. Marcelo and I would like to build a platform that supports a wide variety of advisors in accessing more information about clients in a more effective manner,” says Moore. “So, whether it's virtually, digitally, or in person, we envision a communications platform and a sales outreach program that highlights all of those touchpoints. The scaled-up model of our two companies makes the investment needed much more viable.”

What are some of the investments that are envisioned for the partnership? “I believe there are untapped opportunities in areas where we are already active,” says Vazquez. “Our London office is doing well and has a great future. We have been offering consulting services to our clients and that has a huge potential. In early 2022, we inaugurated a public relations service in conjunction with boutique firm Viva Luxury Lifestyle, another area of opportunity.” Adding to that: “Kristen brings enormous potential to our company. We just need to make sure these opportunities add value to our clients at Waterstone and of course to Destinations.”

Moore tells us, “It may sound lofty, but together we have the talent and skills to, carefully and thoughtfully, provide services on a more global level. Bottom line: Our clients will dictate our growth by telling us what they need … and we will be there to service them.”

In addition, the teams will “absolutely” be making some hires to assist in providing the new levels of service, according to Moore. The move “elevates us from two separate representation companies [into] a global travel partner for our members and hotels and being able to offer them a true, full suite of services and activities,” she says.

Succession Plans

Vazquez and Moore were first introduced about a year ago, when the former reached out to the latter. “I had a hunch about this talented woman that was running a very successful company on her own. So, I called to have a chat and to see what was on her mind for the future,” Vazquez tells Luxury Travel Advisor.

From her end, Moore says that Waterstone’s reputation was the first thing that attracted her to the company, particularly noting she “heard very good things from the advisor community.” She adds, “I come from Destinations of Distinction, a family-owned and-run company. I'm passionate about reputation. That was key.”

As Vazquez explains, “While I’ll be here for quite some time, it was important to clearly define for our stakeholders a clear business plan and a succession plan. Our clients, many of whom are, by now, friends, need to be assured that while I will be here for years to come, Waterstone will continue to thrive long into the future. Our excellent team at Waterstone also need to know that we will always be a great place to work and grow. And the travel trade needs to know that we will always be here to support them.”

While several other companies were interested in Waterstone, Vazquez had to ensure the company, long-term, would be in good hands. He felt that these other companies would morph Waterstone into something different, chopping it up or merging it with another entity. “My primary objective is maintaining the Waterstone ethos,” he says. “Kristen,” he adds, “had the answer.”

In Moore and Destinations of Distinction, Vazquez says, “There's a legacy there. There are commonalities in the way we run our businesses that really assured me that Kristen is the right person to eventually take it forward.”

“We immediately had so many ideas and everything was aligning, in terms of what we wanted for Waterstone's legacy to be and how it should continue to succeed and thrive. And I became so invested in the story and what Marcelo has grown,” Moore says. “In the end, it seemed like it was a no-brainer.”

“This is not about disengaging and handing over the baton; it's more about working together on the many aspirations we’ve had on our respective desks, says Vazquez. “Now, together with our teams, we have the talent pool and the knowledge base to do some pretty interesting things, for the benefit of our stakeholders.”

The deal is completed. There were no outside investors used in the transaction.

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