The three big “engagement holidays”—Christmas, New Year’s and Valentine’s Day—have come and gone over the last few months, and after the initial excitement wears off, the brides-and-grooms-to-be will be coming to you for advice on where to go for their honeymoon…and quite possibly for their wedding as well.
From insider tips from our Top 25 Travel Agents to making sense of the all-important Millennial market, we've rounded up a comprehensive look at how to orchestrate a wedding and honeymoon that will leave your clients breathless.
Tapping Into the Millennial Market
With the majority of wedding travelers falling into the 27 to 35 age range, understanding the Millennial mindset is key. Jim Augerinos, president of Perfect Honeymoons & Holidays Travel in Vienna, Virginia, is an expert on this demographic who doesn’t just plan honeymoons. He plans ridiculously over-the-top honeymoons that require high levels of dedication, passion and resources. After all, luxury honeymoon clients are expecting this trip to be the best trip they have ever been on in their entire lives, and they’ll want to remember it fondly for the rest of eternity. No pressure. But Augerinos is apparently up for the challenge. His business, a small two-person operation, rakes in sales of $2.5 million per year.
Augerinos: “I want my clients to have a great experience and I want to make them look like rock stars.”
“Everyone here [in the Washington, DC area] is over-educated, everyone makes good money, and everyone is very well-traveled,” he says of his clientele. These customers are also typically in their late 20s and early 30s, and are very much in tune with the trends of traveling Millennials. That means even though they’re planning their first vacation as a married couple, Augerinos’ clients want to be blown away even more so than your average luxury vacationer. Why? They’ve already cruised the Med and lounged in Jamaica. Now they want Thailand, the Maldives, Tanzania and New Zealand.
“I suggest romantic ideas such as private-island picnics and couples massages. At the end of the day I want my clients to have a great experience and I want to make them look like rock stars.”
Recently Augerinos planned a honeymoon for a couple at the Four Seasons Bora Bora, where they spent a full week. From there they flew to New Zealand to ski in Queenstown. He even arranged for a helicopter to bring them to the top of a glacier for a Champagne brunch. That’s what got them their rock star status.
Statistics show that honeymooners are typically between 27 and 35 years old, putting them directly in that savvy traveling Millennial mindset. This shift in the industry, which is felt throughout, is also prevalent in honeymoon travel.
“Younger people nowadays are looking for unique experiences that are authentic, with less of a touristy feel,” says Augerinos. This is true across the board with respect to travel, and is also applied to honeymoons. “But if a client has never been somewhere, they have to hit the major sites. For example, in Paris, I give a mixture of traditional tourist sites like the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, and then send my clients to the Marais or Montmartre, or other up-and-coming areas.”
Top 25 Travel Agents: Planning an Above and Beyond Wedding
When Travel Agent interviewed our “Top 25 Agents” for 2013 last summer, we heard about some above-and-beyond itinerary planning and problem solving for destination wedding and honeymoon clients. Here are a few highlights.
Kota Tabuchi, Travel Beyond, Wayzata, MN, once arranged a wedding on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. “We conducted the wedding on day seven in the crater, amongst the towering glaciers,” he says. “Leading up to this night, we arranged for special romantic meals and planned the journey in a way to culminate in the big finale. All my porters were asked to wear their traditional Masai shukahs and they all did a traditional Masai ceremony at 18,500 feet.” The next morning, they reached the summit.
Lisa Zwissler, Beach Bum Vacation, Fishers, IN, cites the importance of being available and providing assistance 24/7 for her clients—such as during one problem she faced with a wedding group in Egypt. She received an e-mail from the bride and groom regarding a guide who did not show up for the group’s private tour. “Unfortunately the tour operator did not have 24-hour support. Due to the time difference, I had to wake up and work out the issue in the middle of the night. I called the tour company direct and after a couple hours of trying to work through our language barrier and working together as partners, we resolved the issue, and for their second private tour, all went smoothly.”
Jamie Mussolini, Beachfronts Travel, Stamford, CT, who been exclusively asked to participate in upscale Bridal Shows for Ritz-Carlton and Neiman Marcus, among others, sums up her process this way: “I take a bridal client who has no plan, ask a few questions, and together we create the magical itinerary,” she says. She once put together an elaborate “dream” honeymoon that entailed island hopping among both the U.S. and British Virgin Islands. “When they returned…they told me every single detail about how they were ‘wowed.’”
How One Hotel Does It Up Right
Here is just one example of a hotel that wants your luxury wedding business and has the infrastructure setup in-house to accommodate your clients’ every nuptial need. The St. Regis Bora Bora launched a dedicated “Romance Concierge” last year. This concierge maintains a menu of romantic activities and excursions that the resort team can arrange—many of them on short notice.
A popular pick is a helicopter flight over a neighboring island, where coconut shells in the sand can be arranged in advance to spell out a message. (“Will you marry me?” is a frequent choice, of course, but honeymooners or second-honeymooners can have any kind of phrase appear on the beach.) Private sunset cruises and firework displays can also be arranged. For something truly over-the-top, the concierge can arrange an excursion to collect fresh oysters...and plant an oyster with a ring inside to be discovered by the bride.
