Written By: Lisa Sheldon, Executive Director, Destination Wedding & Honeymoon Specialists (DWHSA)
Name the travel niche that’s basically recession proof, with healthy commissions and clients who value what you do for them (most of the time).
It’s romance travel – destination weddings, honeymoons, and other types of romantic getaways!
I’m biased, of course – I’m the executive director of the Destination Wedding & Honeymoon Specialists Association (DWHSA), the world’s largest network of agents who focus on romance travel. But, don’t take my word for it. Since DWHSA began in 2013, more than 800 agents have joined us to build their businesses in this niche!
WHY SHOULD YOU SELL ROMANCE TRAVEL?
Here’s why you should consider shifting gears with your own business:
Romance travel can be a very dependable source of bookings. Ten years ago, destination weddings were seen as a fad; today, one in four weddings among North American couples will be destination weddings. Surveys by TheKnot.com and other sources show that these couples will cut household spending everywhere else to splurge on their wedding plans. And, nearly nine in 10 couples said they’re planning a honeymoon after their weddings, no matter what!
It’s a niche you can start quickly and master over time. Though some agents specialize in custom-planned FIT-style destination weddings and honeymoons, many of us sell pre-packaged wedding and honeymoon trips with all-inclusive resorts or cruise lines. You’re probably selling these types of packages already to couples and families. The added elements are the honeymoon or wedding ceremony services, and in many cases you can let the resort’s or ship’s on-site coordinators handle these tasks. So, there’s no huge barrier to entry in order to start selling romance travel. Of course, that’s just the beginning! It can take years to master the skills of handling clients with visions of lavish weddings but a budget that won’t allow them.
It allows you to be a travel counselor, not an order taker. Romance travel bookings allow us to work as true consultants: meeting with our clients to learn about their dream trips, researching the best options for them, finding the best packages to fit their real budgets, and managing their expectations and putting out fires as their departures approach.
It builds your client base quickly. Like any niche, getting those first clients can be a challenge, because you won’t have a track record or testimonials in romance travel yet. Once you’ve locked in your initial clients, though, you’ll begin earning referrals and word will spread quickly through your marketing area.
ROMANCE TRAVEL BEYOND DWs and HONEYMOONS
What if you’re not sure you want to dive into romance travel? You can still run a “general” travel business selling all types of trips while you recommend a wide range of popular romantic getaway options to your current clients:
Proposal trips: How many viral videos have you seen with the happy couple surrounded by a “flash mob” or popping the question in a fun location? You can help clients plan a trip with the proposal scheduled on a secluded beach or the memorable background of their choice.
Anniversary trips: Many of us collect marriage dates as part of our client intake process, and those dates go right into our databases. Why not pull anniversary dates six to eight months in advance and recommend a romantic getaway to those clients?
Babymoons: These relaxing trips appeal to couples trying to conceive a child or plan their last getaway before the baby arrives.
Familymoons: Many couples have “blended” families with children from previous marriages or relatives they’re caring for, and they still want a little romance for themselves while the kids and other family members do their own thing at the resort or on the ship. Familymoons can involve wedding or vow renewal ceremonies, but they don’t have to.
Vow renewals: More Millennials are following the example of Baby Boomers by recommemorating their initial vows on milestone dates (the fifth or 10th anniversary, for example.) These trips can involve just the couple or a larger group tagging along.
Regular romantic getaways: Surveys show consistently that couples today feel intense time pressure with their jobs and their family obligations. Why not recommend three- and four-day romantic escapes to your client base, using short cruises from nearby ports or destinations within driving range or a short flight time?
SEVEN STEPS TO GET YOUR FEET WET?
If you’ve been thinking about trying this niche, you can take a few “baby steps” to get started. Then, you’ll learn as you go, and you can continue expanding your business in this arena if you like it!
Step # 1: Narrow your business focus.
If you’re new to romance travel, it’s time to go back to school – learning how these trips and ceremonies work and which suppliers and destinations target this niche.
