TravelAge West 2022 Trendsetter honoree Will Medina, founder of “Destination Wedding Expert” and creator of Destination Wedding University and the Destination Wedding Playbook, passed away unexpectedly on Feb. 14, 2023.
Known by many in the industry as a leader and mentor in the world of destination weddings, Medina’s energy and never-ending positivity also made him a well-known figure outside of his specialty and within the larger travel industry. Last year, he took home the Trendsetter win for Upward Bound, Rock Star Advisor Under 40 for Destination Wedding University, which provides travel advisors with the current tools, techniques and trainings needed to create exceptional destination wedding experiences.
Medina was nominated for the award by his husband, Mario Lopez, vice president of operations for Destination Weddings Expert. In the application, Lopez highlighted Medina’s infectious smile, ambitious personality and true passion for the industry.
In the week since his passing, travel industry colleagues have reflected on the fond memories they have shared with Medina and offer their tributes to him. Below are a few of their words.
“To Will, from my experience, there was no higher mission than to serve his peers in the travel space —many of whom looked up to and admired him. Will was a voice for change in our industry. He unselfishly mentored me and others on innovation, efficiency and systems. My fondest memories will always be how he was one of the few persons who made me stop [working]. He would literally make me put away my computer, forget that work existed and live in the moment. His biggest lesson was that success in this industry does not mean giving up my personal life. We get so consumed with all the emails and tasks,but I must never forget this lesson, and I will certainly never forget Will. I lost a friend this week, but I know I gained an angel. A fabulous one!” — Nick Pena, franchise owner at Cruise Planners
“Will was a mentor, leader and cheerleader. For example, he knew I was trying to confirm a wedding date at a specific resort he happened to be at, so he called me to confirm it with the on-site coordinator. That is truly community over competition.” — Lauren Doyle, The Travel Mechanic
"My favorite thing about Will is he made everyone feel welcome. In an industry where the focus tends to be new agents or exclusive groups for successful agents, he created a community where I finally felt I belonged. Not only that, but he genuinely cared about everyone in his community. — Morgan Tredway , Making Memories by Morgan
"[My favorite things were] his laugh and aura ... [and] his love for tequila and being a merman. And his love for his tribe, and most importantly, his family. He was the real deal, and he knew it, but was humble. [He was] unapologetically who he was at all times." — Glinnesa Gailliard, Travel Esquired
"Our industry is full of amazing, passionate travel professionals. But then you run into the few that light up the room when they walk in. The few who love to share and make people better. The few who feel they can change the world — and then they do. Will Medina, you have made a seriously positive impact on our ever-changing industry. And you will be sorely missed." — Tom Varghese, Travel Tom
"Will was the living embodiment of authenticity; you never had to guess where he stood on anything. While his motto was, "do it scared," "fight me" was a close second, as he had become largely fearless. He was passionate about "community over competition," and the outpouring of love and tributes from the travel community the past few days cements his impact and legacy. He was one of the funniest and most fun people I know. Laughing until tears was a hallmark of our time together. He did everything with his whole heart, including loving his tribe. I am a better person for having been part of that tribe, and so is everyone who knew him." — Janelle Grissinger, JCo Travel
"Will was a big dreamer who inspired others to dream big, and live their best lives. He was a natural leader who was easy to follow because he was transparent and genuine. He led with kindness, compassion, integrity, passion and, at times, tough love. It was easy for others to “do it scared” because Will humbly shared his fears and how he overcame them. He was someone who celebrated the success of others as if it was his own. He cheered the loudest when you were winning and would never think to leave your side during your darkest times. Will was a gift." — Jenene Mealey, Travel with Awestruck
