If there was one person who could truly be called an icon of the travel industry, it was Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart.
TORONTO — Here’s a common scenario: You ask your wedding clients where they would go on their dream honeymoon, and they respond with a bunch of destinations in quick succession. Bali. Italy. Tahiti. The list goes on and on.
But there is a fun and easy way to whittle down the options so that your clients are left with a destination that best suits their needs and preferences. Virtual Honeymoon is an interactive destination matching tool used by agents with indecisive clients. Using intuitive software and an algorithm to search for and match destinations, the tool matches couples with their top two destinations, allowing them to ‘test drive’ these locales and help agents close the sale.
Started and owned by travel industry veteran Robin Hawkey, Virtual Honeymoon kicked off in January 2015 for year-long testing before launching its affiliate program in March 2016. Hawkey says the idea came to her after “years of frustration of working with couples that were all over the map”, which resulted in wasting weeks of valuable time, sometimes only to lose them to the Internet.
“When couples have no idea where to go on their getaway, or say something like ‘We just want to go some place warm and tropical’, that usually leads to seeing every tropical island and comparing them all. We call [these couples] ‘tire-kickers’ or ‘time-wasters’ for using travel agents as a human resource tool,” she tells Travelweek.
How it works is simple: Clients answer a series of fun, interactive questions, the tool then matches them to their top two destinations based on their answers. After clients fill out a contact form, all the questions and answers, including their matches, are emailed directly to the travel agent who will then follow up directly.
The tool costs $24.95/month, or $239.52 per year with a savings of 20%. You can access the site at virtualhoneymoon.com.
To enhance the experience, Hawkey has added a virtual reality component to the website’s destination pages. She’s teamed up with ExplorVR to allow clients to pre-experience their matched destination. Virtual Honeymoon’s affiliates have already used VR headsets and videos at wedding fairs where clients were able to test-drive their destinations on the spot.
“I think [VR] is so beneficial as most millennials want to be involved in the planning process. VR is the next best thing to being there!” said Hawkey. “I also feel that the agents who don’t get on this VR trend will be left behind – literally!”
Devin Kinasz, President & CEO of ExplorVR, adds: “Virtual Honeymoon is embracing VR technology and partnering with ExplorVR to give their agents access to exciting destination experiences. We are very excited top partner with Virtual Honeymoon because they align with our values of being a forward-thinking company that embraces technology.”
Virtual reality acts as the perfect selling tool in the destination wedding and honeymoon market as it allows clients to “try before they fly”. As Hawkey puts it, all couples want their weddings and honeymoons to go off without a hitch, so the best way to ensure that the destination matches their vision is to virtually travel there ahead of time.
“There is on average over two million weddings per year in the U.S. alone, with couples spending over $72 billion on weddings and $8 billion on honeymoons. The romance niche is such a great niche to get into to build your entire travel business,” said Hawkey. “If an agent does a great job on the wedding or honeymoon, and builds a good relationship with their client, they will do all their travel-related activities such as anniversaries, babymoons, graduations, family trips and more, not to mention the referrals to all their friends getting married. This creates a booming business that will continue to grow and prosper.”
With business booming, Virtual Honeymoon launched its sister site – Virtual Destination Wedding – at the Love Mexico event in Cabo last December. Operating much like Virtual Honeymoon, the new site not only matches clients with their top two destinations but also helps plan the wedding. And like its sister site, it costs $24.95, or $239.52 with a 20% discount.
Looking ahead, Hawkey is preparing to launch the company’s newest addition – Virtual Vacationing – on April 10 at the Travel Agent Forum in Las Vegas. While its main concept is the same as interactive destination matching, she says the new site does not focus on romance as the other two sites.
“We realize that not all getaways are about romance, sometimes it’s about vacation travel with family and friends and they too can be confused about where to go on their getaway,” she adds. “We are so excited to be at the Forum with our VR partner, ExplorVR. They have really helped our vision of bringing virtual travel to life, allowing clients to virtually experience their destination match before booking and, thus, closing sales!”
For agents in Las Vegas attending the Travel Agent Forum next month, learn more about Virtual Honeymoon, Virtual Vacationing and ExplorVR at their booth.