Bridal Boutique at St. Regis Bora Bora
There’s also an onsite Bridal Boutique where guests can rent one of 40 dresses in 13 styles (through a partnership with Norwegian designer Cecilie Melli) for a wedding or special event—rather than paying thousands to purchase a dress elsewhere and then paying more to have it shipped to the resort ahead of the big day. (Of course, if the bride really takes a shine to the dress, she can always purchase it and take it home with her.) The boutique includes changing areas, a hair and makeup area, interior photography area, and an indoor and outdoor lounge area with food and beverages. The rest of the bridal party, including groom, attendants and families, also can be outfitted.
Good to know for couples considering a destination wedding to Bora Bora: Legally recognized weddings in French Polynesia must include a civil ceremony at the Town Hall. The St. Regis Bora Bora Resort’s wedding planner can help arrange relevant paperwork, booking the Bora Bora Town Hall, coordinating an official translator’s presence and arranging boat transfers to and from the Town Hall. Unofficial ceremonies without the legalities can also be arranged.
—Jena Tesse Fox
Bearing these tips in mind, it's time to break down how to plan a luxury destination wedding and honeymoon. Here's a step-by-step look at the four phases of the process.
Planning the Luxury Destination Wedding
To ensure your clients have a fantasy experience, you’ll need to select the right luxury hotel for their dream wedding. Be sure that the venue wants the business and has the infrastructure setup in-house to deal with your clients’ every single need. If you start to get the feeling that the entire wedding is becoming a burden to your contact at the hotel, move on and find a truly luxury establishment that wants the business. Make sure you’ve made the right choice in choosing the hotel before your clients have signed any paperwork or put any money down. This is a lucrative piece of business for a hotel and they need to show you they want it.
When planning the luxury destination wedding, you need to follow all of the rules that apply to arranging an amazing honeymoon (more on that later), and much, much more. Be sure your consultation rate is on par with the amount of time, intelligence and effort you’re putting into this task, because by the time all is said and done, you’ll feel as if it’s your firstborn who has gotten married. Destination weddings mean you’re also dealing with families and friends who are attending.
Ask to handle their travel arrangements very early on. You’ll have some clients who want to book their own trips, but if you prove that you’re capable of saving them time, and possibly money, you’ll likely get their business. Work with your consortia or the supplier directly to see if you can offer the entire wedding party value-added amenities, such as free breakfasts or transfers, perhaps a spa treatment or two. Depending on the time of year, you may be able to create true value for the attendees, or your consortia may have a hotel program in place that automatically includes such amenities.
Be sure you make this information available to your clients very early on; they might even be able to put the information into their wedding invitations or on their wedding website. Ask for the e-mails of the attendees so you can contact them directly with what you will be able to do for them.
You’ll need to find out what the family dynamics are from your couple prior to moving too deeply into the process of planning a destination wedding, which is akin to plotting out a family reunion. Who doesn’t speak to whom? Who shouldn’t receive a welcome bottle of wine in their room because they no longer drink? You’ll need to ask candid questions, but your betrothed clients will be better off with your pre-planning tactics.
Ask your couples about their setting of choice (garden, ballroom, private beach, etc.) and make sure the venue has everything they require.
If you’re serious about getting into the destination wedding business, consider hiring someone on your staff who has party planning or event planning experience. Those who have done this are good at asking the right questions and they know the pitfalls one can fall into. Also, consider someone who has worked with moving groups around. After all, you might have a party of 50 that is staying at a hotel for three days, and you’ll need to set up meals and activities that they’ll want to enjoy together. Someone who understands logistics is just the person you’ll want to have on your team, even if it’s on a freelance basis.
How do you keep everyone happy at a destination wedding? Clearly, the bride and groom come first, it’s their event. But who is actually paying the bill for most of the events? It will go a long way if you make sure the parents or grandparents (who may be sharing the cost as well) are especially seen to by the hotel staff. Recognition goes a long way.
Do you have a lot of children attending the wedding? To create a truly luxury experience, don’t just provide information on what the child care center has available; instead, work with hotel staff to customize experiences based on each child’s interests.
That might sound like a lot of work, but happy children make for happy adults, and you may end up with quite a few clients for life if you pull off a number of impressive feats during the destination wedding.
Consider yourself on stage here, auditioning for a part that will bring you major profits for the next 20 years of your career. Be sure you’re shining at your brightest.
The Honeymoon Consultation
Whether your clients are the ones who just booked a destination wedding with you or a couple who is getting married locally coming to you for advice, the most important thing you can do to make these honeymoon seekers comfortable is to present an aura of confidence. They may be nervous about cost or where to go, and they may not agree on what they want to do. They’re also likely getting advice from everyone they know on where to go and what to do on their honeymoon. It’s a chaotic, exciting time for them, that’s made even more complicated by the fact that they’re planning a wedding at the same time, causing even more excitement and stress.
A calm, cool and confident you can be the oasis of comfort the couple has during this time. When you plan your first consultation with them, don’t push for them to make a decision on their luxury trip.
