When Jennifer Borgh was named "February 2015 Planner of the Month" by the Wedding Planners Institute of Canada (WPIC), she answered the question of “Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?” by predicting: “Possibly living in Jamaica during the winter, doing what I do best. Planning destination weddings in Jamaica!”
Nine months later, she was doing exactly that.
Happy running a successful travel agency in Canada since 2010, Borgh had focused on destination weddings because she loved her clients and her work, and because these bookings yielded higher profits. In 2011, she was a top seller for Sandals and Beaches Resorts, and was invited to the Sandals Star Awards, hosted at Sandals Grande Riviera in Jamaica.
“I had been traveling to Jamaica for almost 20 years, and I believe very passionately that Jamaica has something for everyone,” Borgh said. “I just love the culture, the food, the scenery, the warm weather year-round.”
So, when she and a Jamaican business partner heard about a rundown villa in Discovery Bay, Borgh pondered whether now was the time to match her love for Jamaica with her destination wedding expertise. After her first visit to the property, she had her mind made up.
Opening a brick-and-mortar on location
Through her own experience booking clients at large and small venues, Borgh knew there was a client base “looking for something different, more unique.” Still, this would be her first brick-and-mortar business.
“It wasn’t the most well-thought-out plan, but then again, I sort of get an idea and I run with it,” Borgh said. “We knew we would have to completely change the place. Everything needed to be painted over. We installed all new fixtures. We had to tend to the gardens and trees, the landscaping.”
To fund the improvements, Borgh tapped into her savings and loaded up her credit cards. They opened in November 2015, and it took about four more months before the partners hosted their first wedding.
Today, the 2-acre Borghinvilla Wedding Venue, located on a cliff in Discovery Bay, Saint Ann Parish, on the north coast of Jamaica, fulfills tropical wedding dreams. The site is about 10-15 minutes from the Grand Bahia Principe Jamaica, and about an hour from Montego Bay.
Holly McBean, CTC, ACC, a home-based travel advisor at Travel Only, Sarnia, Ontario, especially loves Borghinvilla’s private setting for her clients. “It’s a very laid-back feel, and the background for pictures is incredible. You can guarantee there’s nobody photo-bombing your wedding, like you might experience at a busy resort,” she said.
On the island of Jamaica, there already are a large number of villas competing for weddings, but according to Borgh, many of them require being rented for a week. Borghinvilla costs $2,900 a day to rent the venue, which can host weddings as large as 200 people. Full packages start at around US $10,000 for 25 people or more, Borgh said.
Borgh handles the marketing and wedding planning, while her partner ensures Borghinvilla and its clients meet all of the local rules and regulations.
Destination wedding specialist experience pays off
She also remains a WPIC-certified wedding and destination coordinator, with her company Jennifer Borgh Events, and holds a great deal of respect in her market.
“I’d like to think I’m successful partly because I truly understand how hard travel agents work and know the blows a business takes from clients wasting your time and booking elsewhere,” Borgh said. “So, when agents send their clients to me, they are always considered the original referrer even if they choose to book direct or with another supplier.”
“Last month, we did a cruise wedding, and the agent handed over everything to us to execute,” said Borgh, whose venue attracts 60 percent of its sales from travel agents and wedding planner referrals.
“My competition then, are my clients now,’” she said. “They’ve been extremely supportive.” She also utilizes Google AdWords, Instagram and Facebook. and has had write-ups in several magazines.
McBean said that Borgh’s local expertise and experience as a travel agent herself, makes her life as a destination wedding travel specialist easier. “I am very confident when a guest is referred to Jennifer, that she is going to do everything in her power to make them comfortable,” said McBean.
Borgh also has developed several niches, like specializing in Hindu weddings, which has opened opportunities for her destination wedding specialist contacts to do the same. “Big organizations can do that, too, but there are the little things Jennifer takes care of that make such a difference,” McBean said.
While Borgh is enamored with the Jamaican way of life, she also realizes that she adds value bridging the gap between local business practices and what is expected from destination wedding specialists and other contacts back in Canada and the U.S.
“Most of the locals here work so much slower than us," she said. "I have a florist and wedding planner friend who called the local wholesaler here with ten questions and got replies to only two of them. North Americans expect more instantaneous responses, efficiency.”
She also can recommend limousine drivers, photographers, florists, pre-wedding events and meals, and other activities that a wedding party can engage in.
Business is doing extremely well for Borgh. She is hoping to host 60 weddings in 2018, and recently received her first booking inquiry for 2021. Given her success, she and her partner are already talking about opening a second venue in Jamaica. So, unlike her February 2015 prediction, Borgh doesn’t see