While they can be rewarding for travel agents, destination weddings may also require more dedication than most specialties, including other types of group and romance travel.
For insights on what it takes to succeed in this complex niche Travel Market Report spoke with agents who find booking destination weddings well worth the time and effort.
Making destination weddings her sole specialty is a strategy that’s worked well for Connie Riker, owner of Create the Moment Travel in Rochester, Wash.
Riker has been arranging weddings for more than 10 years. Although her agency handles a broad range of romance travel, she refers honeymoons and other non-wedding business to the two other agents on staff, who happen to be her mother and daughter.
“I do about 15 destination weddings a year – and that is more than a full-time job,” said Riker. “The time and dedication required for each wedding is far more than for a typical group or romance vacation.
“Because of this, quite a few agents decide that weddings are not where they want to be.”
Given the time involved, Riker said it’s important to consider how many weddings you can realistically handle and still provide the high level of service required. The size of each wedding is also a factor.
“A wedding for just the bride and groom is fairly easy,” she said. “I do some of those, but most of my weddings involve between 15 and 50 guests.”
Can’t do it all
At VIP Vacations, which handles a large volume of destination weddings, the key to efficiency is not to require agents to handle every detail of the wedding, but to have a “back office” that takes care of invoices, documents and other logistics.
“One of our agents may handle a maximum of 25 weddings a year, which is a lot,” said Jennifer Doncsecz, president of the Whitehall, Pa.-based agency.
“However, agents can focus on what they do best, which is working with the client, while our back office team takes care of the rest.”
Partnering with resorts dedicated to the wedding market is another strategy that makes the workload easier for the agent and ensures client satisfaction, said Siera Duiser, an independent contractor with Destinations to Explore in Jacksonville Beach, Fla.
“Some of the large all-inclusive resorts even have dedicated wedding team,” Duiser said. “And often the resort will reward the bride and groom for holding a larger wedding.
“For example, the resort might throw in a free reception if there are enough room nights involved.”
‘Under promise and over deliver’
It’s also paramount to establish partnerships with resort properties that can be relied on to deliver a level of service and amenities that meet or exceed the expectations of the couple, Riker said.
“I under promise and over deliver for my clients – and I try to find and establish on-going relationships with resorts that also work under that concept,” she said.
“If a resort under delivers on what the couple is expecting, that will be a poor reflection on you and it can crush your business very quickly.”
Because destination weddings often involve young clients who are likely to be in constant communication with their friends, Riker is mindful of the fact that referral business can be significant.
“Referrals are really big among this demographic, so I treat each guest as a potential client,” she said. “The word spreads fast. I get at least two new clients from each wedding.”
Duiser has also found that referrals play an important part in growing destination wedding business.
“A lot of times the couple has friends who are also getting married, so if you do a great job, they will recommend you,” she said.
“And, once you have built a relationship with the bride or the couple, it’s perfectly fine to go ahead and ask if they know others who are getting married.”
Jennifer Prymula of Sand & Sun Vacations in Allegan, Mich., recommends getting as much training as possible in the field, including some of the specialist programs available from resorts and other suppliers.
“Brides have access to huge amounts of information, so you better know your product or they will quickly go on to the next travel consultant,” she said.
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