This is a time for listening. You’ll need to be a counselor, a psychiatrist, and you’ll also need to deal with the fact that the couple has also been Googling the heck out of where to go for their post-nuptial getaway. All this Googling will have made them more stressed out and confused since they’ll now have even more thoughts on where to go, and they’ll probably be pretty sure by now that no matter what they decide to do, they’ll make the wrong decision. Having too many options can do that to a perfectly sane person.
Try to have this first meeting in person. The environment you meet them in should be professional and soothing and just scream luxury through and through. Have a bottle of champagne ready for uncorking when they come in and welcome them with a flute of the bubbly once they’re in their seats. This is a marvelous time for them and you’ll want them to feel that they’re celebrating. Even take their picture as they’re sitting there; you might be able to include it in your trip proposals or final documents once everything is ready to go.
During this first meeting, you want to get all of the information you can from them. What do they want to do, what do they hate to do? Which vacations have they enjoyed the most and which ones have they hated? What’s their idea of a dream hotel?
Because the couple is excited, it’s very possible they’ll leave out important information that you need to make their trip a success. Do they have points they want to use for their airline tickets? Are they members of hotel loyalty programs? Are they afraid to fly in prop planes? Is there a certain date they need to return home by because they’re starting a new job? What about food allergies? A true luxury travel advisor thinks of all these things ahead of time.
Who is the decision maker of the two? This is not a question to ask but you’ll probably be able to figure out who has the last word as you listen to them.
If they’re asking you to replicate the same trip their best friends took for their honeymoon, dig in a bit. Is this a trip they’ll both really enjoy, or are they just trying to keep up with their neighbors?
Take copious notes and study them. Set up a time to speak with each member of the couple again, separately. This is when you might get even more information and hear about concerns each may have. Ask each of them privately what their ultimate honeymoon trip would include. They may have been too shy to bring it up when they were meeting with you as a pair. Perhaps one of them always wanted to go to Tahiti but thought it was just too expensive. You might have access to a cruise that sails in French Polynesia that’s offering two-for-one-airfare. Get the destinations and experiences down that they’re really dreaming about and see if you’ve got anything in your toolbox to make it all come true.
A final note: Protect yourself. Be sure to charge a fee for these initial consultations. Your knowledge and your time are invaluable. Don’t give them away for free.
Delivering Your Luxury Honeymoon Proposal
After your “discovery” period with your honeymoon couple, you’ll need to come up with final options for them to choose from.
This is a step in the process that can determine whether or not you are going to get the final gig as the travel advisor who makes the client’s luxury dreams come true.
We’ve seen trip proposals that merely list the steps of a trip—times for car service pickups, airline information and destination, and hotel name and confirmation number.
Don’t ever hand such a list to a client and tell them that this is your proposal for their honeymoon trip.
Instead, do it up. Take each section of the trip and flesh out what the experience will be like. Such lingo as, “You will be met by your driver in a luxury Mercedes and whisked off to LAX for your business class flight to Fiji” sounds much better than “Meet driver at 6:30 a.m. Flight 0062 to Fiji departs 10 a.m.”
This is your time to be inspirational, so be sure that your trip proposals paint a heavenly image of what your newlyweds will experience.
When you deliver the documents, if you’re not doing it in person, wrap them up in a box and put a bow around it all. Send flowers or a bottle of champagne to go with your paperwork, which should be secured in an elegant notebook or binder, in a style that fits in with your personal branding.
Remember, you need to work it to ensure the trip planning process is part of a marvelous journey for your lovebirds.
Expect the Unexpected
You may have done everything you’ve been asked to do. Everything is planned and all your clients have to do is to get into the car you’ve ordered to take them to the airport, to fly to the amazing destination wedding or honeymoon you’ve arranged for them. Nice work! In fact, you may be so exhausted you might be thinking of taking a luxury vacation yourself, just to recover from all the headaches you’ve endured to be sure everything is in place.
Not so fast. Now is the time to expect the unexpected. Your bride may change her mind on the color of the flowers she wants in the church. Your groom might have realized his passport is about to expire, even though you’ve told him 100 times to be sure it has at least six months to go before it needs to be renewed. Someone may get sick, they may lose their job, or they might have a fight. They might have second thoughts, they might get drunk at the bachelorette party and say the wrong thing to the wrong person, or the groom might accidentally drop the name of an ex-girlfriend to his fiancée, who gets hysterical that this woman’s name is being uttered during the time that’s supposed to be special only for her, and she may storm off, hide somewhere and shut off her cell phone.
In any of these circumstances, you might be the person who gets the call to help fix everything. You’re the calm, cool and confident one, right?
Be ready to deal with such situations. If you’ve got a big wedding party traveling to another destination for an event you planned, be sure you’re around to help pick up the pieces while it’s all going on. Try to plan your schedule so that you’re available to assist with any number of phone calls or e-mails that might seem dire when you receive them but really just need a sane third party to think clearly to correct the situation.
Your involvement in a luxury destination wedding or honeymoon doesn’t end until the couple is safely home. Even then, your work has just begun. After all, if you’ve truly created their fantasy experience, they’ll be waiting to find out what you can do for them on their next trip.