There is very little room, if any, for error when planning a wedding or honeymoon, but when it is a destination one? That puts the process on a whole new, slightly daunting level. There is no one more crucial to planning a destination wedding or honeymoon than a travel agent, especially one who specializes in this particular niche.
We wanted to know what goes in to making a top destination wedding/honeymoon agent and how he or she goes about ensuring everything, from guest list to guest last, runs seamlessly, where the only hitch happens up at the altar.
The Travel Agent’s Role
We checked in with a host of destination wedding specialists to get their take on planning the perfect wedding and/or honeymoon. We learned that the number one rule is hand holding. Agents must be prepared to take their clients step-by-step from the very beginning to the very end.
Michelle Mangio of Magical Escapes says, “The primary role [of a travel agent] is to make the couple’s wedding and honeymoon dreams come true—and do it in such a way that the couple never has to sweat the details. They need someone to take the time around their schedule to really listen.”When brides are worrying about dresses and invitations they barely have time to breathe, let alone think about nitty-gritty destination details, such as marriage laws and customs that may need to be dealt with at whatever destination they happen to choose.
Wedding Guru Jacqueline Johnson of Marry Caribbean says, “Without the advice of a qualified travel professional, couples who are under great stress of planning a wedding face another hurdle in trying to logistically solve all the nuances of a destination wedding in countries with their own laws, regulations and customs.”
The travel agent must also be able to wear a variety of hats. According to Quentin Carmichael III of Destination Weddings, a destination specialist fills the role of “surrogate mother of the bride, family counselor, conflict resolver, liaison between the couple and the on site resort wedding coordinator, keeper of the wedding time line, and lastly the one who books the travel.”
It’s All About the Details
One you have become familiar with your role, the next step is to start planning. Loleta Gaddis Ling of Professional Travel first qualifies her couples before anything else. This includes mapping out a budget, learning about the couple’s personality and finding out what they are looking for in terms of resort, destination and activities.
Making sure the couple is on the same page is another important step. Mangio tells us about one particular honeymoon she was planning for a couple that wanted completely different experiences. “The bride wanted secluded island escape, and the husband really wanted golf. She really wanted Bora Bora – but that wasn’t at all in line with what he wanted. So we sent them off to Barbados instead, and they absolutely loved it!” Conflict resolution at its best.
Once all of this is determined, the rest is really up to the client. Whatever they want, it is your job to make it happen. Details include booking golf tee-times or spa treatments, booking tours or sunset cruises, setting up the rehearsal dinners and planning the reception.
Beyond that agents must also work with the hotel or cruise line to negotiate terms of contract, costs, room selection, arrival and departure, in-room gifts, recommendation and booking of local restaurants and activities, according to Johnson.
Mangio recommends establishing a planning fee into your services because you are taking on a lot of work and responsibility, but to ensure that the agent is not on the phone 24/7, developing a good rapport with an onsite wedding coordinator is key. Between the both of you, there is little for the couple to fret over.
As for honeymoons, it’s arranging the extra little details that set the pros apart. “Arrange the little touches if they want them, like rose petals on the bed, a private dinner on the beach, and other romantic reservations. You want your clients to not have to worry about anything once they arrive,” says Mangio.
She tells us about a particular occasion when she was planning a honeymoon to Tahiti and the Marquesas for a particular couple as a surprise to the bride. “The groom spent hours talking with me about their interests and likes, and I put together a truly wonderful package for them. We pre-arranged the signal, and then I came over with the honeymoon package with all the documents, a bottle of wine, a pareo, Tahitian lotion and shell leis, and presented the destination to her. It was an unforgettable experience!”
How do you make sure your name is synonymous with flawless wedding or honeymoon planning? All those we spoke to agree: training.
Because destination weddings and honeymoons are more than just your typical vacation, the destination agent must stand apart. He or she will need to be branded as not only a specialist but a coordinator and a consultant. Mangio recommends getting certified. The Travel Institute offers courses specifically for wedding and honeymoon travel. For home-based agents, Destination Weddings offers a certification program as well.
Bridal shows are a great way to learn about the industry, as are hosting seminars and networking with other wedding vendors. Johnson always recommends that agents participate in bridal shows as a way to build a database of clients.
Building an Empire
So you’ve planned your first destination wedding and all went well. Where do you go from here? How do you find more clients?
A very easy, and cost-effective, way is to keep in touch with the couples you have planned for. More often than not couples will recommend you to their friends who are also engaged. “I had five different destination wedding bookings this year that stemmed from a destination wedding I booked last summer,” says Gaddis Ling.
Don’t be afraid to do a little digging. Local papers and church/synagogue bulletins are ripe with engagement announcements.
Make sure you get plenty of face time. This means hosting local seminars or Honeymoon & Destination Wedding Travel Nights. Take out ads on the radio or in the newspaper, and befriend tourism boards, which advertise and attend bridal events.
Cross-marketing yourself is another great trick, says Johnson. Many photographers specialize in destination weddings. Building a relationship with them is another way to expand your client base.
Welcome to the 21st Century
Social media is all the rage nowadays, but can it help you with your destination wedding/honeymoon business? Absolutely.
Brides and grooms love social networking sites to discuss plans with their friends. It is imperative to become familiar with outlets like Facebook and Twitter in order to communicate with this new generation of clients. “Not to be a part of how you reach today’s couple means you have no interest in the expansion or bottom line of your business,” says Johnson. “It is crucial to participate in all the changing media available.”
Once you have established yourself on these sites start showing your stuff. Make it known why you are the best person for the job. Keep in mind, says Mangio, that betrothed couples don’t want to be hounded with ads. They just want to know what makes you so good.
“Social networking has been a great way to drive more business,” says Gaddis Ling. “And it’s free!”
The Big Finish
We asked agents to share some memorable anecdotes from past destination weddings and honeymoons. Carmichael’s most memorable anecdote was from a wedding he planned in Costa Rica.
“The couple had their ceremony on the side of an active volcano that erupted during the vows,” he says. “Nothing dangerous (or at least they tell me), but they could see lava flowing from their ceremony spot. The locals said that it was very good luck and a good sign for their lives together.”
As for a top destination? Mangio recommends Australia. “I had a couple that really wanted to experience an exciting city, some wine and micro-breweries, some golfing and also a tropical island getaway. I sent them to Australia – a few nights in Sydney, followed by a few nights in the Hunter Valley (where they could visit local wineries, a local micro-brewery, and enjoy some great golf) and then ended with a stay at Qualia on Hamilton Island. They came home very, very happy!”
For Laurie Gluck of Gluck Travel, the best part of doing destination weddings or honeymoons is proof that it was a job well done. “The best part is when I start receiving the baby pictures from the couples that I have worked with,” she says.