Destination wedding experts advised travel agents interested in getting a start in the destination wedding market that planning and booking this business is very different from other leisure travel.
In a panel at the recent Travel MarketPlace conference in Toronto, the experts said that a recognition that agents are dealing with couples with unique needs is the most important thing when serving the destination wedding market.
“The business of weddings is a big piece of business but I think it’s also a very personal business,” said Kitzia Morales, founder of MeWed and co-founder of the wedding trade show Love Mexico. “This is something very different from other kinds of travel.”
The process starts with a basic consultation agents need to have for destination wedding clients. After that, budget is, of course, a major consideration.
While agents may be accustomed to having clients with a firm vacation budget, consulting with a bride and groom is a different story. It’s important to talk with them about cost but couples who want a dream wedding are likely to be flexible on how much they’re willing to spend.
Jennifer Doncsecz, owner and president of VIP Vacations Inc., said that while it’s important to mention a budget at the initial consultation, it’s more important to recognize that agents are helping a couple pursue something they have dreamt about in detail.
“What we do is we ask about what they envisioned and then say this sentence, ‘have you considered the amount of money you are going to spend to make this dream honeymoon or dream wedding a reality?’” Doncescz said.
“Wedding people have a budget but when they have a vision and a dream they’re usually willing to spend a little more to make that happen,” she added.
Planning a destination wedding requires more time and effort from both the client and the agent than a regular vacation would.
“When I sit down with couples, I tell them that ‘it’s your way, you’re inviting people to come, you’re not asking people permission,’” said Brenda O’Neale, owner of president of With This Ring Destination Wedding and Honeymoon Travel.
Sometimes that includes communicating with a couple agents can’t meet face to face. Other times it means managing bumps in the road that may seem catastrophic to couples.
All of the experts said the most important thing is to communicate clearly with couples about what might happen and how the agent will deal with it.
“You have to prepare them for the worst,” said Doncsecz. “Brides are very forgiving if you lay it all out. They won’t blame you because you told them about it.”
Jeff Hendlin, the publisher of Bridal Guide and moderator of the panel, said that destination wedding planners should also expect to deal with a new generation of millennials, a group who communicate and expect answers quickly.
“Be immediate with your response, set the expectations,” Hendlin said. “Bad news first, the worst news immediately. I think not hearing anything [from you] is the thing that makes people the most nervous.”
For agents who are veterans at executing destination weddings as well as those who are just starting in the industry, attending and making connections at wedding trade shows or a destination shows is a must, according to the experts.
Wedding shows offer agents the opportunity to make connections to wedding planners and vendors, a vital part of planning destination weddings.
“Knowledge is power and I cannot imagine a better place to get the knowledge of the market and of the brides right now – what they want, what they are looking for, what other vendors are doing – than at the weddings shows,” said Morales.
And while attending a symposium or a show at a specific wedding destination is important, it’s also critical to recognize that agents are there as an extension of potential clients and have to look at the show through their clients’ eyes.
“I don’t take pictures of the wedding locations because you can find all those on the internet. I take pictures of the reception areas and cocktail areas – things you can’t find anywhere else,” said Doncsecz.
“You have to show them what makes [this place] different.”
Showing how a specific location will manage problems that might arise is also a major consideration.
“You have to know everything about the location. If it rains, it’s better that [the couple] knows where the reception or ceremony will be going,” said O’Neale.