“Though I didn’t know him personally, I followed him on social media and looked to him for inspiration. I loved to watch his journey, which included his travels to his destination weddings or interesting facts about new locations and travel spots he discovered. I believe strongly that Will inspired the lives of many travel agents, especially those enrolled in his university. His passion and enthusiasm for travel was a light to so many, and his story was one of a kind. One of my core values is that you must have passion in what you do day to day. There is no doubt Will’s passion was travel and working with his wedding couples. Recently, I met with my mentor and shared with him how inspiring Will was, and how interested I was in his class. My mentor advised me that I had to add [his class] to my goals for 2023 and unfortunately, I won’t be able to check that off my box, but I will look at his content to continue to inspire me. I know The Destination Wedding King will be truly missed in this industry, but his legacy will live on forever. We truly lost a true travel legend, and my heart goes out to his family.” — Emily Perez-Menendez, Land and Cruise Expert, Honeymoon and Destination Weddings Expert, Cruise Planners
“To know Will was to know love, happiness, confidence and true laughter. He lit up every single room he walked into, both as a mentor and leader in this industry, as well as a friend. I am blessed to have had Will in my life, and his mark will forever be left on my heart and in this industry.” — Katie Ehlers, LuxTravel Katie, an affiliate of Classic Travel Connection
“Will Medina was the person that everyone wanted to be around. He had amazing energy that [filled] a room. I loved learning, laughing and working with Will over the years. It was truly amazing how he wanted to share his secret sauce in the travel industry, and always pushed for community over competition. He created a successful legacy where he provided so much support, love and tough love to make others grow to be the best versions of themselves. There will only be one Will Medina, and he will be missed." — Michele Dreiding, Here to the Moon Travel
"I took Will’s course 3 years ago and it changed the trajectory of my business. It shifted my mindset and motivated me to aim high. His mantra “do it scared” is forever engrained in my heart. Will’s infectious energy and kindness will outlive him because of the many agents that he inspired.” — Angela Jennings, Travel Clique
“I am still trying to wrap my head around the fact that Will Medina has left this earth. My favorite Will story goes back to the Love Mexico conference a few years ago. I was attending representing Gifted Travel Network and Vanessa McGovern was scheduled to speak on the main stage. Vanessa had to cancel her trip, leaving me to wing it in her place in front of hundreds of attendees, so I was rightly nervous. Will could tell how flustered I was and took the time to calm me down and make me laugh. After my substitute presentation (which went perfectly), he bought me a drink and gave me a huge hug. Somehow, he just knew what I needed and delivered it with a calming smile. Rest in paradise, my friend!” — Lisa Chambers Fletcher, Gifted Travel Network
“I enrolled in the Playbook early in 2021. That November, I attended Love Mexico and there I met Will for the first time. We were hanging out during lunch, and I told him about my desire to leave my full-time career and pursue travel. Will encouraged me to not only set a date, but enter that date in my phone and stick to it. I returned to my room and gave it some thought. I decided on a date and logged it on my calendar. Will gave me the courage to #DoItScared. By entering the date in my phone, my mindset shifted. Everything that I did from that moment forward helped me achieve my goal. I am forever grateful for the conversation with Will." — Courtney Jackson, Wishful Escapes
"I first met Will at a content creators event that Apple Leisure Group Vacations put on last summer. He and I were one of the five agents chosen to attend. From the minute I met Will, I knew he was someone I needed to be friends with. Will just had this incredible personality where he made me feel so empowered, brave and like I could accomplish literally anything. I remember we were in the pool and we were talking business. I told him some of my ideas and goals I had for myself in my business, and that I was really nervous about them because they were not small goals. He didn't even hesitate, looked me straight in my eyes, and told me I was a badass. He not only gave me real-world advice, but erased all of my nervousness in that moment about crushing big goals. He just had a way of making me feel so confident in life. The world lost an amazing human last week, and he will be missed tremendously." — Kelli Bertram, Come and See Travel
Medina touched so many lives both personally and professionally. If you ever
had the privilege to spend even a few minutes with Will … he would have
described himself as a destination weddings expert, a positive thinker and motivator, a tequila aficionado, a podcaster, an international speaker and a
teacher to hundreds of agents. But to
the privileged few that he truly allowed to enter his heart, we would have
described him as a man who lived his life full of passion, who loved his
husband, dog and family and friends purely, A man full of integrity, and
kindness. He asked for very little but gave so much." — Theresa Calcos, director of sales, marketing and product development for Casa de Campo
