TORONTO — For Pamela Walker, the glass really is half empty and half full.
The travel agent and destination wedding specialist had a total of 12 wedding groups set to travel April through July 2020 when the pandemic hit in March.
“Half outright cancelled, not knowing if they would rebook when things settled. The other half have rebooked for 2021,” says Walker.
With no end in sight for the pandemic, Walker is now working on rebooking (or cancelling outright) her wedding groups with late 2020 departures.
“I’ve been discussing and advising my wedding couples on the options available to them and their guests,” says the Alberta-based agent.
One bright spot is that after nearly six months of this crisis, and the roller coaster ride of booking and rebooking, Walker says most of her couples “are quite pragmatic about their situation. Having the history from the spring, it has been much easier for everyone involved.”
For Walker too, time and experience have somewhat eased a very challenging situation. “The first few months [of the pandemic] were the toughest I’ve been through in a 20+ year career in travel. Many tears were shed, more than a few sleepless nights, and anxiety was at an all-time high,” she says.
Now, like many agents, Walker has pivoted her focus to next year. Her next wedding group is set to depart in April 2021.
Heading into the next phase of pandemic recovery, Travelweek checked in with the Destination Wedding & Honeymoon Specialists Association (DWHSA, which counts Walker and more than 100 other Canadian travel agents as members), and also with Karisma Hotels & Resorts and Palace Resorts, to get their take on the pandemic’s impact on destination weddings, and the future.
Resorts are doing everything they can to incentivize new bookings. Sandals Resorts, with its Platinum Protocol of Cleanliness, just launched a brand new offer of a free Tropical wedding for couples booking stays of three nights or longer. Sandals is also now offering complimentary live video streaming and more for destination weddings.
3 IN 5 TRIPS CANCELLED
Destination weddings, normally such a lucrative niche for travel agents and suppliers, have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic.
Couples planning a destination wedding want a trip, but more than that, they want to get married. Faced with travel restrictions not just for themselves but for their entire wedding group, many couples cancelled their destination wedding trips in the wake of the pandemic and opted to get married locally.
As a result Canada’s romance travel specialists took “a huge hit,” says DWHSA’s Executive Director, John K. Hawks. “Our Canadian members reported three in five trips cancelled on average this past spring when COVID-19 hit hard, and they lost at least half a year’s income. Couples can’t wait for suppliers and destinations to reopen or a vaccine to arrive.”
There are challenges on the supplier side too. Hawks says DWHSA is seeing “the full spectrum of support from our supplier partners – from very quick cash refunds for honeymoon couples, to months-long broken promises for rebooking destination wedding dates.”
Meanwhile DWHSA’s Canadian romance travel specialists are caught in the middle of refunds vs. vouchers disputes. “The consumers want their money, but we can’t force suppliers to give it to them. To be fair, our Canadian members are reporting that wholesalers there have been more helpful with refunds and rebookings and future travel credits than their American counterparts.”
Another frustration is when suppliers go direct to consumers “with deals we can’t match as agents – especially lower prices and more forgiving cancellation policies,” says Hawks.
More insights from travel agent Pamela Walker and John Hawks at the DWHSA, as well as what’s happening right now with destination weddings at Karisma Hotels & Resorts and Palace Resorts are in the Sept. 3, 2020 issue of Travelweek (click here).