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It’s time to say I do… to booking destination weddings and honeymoons again. As part of Ensemble Travel Group’s Restart Sessions, which are aimed at helping members recover in the wake of the global pandemic, the consortia recently held a session focussed on destination wedding and honeymoon travel to share insight and advice on how to leverage this important travel sector.
Here are some key takeaways from the panel of experts who specialize in romance travel: Lauren Doyle, President, The Travel Mechanic; Sarah Kline, President, Time for Travel; Laurie Keith, President, Romantic Planet Vacations — who is based in Ontario — and D. Parish Warren, Warren International Travel.
Look to the US for signs that destination weddings are coming back
Sarah Kline, the president of Time for Travel, is very optimistic about the recovery of the romance sector having just booked a July destination wedding for more than 100 guests.
“There are a lot of factors at play right now that make a destination wedding popular: people are desperate to go somewhere; they have saved money from not traveling for a year; they feel safe traveling with what is essentially a large bubble of family and friends; and they just want to see one another after the year we just had,” she said.
As for the Canadian market, Laurie Keith, the president of Romantic Planet Vacations pointed out that while Canada is a few months behind where the US is in terms of recovery, they can look south for inspiration on restarting travel.
“It’s really encouraging to hear about the demand for travel really picking up in the US as it gives us advisors in Canada hope that we will get there soon as well,” she said. “For now, we are seeing a lot of bookings for 2022, but with the border closed, as well as several provincial restrictions still in place, we will likely not see the same kind of last-minute bookings for 2021.”
International bookings may be the more affordable route
“I’ve actually been encouraging clients to consider international destinations as right now they are less expensive than domestic travel. It’s basic economics – supply and demand. Locations that have been popular during the pandemic such as Key West are going to be 2-3 times higher,” said Kline.
A look at The Hot Spots
In addition to Key West, popular destinations are Hawaii, Cancun, Jamaica, and Mexico.
“One of the challenges we are reminding clients about is passports – even with expedited processing, there is a delay in processing of many weeks as there is quite a backlog of applications,” Kline added. “We are telling clients that if they are even thinking about the possibility of a wedding or honeymoon, where [a passport] is needed for them or their guests, to apply now.”
“We are seeing a much greater demand for villas and boutique hotels as clients feel that, for now, smaller is better in terms of being exposed to bigger crowds as well as the perception that it’s easier to manage a smaller property vs a mega resort,” said Keith.
It’s important to know your value
The panelists agreed that travel advisors should be charging a fee.
“And, sell it confidently,” said Keith. “There is tremendous value in the services we offer, and our clients understand and appreciate that so they don’t mind paying for [the fee].”
Lauren Doyle added, “You need to wrap your head around charging fees. You will get better clients who understand the value that an advisor provides and that we work for them. This is their trip of a lifetime, and we are making their dream a reality.”
The pandemic has actually resulted in some desirable changes in travel
“The increased health and safety protocols that became requirements during COVID will actually provide an overall better experience,” said Kline. “I think we’re all kind of happy to see buffets behind glass with only person handling and serving the food. In addition, the increased cleaning of surfaces gives us all more confidence that everything is clean.”
Another change many advisors and travellers hope is here to stay is reservations for museums and cultural institutions and limited numbers of people allowed in at any given time.
“I think everyone would welcome this becoming permanent as nobody really wants to jockey for a spot to see the Mona Lisa,” added Jenna Mahoney.
Today’s wedding guest is tomorrow’s client
“All of my brides and grooms create a Facebook group with their wedding guests, so it’s important to remember to stay connected with them on social media as well, as it’s likely there are friends and family members who may also plan a wedding or honeymoon soon,” D. Parish-Warren suggested. “Those are potential clients, and they will already know how I can help them and make their vision a reality.”
What should clients know that is different now than before the pandemic
1) The experience will be different than it was in 2019, but it will still be amazing, and the changes that have been implemented won’t take anything away from the overall experience. – Sarah Kline
2) Be patient with everyone – we are all learning how to adapt to traveling again. Things will take longer at the airport with more protocols such as showing your COVID test results. Plan to arrive at the airport a little earlier than you would have before this started – three hours for international travel is needed now. We also need to remind clients we are there to help remove the stress for them by taking over the planning and handling any of the potential issues that could come up. – Lauren Doyle
3) Encourage clients to get insurance even if they think we are done with COVID. Nobody knows what is coming next, and we want our clients to be protected. If they decline, ask them again … and again once more. And, then get a signed waiver. – D. Parish Warren
4) Be confident you are getting tremendous resources and services from your travel advisor. We are doing much more than just booking travel but ensuring every aspect of a client’s destination wedding or honeymoon is perfect, and if any issues do come up – we are there to resolve them. – Laurie Keith
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