This is the first in a three-part series on selling destination weddings.
Destination weddings are a sizable and growing chunk of the huge U.S. wedding market – and a natural fit for travel agents. Because destination weddings involve lucrative group business, they hold tremendous revenue potential for travel agents.
Here’s another plus for agents. Destination weddings come with built-in support from an army of dedicated wedding planners at virtually every resort, hotel and cruise line. These experts design the wedding beforehand and handle arrangements once the couple and their guests arrive on-site or on-board.
Travel Market Report spoke with destination wedding specialists and analysts for a look at the destination wedding market and its opportunities for agents.
Agents are uniquely suited
With their expertise, attention to detail and personal service, agents are uniquely suited to serve a market that involves complicated group travel and puts a premium on personal contact.
“There’s a place for the Internet in travel, but why would anyone want to put the most important event in their lives in the hands of an invisible online company,” said Ed Cotton, COO of DestinationWeddings.com. “It’s like going to a general practitioner for open heart surgery.”
Destination Weddings.com is a hybrid agency that reaches clients through its website, then matches them with one of its 200 home-based agents to plan the wedding.
With so many resorts offering wedding packages, brides often need assistance in making the right choice, noted Kristin Koch, senior editor for TheKnot.com, an online wedding planning site.
“If they go to an online agency, they have no one to talk to,” she said. “It’s hard to trust that everything will go smoothly.”
High earnings potential
Cotton said his company’s agents earn annual commissions as high as $100,000.
“Even the shortest destination wedding is three days,” he said. “The great thing is there’s the ability to have other events during or after the wedding.”
Most of these activities, like sunset cruises, off-site excursions, dinners and other events, are commissionable on top of the resort stay, he added.
$92,000 in (commissionable) extras
A recent wedding at Sandals Antigua with about 70 guests shows the potential for agents.
“There were about $92,000 in extras including spa services, photography, private barbecues and candlelight dinners,”, said Gary Sadler, senior vice president of sales for Miami-based Unique Vacations, worldwide representative for Sandals Resorts.
“The agent earned 15% commission on that in addition to the 30 or so rooms booked.”
Package the whole thing
“The revenue potential for agents is huge,” agreed Jacqueline Johnson, CTC, president and CEO of the Global Bridal Group, which markets weddings and honeymoons through several websites including www.marrycaribbean.com and www.globalweddingresource.com. She is also director of Bridal Travel Insights for the Wedding Report, Inc.
“Agents should be able to package a program that includes restaurants, sightseeing, etc.,” she said. “And don’t forget family and friends traveling to the event. You want to make sure you are the one organizing it, including group bookings.”
Johnson said revenues also depend on whether agents charge for their expertise.
“You must charge for your skill, which is providing relevant and much-needed information to a consumer struggling to decipher many offerings, and what the best cost, time, location and style is,” she said.
Room for agent growth
Are most couples booking through agents? While figures are sketchy, indications are that there is plenty of room for agents to play a growing role.
According to Johnson and the Wedding Report, 37% of destination weddings were booked by agents from 2010 to 2011.
Koch said she believes that young couples who use OTAs to book other travel are choosing traditional agents to arrange their destination weddings. That says a lot about the role of agents, given that “the average bride has grown up in the digital age,” she added.
Sadler agreed. “Agents are used for destination weddings but, at the same time, they can do more. If they wait for the business to come to them, they will accomplish nothing.”
Next time: Destination weddings are expanding in scope and appeal.