It takes a special disposition to be a travel agent who handles something as personal as someone’s vacation time. But specializing in destination weddings will challenge that temperament exponentially, experienced agents say. In the end, though, the personal and professional benefits make it all worthwhile. Read part one of our three-part story and stay tuned tomorrow for part three.
Breaking into destination wedding travel planning can be difficult. Most new agents start by getting certified with different tourism boards, tour operators and all-inclusive resorts, and then attend bridal shows.
If you do attend bridal shows, it is critical that you follow up with any sales leads, experienced agents said. “Our statistics show that 49% of agents don’t follow up on their bridal show leads, so you’re already ahead if you’re proactive,” said Lisa Sheldon, executive director of the Destination Wedding & Honeymoon Specialists Association (DWHSA) in Janesville, WI. “I know one agent who texts every single sales lead before leaving the parking lot of a bridal show.”
“Millennials love to text. I tell Millennials, ‘I’ll text you before I call you. This way you know my number.’ They won’t pick up the phone if they don’t recognize your number,” said Jennifer Doncsecz, president of VIP Vacations in Bethlehem, PA.
“The key is to keep in contact with them,” said Diane Bean, owner of Off on Vacation in Bangor, ME. “It might take eight follow-up e-mails and texts before they reply. And remember letters in the mail? Sometimes you may have to send a letter.”
Sharon Campbell Little, president and owner of the Wedding and Honeymoon Travel Group in Los Angeles, likes to work with a handful of preferred tour operators “who have a really great understanding of our business model, so we work together in great unison for whatever marketing and sales plans we put together. And some of the destination tourist boards are becoming very savvy in their training, and upon completion we are listed on their webpages as certified travel planners for that place. We have had some great consumer referrals from this. We also work closely with our host agency and we receive great consumer referrals from them under their new consumer connect marketing program.”
“When an agent builds a rapport with a romance travel client, the lifetime value of that client can be immeasurable,” Sheldon said.
“You are building that relationship with them, and they trust you, they feel better giving your name out. That’s one thing about romance travel; you can always build your business starting out with one client.”
“Every bride this year knows three more brides getting married within the next two years,” Campbell Little said. “We try to tap into their networks of friends and family members. Finally we always continue to build on our knowledge and expertise by taking new certifications, visiting new resorts and destinations, and getting educated from our vendors.”
Listen and listen and listen some more
The longtime experts with whom TMR spoke all agreed that in selling a product where everything must be perfect, listening skills are key.
“You have to work with their individual personalities. You have to ask questions,” said Doncsecz. One of her first questions for potential destination-wedding customers is, “Why do you want to have a destination wedding?”
“Sometimes you learn some surprising things. You might hear, ‘I never wanted to be a princess.’ Every couple is different.”
“Ask those deep probing questions to find out exactly what they want,” agreed Sheldon.
“One thing I ask is, ‘What kind of ceremony do you want?’ ” said Melissa Varela, owner of Modern Romance Travel in San Ramon, CA. “ ‘Do you want a cultural ceremony that reflects the location? What is the view you are looking for?’ They want beautiful photographs of the ceremony. Sometimes they want incredible amounts of color. Then I might guide them to that color naturally.
"I’ll tell them, ‘You can spend $1,000 to provide that artificially, or you can book in the springtime instead.’ ”
While brochures and Instagram feeds may reflect idyllic beach weddings, many couples are open to alternatives, Varela said. “People are wanting less traditional locations, fewer beach weddings and less standing in the sand.”
Sheldon said she is finding growing interest in rooftop terraces that offer the popular ocean views.
And many couples are looking for something cultural, said Kitzia Morales Torres, co-founder of Cancun Wedding Experience. “There are some amazing destinations in Mexico for that. You could combine the beach wedding with a colonial destination like Merida, where they can experience Mayan culture and stay at a hacienda.”
Campbell Little said another trend is for the grooms to get involved in event planning. “I did four destination weddings in 2016 where I dealt with only the groom for the entire 10 months,” she said.