The weddings and romance travel sector has faced many disruptions during the COVID-19 pandemic as love birds, whether invested in a wedding, honeymoon, babymoon or bachelor or bachelorette trip, have been forced to cancel, postpone or rethink their travel dreams.
But as more people get vaccinated, and as destinations evolve with reimagined accommodations and event solutions, romantic travel, though hit hard, is poised for strong comeback.
This was the focus of a panel discussion that recently took place as part of Ensemble Travel Group’s “Restart Sessions” series.
“Restart of Romance Travel: Destination Wedding and Honeymoon,” moderated by Jenna Mahoney, Travel Editor for Bridal Guide, featured expert insight and advice on how travel advisors can leverage this important sector.
Panelists included Stoney Creek, ON-based Laurie Keith, president, Romantic Planet Vacations and U.S-based Lauren Doyle, president, The Travel Mechanic; Sarah Kline, president, Time for Travel and D. Parish-Warren of Warren International Travel
Here's 7 key takeaways from their conversation.
1. Destination weddings are back and couples are ready now
Kline is very optimistic about this segment after 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,” Kline said.
2. Prepare to spend more if you want to travel domestically
“I’ve actually been encouraging clients to consider international destinations as right now they are less expensive than domestic travel,” Kline said. “It’s basic economics – supply and demand.”
“Locations that have been popular during the pandemic such as Key West are going to be two, three times higher.”
In addition to Key West, the most popular destinations right now 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 said. “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.”
Keith offered insight into the types of products clients are pursing right 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 versus a mega resort,” Keith said.
3. Travel advisors should be charging a fee
Yes, 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].”
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.”
4. The pandemic has resulted in some desirable changes
“The increased health and safety protocols that became requirements during COVID will actually provide an overall better experience. 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,” Kline said.
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,” Mahoney said.
5. 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,” Parish-Warren said.
“Those are potential clients, and they will already know how I can help them and make their vision a reality.”
6. Things are different in Canada
Canadian travel advisors know well enough that Canada’s approach to reopening its aviation, travel and tourism sectors is a different story compared to its neighbours south of the border.
While it was clear that things are ramping up quickly in the United States, Keith reminded the audience that Canada is about three, four months behind where the U.S. is in terms of recovery and restarting travel.
“It’s really encouraging to hear about the demand for travel really picking up in the U.S. as it gives us advisors in Canada hope that we will get there soon as well,” Keith 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.”
7. Experiences will be different (but still amazing)
Romantic travel experience will be different from what they were in 2019, but they will still be amazing, and the changes that have been implemented won’t take anything away from the overall experience, Kline said.
Be patient with everyone, Doyle said.
“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,” she said.
“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.”
Parish-Warren advised the trade to 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,” Parish-Warren said.
Keith, finally, reminded agents to know their value.
“Be confident you are getting tremendous resources and services from your travel advisor,” she said. “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.”
Ensemble Travel Group’s Restart Sessions – aimed at helping restart and recover their members’ businesses – have also included discussions on the Restart of Cruising, Travel to Europe and Sustainable/Responsible Travel.
Don't miss a single travel story: subscribe to PAX today