"As my Facebook feed literally exploded yesterday with expressions of shock, amazing pictures, and tributes, I tried to find my words to say how much he meant to me. How even though I had been in the business a long time, after witnessing his energy, enthusiasm and innovation, I said to myself, 'I’ll have what he’s having' (in my very best "When Harry Met Sally" voice) and took a leap of faith when he came out with his brand new Destination Wedding University (DWU) program in 2018. I will be forever grateful that even though I wasn’t a “20-something,” he never treated me like I had an expiration date and was excited I had chosen a path to grow my business in a new direction. Thank you, Will Medina — thank you for your wit and wisdom and thank you for the family you created with DWU. It’s our turn now — we will do our best to carry on your legacy. #MakeWillProud" — Barbara Oliver, All Together Now Travel/Romantic Journeys
"I’m still in shock you left this world all of a sudden. I remember meeting you for the first time at Cruise 360 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. We both just started our careers as travel advisors. We hit it off immediately as we conversed about group travel, which we both had in common. Unfortunately, neither of us knew what our niche would be in group travel. Fast forward to 2022. We were both nominated and recipients of the 2022 Trendsetter Awards. What a great night we had! Laughing and joking about just starting out around the same time and climbing up the ropes by putting in hard work! Will, you left a positive mark in the entire travel industry. We all will never forget what a vibrant, kind and hard working individual you were. Sleep well my friend! Until we meet again!" — Nadia Henry, Travel With Sparkle
"I joined Will’s Destination Wedding Playbook this past June. At first I was uncertain that I made the right decision, but from the very first Zoom call I was hooked. Will had a way to make you feel seen — and that you mattered. And every time I saw Will after that, at his retreat, or at the Love Mexico conference, he made sure to spend time talking with me to connect. He saw me. And I know that he did that for everyone who crossed his path. I wish that I had more time with him. Will was an Angel on Earth." — Liz Walton, Red Suitcase Journeys
"Where do I even begin? I was two years into being a travel agent, and I had no direction when I started. But when I saw Will was having a free masterclass for Destination Weddings around April 2021, I signed up right away. I had zero knowledge about destination weddings, and I know for a fact that I would not handle such a big business without knowing what the heck I was supposed to do. When he shared his stories and humble beginnings, I can relate to him so much. From being an immigrant and building dreams, I was sold to invest to his playbook class. I remember I asked him that day, 'Will this benefit me, even though I am new and have zero wedding experience?' He answered, 'Yes!' He was my big cheerleader from then on. He saw me grow my career and passion in this business. He never stopped helping me learn and was always willing to help not only me, but everyone in his tribe. He is such a blessing to everyone he met; I love how he is passionate about fighting for our industry and is always looking for something to innovate. Fast forward to today, I had a successful wedding in 2022 and am working on three more to date for this year and next. Will, thank you for being an angel to us." — Carol Carrillo, CC Vacations, LLC.
"Will had the unique ability to make everyone feel like they were important, valued and supported. He would unashamedly call things like they are, without a filter, and that honesty allowed others to open up and share. I met Will in 2017 and from the jump, he captivated the conversation (which could go on for hours). His smile, sense of humor, love for his home country, family and this industry is enduring. He is going to be the James Dean of our industry; taken too early, legendary and recognized by people who never met him by photos of his endearing smile. I can already hear Will ask, 'Who’s James Dean?'….. which would make me smile and mumble something about millennials. It’s hard not to smile when thinking about him!" — Jennifer Doncsecz, VIP Vacations
"I knew Will Medina for many years through Love Mexico and IADWP. We were just in San Miguel Allende in November with an IADWP conference. He was always the life of the party and ever helpful. A few years ago, at Love Mexico in Los Cabos, we were in Chileno Bay and I was being pulled under the boat by the current. I can’t swim but had on a life vest and full face mask. Will spotted me and pulled me out. He saved my life. I will always remember him with love. He was much too young to leave us. I pray for strength for his family. It was a major loss to the industry! — Sheila Ward-Shaw, Sheila's Creations Travel
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