Where to marry, when to book and how to upsell: Romance Travel Xpo covers it all
Elaine Carnegie

Where to marry, when to book and how to upsell: Romance Travel Xpo covers it all

TORONTO – The numbers are in for the Romance Travel Xpo: 2,110 registered travel advisors, 18 exhibitors, 6,684 breakout session views, 1,740 trainings completed and 230 average booth visits.

Combined with invaluable tips and content that focused on selling romance and destination weddings, it’s safe to say that the virtual event was a resounding success.

As the fourth of six shows in the 2021 PRO Show Series by XpoPRO Mobile Events, a division of TravPRO Mobile, the Romance Travel Xpo on Aug. 3 featured a comprehensive lineup of suppliers and destinations that all cater to the romance and weddings market, including the Wedding Planners Institute of Canada, Destination Wedding Magazine, Canlink Travel Representatives, WestJet Vacations and more. For the over 2,000 registered advisors, one-on-one meetings with suppliers were available, as were breakout sessions, learning modules and a network lounge.

 

“We could not have asked for a better Xpo, with attendees already sharing how much they’ve learned and enjoyed the day’s events,” said Dean Jacobberger, VP XpoPRO. “The rollout of our new messenger tool allowed advisors to easily connect with exhibitors as they moved around the show. Plus, having wedding specialists present in the breakout sessions made it easy for travel advisors to learn more about the great opportunities to sell destination weddings, honeymoons and romantic escapes.”

Feedback from attendees has been overwhelmingly positive. Dana Brown of Expedia Cruises said: “So many weddings cancelled over the last year, this is great information to present couples.” Valerie Cevallos of A-Plus Meetings also said, “Great tips and ideas from other industry professionals,” while Jo Wheeler of Travel Planners International shared that she was “planning my first destination wedding and super excited for today’s info.”

Here are some highlights from the day’s Breakout Sessions: 

Smaller numbers, bigger budgets

With much of the world closed to travel in 2020 due to the pandemic, couples are now excited to take their vows abroad once more, says the Wedding Planners Institute of Canada. During its Breakout Session, Co-Founders Tracey Manailescu and Danielle Andrews highlighted the destinations that are now trending among couples that offer fewer crowds, beautiful venues and are slightly off the beaten path yet still easy to get to.

Andrews recommended Iceland for its natural hot springs, waterfalls and Northern Lights, as well as the Dolomites in Italy, a less-frequented alternative to big cities like Florence, Milan and Rome that’s equally enchanting and stunning. Cappadocia, Turkey was also given a shoutout for its cave hotels and hot air balloon rides, as well as Croatia for its seaside beauty, Thailand for its affordability and opulence, Romania for its real-life ‘Tunnel of Love’ and diverse landscapes. Antigua and Barbuda was also highlighted for its close-to-home location and beautiful boutique hotels.

As for what’s trending in terms of wedding amenities, there are several that agents should keep in mind when upselling, said Andrews.

“Couples are keeping their same budget so we are seeing smaller numbers but with the same large budget, which is fantastic, or even a larger budget because they’ve had a little more time to save,” she said. 

Micro weddings are really taking off, with couples looking for smaller, more intimate affairs with just their social bubble. Accommodating around 25 guests, couples are “going big” with the details, adding extra décor and upgrades. “Micro weddings are here to stay and there are lots of upsells for you,” Andrews told advisors.

Other wedding trends that are gaining in popularity are romantic elopements, epic photo sessions with a professional photographer, premium welcome bags and gift boxes for guests, as well as floating breakfasts, which Andrews said is available “everywhere” as an ultra-romantic, morning-after-the-wedding treat for couples.

But perhaps the quirkiest, most surprising wedding trend are llamas and alpacas, the “wedding animals of the year,” said Andrews. Guests are opting to rent these animals to take part in their nuptials, whether appearing at breakfast or roaming in the background during ceremonies, in places like the Dolomites in Italy.

“It’s more affordable than you might think”

For advisors with luxury wedding clients, Elaine Carnegie, President of Canlink Travel Representatives, had these wise words to share: book as soon as possible. Noting that availability will be the biggest challenge as the world returns to normal, Carnegie has been advising agents for months to get their clients booked as soon as possible, especially since weddings that were postponed in 2020 are now being rebooked for later this year and in 2022. 

