written by Paloma Villaverde de Rico
As a romance travel seller, you know all the facts on destination weddings: It’s one of the fastest growing niche markets in the vacation experience; Mexico and the Caribbean are the most popular international destinations for destination weddings; a 4-day destination wedding experience can be more budget-friendly than a 4-hour ceremony back home; many destination weddings take place at all-inclusives; and a destination wedding affords ample time for couples to spend true quality time with their loved ones. But attending the Romance Travel Forum, a 4-day event jam-packed with an array of business opportunities, top-notch networking, and superb education opportunities, gets you access to more than just the facts.
Recommend attended last month’s Forum, which took place at the Moon Palace Jamaica Grande, and we walked away energized. Why? Because the quality of the travel advisors is high-caliber; the suppliers that attend sell the very best in destination wedding vacations; and the amount of peer-to-peer networking is first-rate. The 160+ travel advisors who “attended this year’s show have been vetted,” says Marilyn Cairo, the managing partner/co-founder of Ask Me, which plays an integral role at the Romance Travel Forum. “It’s one of the best things about the show.” Adds travel consultant Kim Goldstein, one of the show’s attendees and a certified destination wedding & honeymoon specialist, “The biggest benefit of the event is to meet and mingle with some of the travel industry’s suppliers and the best agents out there. Most of the agents are willing to share information so there’s lots of learning, whether it be in the classroom or out socially. You really get a lot from the conference in terms of learning how to manage your business.” Travel advisor and attendee Shelli Nornes, owner/CEO of Shelli’s Travel, concurs, adding that, “what I like about this Forum is that everybody is here. You get the top agents and vendors. All the key people are here, so you can meet everyone under one roof, which is priceless.” Melissa Varela, a travel advisor who owns Modern Romance Travel and who sits on the Forum’s advisory board, points out, too, that in addition to invaluable networking opportunities, the Forum also provides the opportunity to “visit partner resort sites, develop partnerships with preferred suppliers, and provides continuing education [via sponsored sessions].”
This year, the Forum, which launched in 2014, kicked off a brand-new concept: Peer-to-peer sessions. The objective of these sessions was to create an intimate space where travel advisors could share knowledge and inspiration while building a strong camaraderie with fellow professionals. Every travel advisor I spoke with regarding these sessions said they walked away having learned something, and, adds travel advisor Amal Mulhem, president of Travspire and in attendance at the show for the first time, “the peer-to-peer sessions were interesting because I learned from them [the other people in attendance] and they learned from me.” Varela notes that these particular sessions are instrumental for this type of bespoke Forum because “sometimes as a travel agent you don’t have interaction with other travel agents, so it’s nice to hear what other people are doing in the travel industry. They may have a different way of generating leads, and a different marketing approach. We all have the same issues and the same concerns.” And, adds Goldstein, “the sessions allow you to remember things that might’ve fallen by the wayside because, in all honesty, selling [destination weddings] can get overwhelming.” In other words, the Forum lets you re-energize and go back home with a mountain of great ideas.
In addition to those invaluable peer-to-peer sessions, travel advisors have more than ample time to meet with suppliers that sell destination weddings, honeymoons and romantic celebratory vacations. Many of the top-notch hotel brands are present at the Forum such as AlSol,AMResorts, Barcelo, Bahia Principe, Blue Diamond, Casa de Campo, Excellence, the all-inclusive Hard Rock Hotels, Iberostar, Melia, Palace, Playa, RIU, Sandals, Sandos, andSirenis, as well as Classic Vacations, Travel Impressions and the Jamaica and Dominican Republic tourist boards, among others.
Goldstein, who has been selling vacations for the past decade and who started selling destination weddings last year, says that knowing what destination wedding product suppliers offer is vital. “This is a newer niche for me, and even if you know the hotels and what they offer, the whole destination wedding process is completely different, so, essentially, I had to build a new business.” In building that “new” business, she had to build new relationships with BDMs, so that if anything went wrong—and this is a destination wedding, so every detail is crucial—she had someone to turn to in a moment of crisis. And, in fact, it was stressed to all the travel advisors in attendance at the Forum that having that relationship with suppliers is vital to selling a successful destination wedding or honeymoon. It’s important, Varela says, to use the Forum as a way to “connect with a supplier, to try and develop a partnership with them. Even the evening functions [are important] because it’s a great place to develop a new relationship and build upon the relationships you already have with partners.”
The Forum, in essence, helps you grow your destination weddings and honeymoons business, and this is a truly lucrative market, because, as Nornes points out, “weddings are never going to go away, but the expense of doing a wedding at home is crazy, and the people getting married see that, and see a destination wedding as a much better value for their money. They can still have it all. They can do the big wedding, but it can be budget-friendly and couples can pull off the ‘wow’ factor that they are looking for.”
Next year’s Forum is June 19-22 at the Paradisus Palma Real in Punta Cana, DR. For more information, visit romancetravelforum.com.
Visit recommend.com to read how top travel advisors are building their destination weddings and honeymoons businesses.