Not every travel professional books destination weddings. And there are travel professionals who only exclusively book destination weddings. So if you’re in the first camp and want to get into weddings, where do you start?
“Handling destination weddings can be very lucrative, however, they can be a lot of work,” says Lisa Sheldon, executive director of Destination Wedding & Honeymoon Specialists Association (DWHSA). Sheldon says having experience selling groups can be helpful, but not necessary.
“For a new agent, you need to give it plenty of consideration before entering into this niche,” says Sharon Campbell Little, president and owner of Wedding and Honeymoon Travel Group in Los Angeles. “Be absolutely certain that this is a niche [you] want to get into. It’s very different to planning, selling, booking, any other type of vacation travel. With a wedding, you only get one shot, one chance to make it absolutely the best it can be. This is their wedding day, the most important day of their life,” she says.
She then says that once you decide you can handle all that, and you are comfortable working with brides and grooms, the next step is to learn as much as you can about the products and brands that offer destination wedding packages. “Who offers what, when, and how because there are so many options out there,” Little says.
Chad Shields, owner of Engage Vacations in Austin, Texas, says travel professionals can often get thrown into planning a destination wedding one someone all of sudden comes to them asking for help, which is how he ended up doing his first one. His advice? “If you have any thought that you’d want to do one for someone if they came to you, be prepared in advance by knowing the wedding programs.”
Shields also recommends using brands’ BDMs to learn the basics. “See if a BDM will do a one-on-one training session with you on their wedding products. They obviously want to sell weddings, so if they have more agents that are able to sell their products for weddings, that’s something that could be arranged. Do some education ahead of time so you’re ready.”
Little echoes the importance of tapping into BDMs’ knowledge, with some additional efforts. “The best way to know your product is to get down there, see the hotels, meets the teams who work in the resorts, and talk to the tourist boards, talk to your brand BDMs, brand managers, get as much knowledge and expertise as you can,” she says.
Sheldon also emphasizes the education aspect of weddings. “Get some training! There are some brief overview courses out there as well as a certification course from DWHSA and The Travel Institute,” she says. She has another great tip for learning: “I always suggest the rule of three – learn three destinations, find three vendors and three resort companies and get to know what they offer. Selling an all-inclusive resort for a destination may be easier at first than, say a villa in Tuscany, where often times many wedding components are á la carte.”
Mexico and many parts of the Caribbean are great options for weddings. But just because a destination is popular in general, it doesn’t mean it’s the right fit for you to sell. When you’re just starting out, give yourself a leg up by choosing destinations that aren’t completely new to you. “If the agent has sold honeymoons or other vacation travel to a destination, having that familiarity with a destination will make it easier,” Sheldon says. “Depending on where the agent is located and what destinations are popular to travel to from their gateway may determine what destinations they are most familiar with.”
Shields agrees, saying to start with the destinations that “from your market or the market of your client, have the best flight options, and where you can get people there more easily.” He says that if you’re already going out of your comfort zone by working on a wedding, you shouldn’t add another factor like an unfamiliar destination to the process.
Once you’ve done your research and education, pick a few resorts to focus your wedding business on. Shields recommends partnering with hotels that give the most group booking benefits to the couple getting married. “I highlight what the bride and groom can get by having people book into the group, because then they sell for me,” he says. “They want to make sure that they’re getting all the benefits they can because every time someone books outside the group, that’s potentially a benefit lost.” Motivating the couples this way helps keep you from losing guests’ reservations to an OTA or a direct booking. It also makes the couple your best salespeople, according to Shields.
If you’re new to weddings, you may think that the couple should get all of your attention. That’s not the case. You can’t forget about the guests and the potential you have for their business. “You have to remember that almost everyone going didn’t choose you as a travel agent. In most cases, it’s just the bride and groom that chose you and everyone else if forced into using you. Because of that, you do not want to take them for granted and do everything you can. It’s like a job interview for their future travel,” Shields says. “It’s such a great opportunity to reach people outside of your regular marketing efforts. Take advantage of that,” he recommends.
Even though destination weddings can be serious business, you can’t lose sight of what you’re actually doing: helping people make their dream wedding possible. Shields sums it up by saying that planning destination weddings are both profitable and fun: “You’re dealing with people who are very excited. It’s not just another trip.”