Travel agents are using Facebook and Twitter to find the hottest trends in destination weddings; here, a Sandals wedding by Martha Stewart.
It’s official. Social networking is no longer a craze—it is the norm. Here at Travel Agent we have fully embraced social media sites, as we have heard from our readers, as well as seen for ourselves, just how revolutionary sites like Facebook and Twitter have become. In fact, not only are they the norm, they have become a requirement to running a successful business and anyone out of the loop is being drowned out by the tweets.
It seemed only fitting for our weddings and honeymoons issue to combine that topic with one of our social media updates, so we reached out to travel agents to find out just how effective social media has been for building their destination wedding and honeymoon business.
Tying the Knot With Your Client
Agents agree that to not use these sites as a business resource would be foolish, if only because of the sheer number of people who access them daily. As of February, Facebook had more than 400 million users, according to Mashable.com. Similarly, Twitter co-owner Biz Stone revealed at the company’s April development conference, Chirp, that Twitter has more than 105 million registered users, with 30,000 people signing up every day. So where does the wedding and honeymoon niche fit in? Being a multibillion-dollar industry, social media sites are no doubt ripe with inquisitive brides- and grooms-to-be.
Rosemary Danielsen of Honeymoons Are Forever ([email protected]) says, “As a business owner, I am thrilled to reach out to my current and potential clients through Twitter and Facebook. As most of my clients are on these sites, it’s a great way for me to keep in touch with them and let them know about any fantastic new offerings they might be interested in.”
“Whenever I mention that I have published my blog on Twitter and Facebook, the number of people who contact me about destination weddings goes up.” —Muriel MacRae, Del Sol Travel
Two key words every business owner of the 21st century keeps a lookout for are “free” and “fast.” Enter Facebook and Twitter. Even though the travel industry is digging itself out of 2009 (slowly, but surely), “free” is tough to beat in any economy. And as far as “fast” goes, you can’t get much faster than “instant,” especially when it comes to planning a wedding or honeymoon and stress levels are off the charts and sleep is lost over every slight detail.
“While I was flying home from Florida recently, a bride sent me a Facebook message to ask if I could help her with her honeymoon registry, as she was really busy and couldn’t find the time to do so,” Danielsen tells us. “So, at 35,000 feet, we chatted (via Facebook) about what she wanted in the registry and by the time I landed in San Francisco, I had completed her registry!” Score one for social media.
Developing a personal relationship with clients in this niche is key, since you will be handling one of the most important and memorable events in their lives. This is more than just a vacation. Danielsen believes that relating to a client like a friend gives her that extra edge. “I tend to get to know my clients well, and consider them friends. Therefore, ‘friending’ them on Facebook offers other avenues to communicate, where they see that I am a person who cares about them as a person, not simply as a client,” she says.
Muriel MacRae of Del Sol Travel ([email protected]) takes her marketing a step further and advertises her blog on both Facebook and Twitter. “More and more brides are using Twitter and Facebook to gain tips on planning their weddings and honeymoons. Whenever I mention that I have published my blog on Twitter and Facebook, the number of people who contact me about destination weddings goes up,” says MacRae.
MacRae likes to post updates about wedding plans for specific couples. There is something to be said for living in the spotlight. “Couples love to follow the information about their weddings and honeymoons that is posted on social media,” she says. “Couples can read the information themselves or let their friends know where to read it on the Internet. It is also a fast and easy way to connect with couples and exchange information with them when planning their honeymoon or wedding.”
Making Industry Connections
In addition to keeping in touch with clients, agents can use social networking sites to stay on top of hot wedding and honeymoon trends in the market as well as network with others in the industry to broaden their client base.
“One of the biggest reasons to use social networking is to build relationships with individuals and the people you work with, such as other wedding planners, photographers [and] vendors, and various travel vendors and resorts,” says MacRae.
MacRae recounts how she connected with a photographer from Calgary via Twitter. The two never met in person but developed a relationship over the Web. As a result, the photographer recommended that his sister-in-law contact MacRae to help plan a destination wedding.
Agents can use connections on these sites to learn about specific destinations or special promotions being offered for betrothed couples or honeymooners. Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort in Florida is launching a Facebook page devoted specifically to destination weddings, which will be a supplement to the resort-wide page already in existence. The wedding-specific page will debut June 1.
We spoke with Catering Sales Manager Jim Davison, who says that approximately 95 percent of the business he does at the resort comprises destination weddings. “Agents can use this site as a tool,” says Davison. “If their clients are thinking about going to the resort, they can look at the page and view pictures of previous weddings, see videos and ask questions. This will make their lives and the lives of their clients easier.” (For questions regarding weddings, agents can contact Davison at 239-642-2659. The resort offers 10 percent commission.)
Facebook and Twitter also provide a common platform and open marketplace for discussion between agents and peers in the industry. “It is a great way to learn from your group of friends who are in the same industry,” says MacRae. “You can share common interests as well as keep up to date with the latest trends and increase your knowledge of what is happening in the industry.
“For example, as a destination wedding planner, I can learn about some of the most popular destination wedding locations and find out where other travel agents are sending their couples for their wedding and/or honeymoon. I can also find new vendors and businesses that I can connect with and recommend to couples when helping them plan their weddings.”
With everyone as well as their mothers being on Facebook and Twitter, it is easy for travel agents to get lost in the shuffle. When using these sites to promote business, it is important to establish a recognizable identity and stand out from the rest. Fortunately, Facebook and Twitter make it easy to brand yourself and get noticed.
“People need to get to know and trust you before they feel comfortable doing business with you,” says MacRae. “Marketing on Facebook and Twitter can help you increase your brand recognition, generate sales and increase interest in your company or products.”
But the sites allow you to do more than just that. Sure, you can advertise who you are and what you do. But what makes you the go-to person for destination weddings and honeymoons? Why are you the agent to be trusted?
Danielsen differentiates herself by offering couples tips and marketing herself as a true expert to couples looking for a long and happy life together. “I post information about how couples communicate, what the qualities of happy couples are, share couple profiles, etc. This shows that I am not just marketing my products and services,” she says. “I’m trying to keep couples connected and engaged with each other through the art of travel. Social media allows me to do just that. In fact, a recent client told me that she especially likes my posts that are couple-focused, as it gives her tools to use daily rather than just [while] on vacation.”
Herd mentality can sometimes be a beautiful thing and there is nothing sweeter than being the one at the head. Facebook and Twitter make it easy to see who is at the top of the charts. Sometimes the decision about which agent to use simply comes down to the number of his or her followers. Who do others trust?
“In society, people want to be part of the ‘tribe’ and social media is an excellent way to get noticed,” says MacRae. “Show your leadership skills and develop a following. It allows you to let others know what makes you and your business stand out from the competition. It allows others to have a sense of belonging by being a part of your network.”