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There once was a time when weddings and honeymoons seemed to be a recession-proof industry. And even though the general logic is correct — folks will continue to fall in love, make lifelong commitments to each other and celebrate — the way that marriages can be commemorated has been greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
But while the domestic wedding industry continues to suffer due to restrictions on group gatherings and a spike in U.S. COVID-19 cases, the destination weddings and honeymoon industry has been a bit more resilient.
During an educational workshop held during CruiseWorld (an annual conference held by Northstar Travel Group, the parent company of TravelAge West) called “Tactics for Working With Today’s COVID Traumatized Bride,” presenter Jennifer Doncsecz, president of VIP Vacations Inc., said that her agency has actually booked more destination weddings in August, September and October of this year than in the same period last year.
"And last year was our No. 1 selling year in 25 years,” she added.
Doncsecz pointed to pent-up demand for travel and the value of a destination wedding as the main reasons for the increase in bookings. Also, there’s the fact that many domestic venues are full for 2021 because canceled 2020 weddings were automatically moved to the following year.
Instead of relying on what they can search for online, they want to work with an expert.
Doncsecz also has found that brides and grooms who had planned to get married in 2020 are savvier than previous couples; affected by the pandemic, they have had to deal with pushback from family, government restrictions and cancellations. They know what to ask for, and that they need help.
“We’re working with a savvier couple who wants to know about cancellation fees,” Doncsecz said. “They’re looking at all the fine print and asking those questions. Instead of relying on what they can search for online, they want to work with an expert.”
Doncsecz has also employed the following tactics to make her agency a desirable choice for couples planning destination weddings.
Tactic 1: Get on the PhoneIn previous years, brides mainly wanted to communicate with Doncsecz via text message or short emails — even during her busy season in January. Usually, those conversations were limited to specific questions. This year, due to the large shift to work from home, it has been easier for brides to make time for phone calls and Zoom chats.
But it also comes down to comfort.
"Right now, brides just want to hear a voice,” she said. “They want to spend time talking to somebody.”
Andrea Williams, owner of Exquisite Vacations and an attendee of Doncsecz’s CruiseWorld 2020 session, agreed that brides are scared. Because of that fear, they’re leaning on advisors — especially those who have experienced prospective venues firsthand — during the pandemic.
Doncsecz shared that after visiting Los Cabos in October, she has already booked three weddings in the destination.
“They’re hearing the authenticity in my voice, and they’re feeling more comfortable,” Williams said. “They are not just texting. They’re having a conversation.”
Tactic 2: Sympathize and Be OptimisticDoncsecz added that speaking on the phone allows her to express sympathy, which is much harder to convey via email.
“Don’t you get emails [that ask] ‘how’s your day going?’” she said. “I get to why are they emailing me.”
But during a conversation, a bride can pick up on the inflections in your voice. And a bride wants that compassion and interest because “no one else really cares,” when compared to all the other losses happening right now, Doncsecz added.
Communicating that you are an ally to that bride is key.
“Everyone around them is a negative Nelly,” she said.
While Doncsecz does not suggest that advisors give medical advice, she does like to share positive articles with couples, such as the recent news about the efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine. She finds that then the couple shares the good news with their guest list, which leads to bookings.
Tactic 3: Show Stability in Your Signature and SchedulerAccording to Doncsecz, couples who planned destination weddings in the past typically planned the event about one year in advance. Now, they are planning 18 months ahead and, therefore, want to make sure the advisor’s business will still be around in a year and a half from now.
"Put in your [email] signature: ‘We are open for business,’” she said. “They want to know how secure you are.”
She also suggests explaining to couples how long the agency has been in business, and putting an appointment calendar link in your email. Including an appointment scheduler such as Calendly will help give your business a level of clout and credibility, and make the client invested in the conversation and respectful of your time.
"We do hour consults for destination weddings,” Doncsecz said. “They know that time is valuable to them, so they will ask all those really important questions.”
Tactic 4: Be AuthoritativeUse the key words “my advice is” to communicate that you are the authority and not just another person with an opinion (they can find plenty of those on the internet.)
Although a phone conversation is great for conveying authority, Doncsecz also suggests connecting with clients on social media. There, her team posts videos of properties and relays that they’re real people.
The DetailsVIP Vacations Inc.www.vacationsbyvip.com