One of the scariest things a travel agent can do is source a new local vendor to care for their clients. Whether it’s tours, airport transfers, or wedding photos, every supplier an advisor recommends is seen as an extension of their brand.
Canadian-born destination wedding specialist Jennifer Borgh owns the 2-acre Borghinvilla wedding venue in Jamaica, and has been both the trusted advisor and the local vendor.
As an agent, she was named "February 2015 Planner of the Month" by the Wedding Planners Institute of Canada (WPIC), and also was a top producer for Sandals and Beaches Resorts. In 2018, WPIC awarded her “On Site Coordinator of the Year” for her work at Borghinvilla, a venue located on a cliff just outside of Jamaica’s Discovery Bay.
“In the four years I have been here, I have heard about some really bad vendors, and seen some things at events I’ve attended that could ruin a good wedding specialist’s reputation,” Borgh said.
“There was the chef who forgot to bring salt and pepper, or the one who burnt every piece of chicken. There was a wedding planner who wasn't ready until three hours after the ceremony start time, so the couple had to get married in the dark,” she recalled.
At one occasion, the DJ forgot to bring a stand and extension cords for his equipment; and at another, a photographer forgot to bring back-up camera batteries, finishing the reception with her phone.
“A good travel advisor has to be wary of websites that paint too rosy a picture, or testimonials from clients who might be very different than yours,” Borgh said. “And just because another advisor on Facebook offers you supplier recommendations, that doesn’t let you off the hook for doing your due diligence.”
Working directly with every local vendor imaginable, from large resorts to solo entrepreneurs, Borgh sees how a destination wedding specialist located thousands of miles away can make mistakes. She offers her top tips to help advisors think more strategically about their vetting skills.
TMR: How have travel advisors who have never met you grown to trust you with their clients?
Jennifer Borgh: I have been very lucky to have had the support of many travel advisors. Some have heard about me through other agents, and some I have met through groups such as DWHSA (The Destination Wedding & Honeymoon Specialists Association). My main focus has always been to make wedding specialists look good to their clients, and I think every agent should feel like the supplier has your best interests in mind, as well as your client’s. That’s a pretty good sign of a good supplier.
This doesn’t just mean executing a good wedding. It means making sure their clients are thrilled with the service from the first point of contact – like answering emails in a timely manner, offering customizable options, and only working with the best vendors on services they don’t directly provide. When you are vetting a local vendor recommended by another agent, ask for examples of emails and other communications, because the way they conduct themselves with an agent is a good indication of how they will treat your clients.
Also, ask agents about how negotiations went with the vendor. I have a reputation for being honest and upfront (even if it means I make less money or losing the business). Good vendors tend to be pleasant to work with, even during difficult negotiations.
What content on an unknown vendor’s website or social media page should an agent be careful about, and what should they look for to be more confident about that vendor?
Be careful about things like them putting up video and photos that aren’t their work. Photos that are closer in may be masking the fact that this wasn’t even their event. I have even seen some photographers use photos as their own, from celebrity weddings shot by other photographers to weddings that didn’t even take place in Jamaica.
Video testimonials are harder to fake. Look for photos where the location is clear. Look for photographers with larger portfolios that demonstrate all of their work. Five stunning photos might be covering for the rest of their mediocre work.
What should an agent consider when receiving recommendations from other agents through sources like Facebook groups?
Be careful. Another agent’s idea of what is excellent quality or good taste, might not be what you or your clients would prefer. Make sure you are in the same budget level for clients as the agents who are offering you recommendations.
Personally, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the same vendor to two different brides. The best example might be that some brides are quite happy with silk flowers and others would never consider anything but fresh flowers. And then, both silk flowers and fresh flowers have their own subcategories of high- or low-end options.
What is your No. 1 tip to help an agent find good local suppliers in a market?
Get yourself a good DMC that you can trust, someone who understands your clients’ needs and expectations. There are so many good ones out there. Once you have that relationship working for you, everything else falls into place so much easier.