Start by making a list of your nearest air gateways – the airports from which your clients typically depart on trips. Then, list the top three to five most popular and accessible romantic destinations from each airport (e.g., Hawaii and the South Pacific for U.S. West Coast agencies; the Caribbean for U.S. East Coast agencies). Next, for each destination on your list, write down the top three preferred suppliers you work with who offer trips and packages there.
With these lists, you can focus your research. Request brochures and romance package details from those suppliers – and, master the fine-print details for those products! You’ll find that this approach will help you master the destinations and trip options for 80 percent or more of what your clients will request!
Step # 2: Use the goldmine of your existing databases.
Getting the first bookings in a new niche like romance travel can be challenging! But, the answer lies in the clients you’ve already served and the prospects sitting in your database. Start by cleaning your client base – make sure it contains every old, past, expired, and current client, and try to find working email addresses for anyone whose past messages have “bounced.” Then, compile a list with every prospect name you can lawfully get your hands on – relatives, neighbors, co-workers, old business cards from chamber networking events, etc.
With these lists, send an introductory email to everyone – tell them you’re starting a new focus on romance travel, you’re eager to help them plan any future romantic getaways, and (this is critical) you’ll encourage them to spread the word to anyone they know who’s thinking about a destination wedding, honeymoon, or romantic trip.
After this intro email, continue emailing both lists regularly with romantic getaway ideas, travel tips, and other useful information.
Step # 3: Set up your romance travel-specific web site and your Facebook business page.
What’s the cornerstone for all of your online and offline marketing efforts? Your web site. You really need a site that’s focused on romance travel – or, at the very least, a separate section on your existing site that’s clearly labeled on the home page as your romance travel area.
Next, you need a Facebook business page that’s also branded for romance travel. Once you’ve created this page, you can use Facebook boosted posts and ads to reach out to targeted prospects (it’s easy with Facebook to reach out to people who’ve recently changed their status to “engaged,” for example). You can use Pinterest and other social media, too, but at DWHSA we recommend that you pick one network and master it before you worry about the rest.
Step # 4: Print business cards (and other marketing materials like rack cards or trifold brochures) specifically for romance travel.
Buy 500 or 1,000 business cards that promote only your romance travel business – don’t mention cruises, family travel, and other types of products. Then, challenge yourself to pass out those cards all around town as quickly as you can! Next, go to your local print shop and create a rack card or trifold brochure built around your romance travel sales. Take these brochures around your local market area, and leave them anywhere you’re allowed to do so.
Step # 5: Start following up with every contact you’ve made.
Now that you’ve notified everyone that you are focusing on romance travel, you’ll start hearing from clients and prospects. Be consistent in following up! Sales experts say customers need to hear from us at least seven times before they pay attention to our marketing messages.
Step # 6: Become THE local romance travel expert.
From exhibiting in bridal shows to sharing referrals with dress shops, bakeries, and other romance-related business in your area, you want to begin building your reputation as an expert in this niche locally.
Step # 7: Teach, don’t sell!
Through every channel – your web site, your emails, your social media – you should offer romance travel tips, trip ideas, and updates on destinations, resorts, and ship, instead of pushing supplier specials all the time. (Millennials are especially wary about being “sold.”)
DWHSA IS HERE TO HELP
It’s lonely trying to build a romance travel business by yourself! That’s why several agents in this niche joined me in creating DWHSA in 2013 – we wanted an association that would focus specifically on romance travel. We’ve grown now into the world’s largest network of romance travel agents, with 800+ specialists across the United States, Canada, and other countries. We offer training (a video-based “How to Sell Romance Travel” online course, two to three webinars weekly that are recorded for our online video library), networking (a members-only Facebook group that’s full of questions and tips 24/7/365), and consumer marketing tools that members can use to find more clients. Plus, we’re 100 percent agent-run, so our focus is agents working in this niche. You can join us this year with a $20 discount as a reader of Travel Professional News – contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to claim this discounted dues rate! (And, if you have questions about romance travel, you can reach out to us at that same email address.)
Good luck with building your romance travel sales in 2016 and beyond!