“You want to be able to get them the hotel they want, the date they want and the suite they want for the time of day and location that they want to be married,” she said. “You don’t want to do all this research and work only to find out later that it’s no longer available because they waited a couple of months to book.”

Carnegie also noted that after so much time apart, families are more eager to travel – and celebrate – together.

“Now there are families and friends who are really happy to be able to get together again so wedding groups may have grown a little. You’ll need a few more rooms than you might have before, which is another reason to book in advance,” added Carnegie.

For couples hoping for a larger wedding, villas are a good alternative to booking multiple rooms at a hotel or resort. Not only do they feature a tremendous amount of space, said Carnegie, many also come with a chef, housekeeper and a private pool.

“We’ve had some clients who booked a few of our villas and did a Dine Around each night where they had dinner at one villa with a customized menu, then the next day had a cocktail party at another villa by the pool. It’s all very personal and customized, whether it be for a small wedding or a large group,” said Carnegie, adding that some of Canlink’s properties offer villas that accommodate up to 60-100 people. “And when you start dividing up the cost of a villa between the number of bedrooms and people, it’s more affordable than you might think.”

“They know everything there is to know about travel”

When asked how important of a role travel agents play in planning a wedding, Amy Bielby, Editor of Today’s Bride and Destination Wedding magazines, said they should be considered the “be all and end all” of travel.

“Couples don’t want to be dealing with the minutiae of details on their big day so they turn to the experts – travel agents,” said Bielby. “They know everything there is to know about travel and will point them in the right direction for their wedding or honeymoon. We look at the travel agent as another wedding planner – we know that it’s not their job but they can take care of all those details like room upgrades, blocking out rooms and even transportation.”

Bielby noted that outdoor weddings “are the brand new thing,” so much so that her publications just developed an outdoor wedding guide featuring tips on how to marry outdoors.

“We’re seeing a lot of people get married on mountaintops in B.C. and keeping it local within Canada,” she said. “But it’s still a destination, it still takes coordination and a lot of planning and expertise to make it all work seamlessly.”

To help clients achieve this seamless dream wedding, Bielby suggested having a backup plan – and even multiple plans, if possible. 

“Get to know your client, find out what their personalities are and then offer them a few options,” she said. “We like to say, offer a plan A, plan B and a plan C. Something will eventually stick and grab their attention.”

 WestJet Vacations: The latest updates and offers

WestJet Vacations, one of the event’s exhibitors, highlighted several new agent resources and offers that will help them better sell romance and weddings. 

With its new price match, when agents book a WestJet Vacations package for their clients to Mexico or the Caribbean, WestJet Vacations will automatically match a competitor’s all-in package price up to $75 per adult. This offer is exclusive to WestJet Vacations bookings made by travel agents.

In addition, when agents book a group vacation package with WestJet Groups, they’ll earn 100 WestJet dollars for every 10 adult package guests. A minimum of 10 adult package guests are needed to qualify. A maximum of 500 WestJet dollars may be earned per booking, with a maximum of $3,000 WestJet dollars per calendar year. To book contact 1-844-213-5232 or email groupvacations@westjet.com.

Also for groups, WestJet Vacations Groups has a new instant quote tool that allows travel advisors to receive an immediate quote for new group bookings with many of its hotel partners. The tool can provide quotes for: bookings of 40 guests or less; bookings made a minimum of four months and a maximum of 320 days before departure; bookings to Mexico, Jamaica, Dominican Republic and Costa Rica; bookings with up to two gateways; bookings with up to three room types per hotel; bookings with a minimum of five rooms; and bookings with up to two different hotels. To access the instant quote tool, go to www.westjettravelagents.com and click on the ‘WestJet Vacations Groups’ button at the top of the page. 

Moreover, WestJet Vacations is offering $400 savings per room on a minimum seven-night stay in all room categories at select Barceló properties. Plus, for a limited time, clients can add its Travel Protection Plan for no additional charge to eligible sun destinations in the Caribbean and Mexico. Booking window is July 21, 2021 – Aug. 14, 2021, for travel between Sept. 1, 2021 and April 30, 2022.

The show content including Exhibitor Booths, Breakout Sessions, Destination Spotlights and Learning Modules, is still available for 30 days by visiting www.romancetravelxpo.com. Next in the 2021 PRO Show Series are the Luxury Travel Xpo and Europe Travel Xpo.