A new travel agent group called the Destination Wedding & Honeymoon Specialists Association (DWHSA) said will “soft launch” today, Jan. 14, in preparation for a charter membership drive this spring, Feb. 1-April 30. The group seeks to address the growing market for destination weddings and honeymoons.
DWHSA cites a 2012 Destination Weddings Study by XO Group Inc. showing 350,000 destination weddings take place every year (24 percent of all weddings) along with the fact that more than half of those couples say they get outside help planning these trips and 86 percent of them still plan to talk about booking honeymoons after their destination weddings.
“Many travel agents want to learn more about this enjoyable -- and profitable -- niche, but they don't know where to start,” said Lisa Sheldon, the owner of I Do Island Weddings in Janesville, Wis., who will serve as the association's founding executive director. “And agents who've been selling destination weddings and honeymoons for years want to network with professionals just like them. That's why we're starting this group." Sheldon also is one of the founders of a popular travel agent Facebook group focused on destination weddings and honeymoons.
Planning for the new organization began in the fall of 2011 with a series of regional workshops in Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, Atlantic City and Las Vegas coordinated by the DWAgents.com training program. "We surveyed more than 300 destination wedding and honeymoon specialists around the United States and Canada to create these courses," said John Hawks, who is serving as administrator for DWAgents.com and will manage the association’s back office. "In the past 18 months, we've had more than 600 agents complete a class with us, and their number request for the future has been 'We need a group for agents like us,’” he said.
Sheldon, CTC, MCC, is a destination wedding specialist who has focused on this niche for more than half of her 25-year career in the travel industry. Her experience includes managing a AAA Travel office, owning a storefront agency, and running her home-based travel business for the past eight years.
Hawks has worked with travel industry organizations for 24 years, serving previously as president of the Association of Retail Travel Agents (ARTA), senior vice president of the National Tour Association (NTA), and a consultant for groups ranging from the Tourism Works For America Council (TWFAC) to the Outside Sales Support Network (OSSN).
In July 2012, Sheldon established a by-invitation-only Facebook group for destination wedding and honeymoon planners, which has drawn more than 200 agents as members. "John and I decided to work together to get this new organization off the ground," she said. DWHSA will focus on these key areas:
Networking: Primarily through a private Facebook group where agents may ask questions and exchange ideas in private.
Training: With a year-round schedule of half-hour webinars, 60-minute teleconferences (coffee chats), and half-day online conferences on topics ranging from dealing with difficult brides and capturing wedding guests' bookings to working effectively with wholesalers and using social media, web sites, and other tools for honeymoon prospecting.
Marketing Support: From sample client forms and sales material templates to a consumer-facing web site that will direct brides to these specialists.
Supplier Relations: From rating individual resorts and cruise ships to creating fam trips highlighting specific destinations.
"We want to build a huge membership base around two types of agents: those who've sold destination weddings and honeymoons for many years, and those who're just getting their feet wet in this niche," Sheldon said.
Charter membership information will be available for agents with applications accepted Feb. 1-April 30. From May 1 through Sept. 15, the association will be closed to new members to allow the staff and DWHSA's agent advisory board members to roll out programs and prepare for its first annual conference. Wholesalers, hotel and resort companies, cruise lines, national tourism offices, and convention and visitors bureaus will be invited to join as allied members this spring as well. Agents can also send an email to email@example.com to request a membership information packet.
"We really want to thank the many agents who're part of our Facebook group, who've taken the previous classes and our surveys, and who've served on the agent advisory board," Sheldon said. "They've been very helpful as we've worked to build this group by agents and for agents.” For more information, click on DWHSA.