Turning to Your Tour Operators
For agents, destination weddings can be unusually lucrative because of the numbers of guests and level of spending involved. While it might be the agent who lands the client, this is the kind of high-stakes business where the resources and expertise of a tour operator are frequently welcome.
Rey Alton of Almeda Travel in Houston—part of the Travel Leaders network—capitalizes on Funjet’s Groups Your Way, designed for such bookings as destination weddings. Funjet will create a website for clients and their guests to book and take care of much of the detail work, he said.
“Booking a regular vacation for others can be stressful enough, so when you multiply that by what can be upward of a hundred people, it becomes exponentially more challenging,” said Scott Wiseman, president of Travel Impressions.
“Travel agents work with tour operators for their expertise in handling large-scale bookings.”
Dan Miller, senior manager for The Mark Travel Corporation, of which Funjet is a unit, said its relationship with hotels and transportation companies provides efficient solutions for agents and their clients. The supplier can also offer “industry-leading technology” to manage the group.
Of course, larger agencies can provide sufficient resources of their own to handle a destination wedding. James Keller, vice president of meetings, incentives and groups for Fox World Travel in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, said the company started a group vacation division several years ago after seeing a need to serve that fast-growing segment.
Fox now employs three destination-wedding specialists, as well as a support staff that tackles details like sending out legal documents. There are a lot of legalities involved in a destination wedding, and Fox specialists have a detailed checklist to ensure clients have all they need.
When qualifying clients, Alton said that he starts with four criteria: backdrop (beach being the majority choice); budget; incorporation of personal interests into the event; and possible addition of a honeymoon in a different destination.
“We qualify them based on needs, wants and wish lists while trying to keep it realistic,” Keller said. “And, of course, we always keep budget in mind. A destination wedding in Cancun is a whole lot cheaper than on some Caribbean islands.”
Alton said the optimal situation is to book every guest—including his or her air, accommodations, ground transportation and activities—to ensure consistency and maximize financial return for the agent. He also suggests that clients stay longer than they might have originally planned.
“Some people say they want just two nights, but I recommend at least four to make it a real vacation,” he said. It is also important to understand sensitive issues that come up with weddings. For instance, many couples in small towns opt for destination weddings as a way not to have to invite everybody they know.
“It can become an issue in a smaller place where you think you need to invite everybody,” said Alton. “A destination wedding avoids that issue.”
With so much growth in the segment, destination-wedding trends seem to go in various directions. Some couples want more intimate venues, Keller said, perhaps quieter beach spots and smaller resorts: “What often happens is that the bride and groom will stay at a smaller, more luxurious resort while their friends and family stay at a bigger resort a short distance away.”
On the other hand, destination weddings and vow renewals are no longer just for small, intimate ceremonies, said Paula Caffaro, senior manager at Weddings by Funjet. In 2017 the company said the average destination-wedding guest list was 35 people, with inquiries for this year indicating that group size is growing.
Travel Impressions is predicting a trend toward unique experiences in places like Costa Rica, St. Lucia, Costa Mujeres in Mexico, and at newer properties in Jamaica, such as Excellence Oyster Bay and Sandals South Coast.
Keller is seeing more destination weddings in Europe, particularly in Italy and France. But with the current uncertainty about traveling internationally, he said, many couples are looking for domestic options like Palm Beach, Tampa and Key West.
Miller sees a continuing upward trajectory for Mexican and Caribbean weddings, especially Jamaica. He pointed out that in places like Riviera Maya, guests can go from a beach wedding one day to an adventure off property the next: “Destination weddings not only provide the couple’s dream location but also an opportunity to create incredible memories with family and friends.”
Cancun remains a steady favorite, Wiseman said. Its reputation for value and wide selection of options contributes to its high volume. “They’ve really got it perfected there and in neighboring areas on the Yucatan Peninsula, like Riviera Maya and Maroma Beach.”
Most weddings still take place onsite at hotels, he added, “but we’ve noticed an increase in interest in weddings at popular local spots, which ties into the growing demand for authenticity and destination immersion.”