How to Select a Travel Agent for a Destination Wedding

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Travel Agent 007 - Demystifying the Destination
special series by guest expert Larissa Banting

Your bride has settled on a location and a date and now your next step is to find a suitable spot for the wedding in this faraway land (to make this article easier to write and read, let's refer to our location as 'Weddinglandia'). Trouble is, you've never been there and have no idea where to begin looking for 'the' spot.

Enter your new ally and friend, the travel agent. "But with everything now on the 'net, can't I just do it on my own?", you may ask yourself. There's a saying that goes 'everything looks great on the web'. The photos posted on the hotel's site may be from the Bush administration - the first Bush. The hotel may now be painted a hideous shade of bile-green with the grounds resembling the Sahara desert. The last thing you want is to make a recommendation to a bride, she shows up at the hotel and bursts into tears. Not a good scene and one you definitely want to avoid.

A savvy travel agent is worth their weight in barrels of oil. They can pinpoint exactly where in 'Weddinglandia' would be ideal and which hotel your client should consider. They are familiar with travel times within the country (ie how long is the driving time from the airport to the hotel), what tours and activities are recommended as well as the quaint ins and outs of the country, its culture and people.

A good agent can handle all the wedding guests' travel and this is of major importance for destination weddings. Less than 30% of Americans hold a passport (and to travel anywhere now you need one), meaning millions of Yanks have not strayed past their own sea to shining sea. If the groom's Aunt Hilda has never ventured beyond the WalMart in Boise, having her trek to a jungle resort in Nicaragua or a villa in Greece is going to be a stretch for her . . . a really big, scary stretch.

Which brings us to the fear factor, found in some degree at every destination wedding. The majority of guests will likely have these questions knocking about their noggins, causing some amount stress: Where am I going? Will I be safe? Will I like the hotel? Can I drink the water? What will I eat? How do I get there?

A good agent can walk each guest through the reservation process, providing them with all the information they need to achieve a level of comfort. The last thing you want is the bride or groom becoming the travel clearinghouse (they have enough on their plate) so it's best to enlist a professional agent. A good agent will make the entire experience as easy and stress-free as possible. And happy guests makes a happy bride which makes your life a whole lot better.

So where do you find this Amazing Agent? Unfortunately, there isn't a website like www.amazingtravelagents.com so you'll have to do a little research. Personally, I think it's better to work with an agency located in 'Weddinglandia' than in your home country, since they will have a better 'bead' on what the latest developments are - most outward-bound agents don't get a chance to travel to each destination more than once a year (if that) so lots can change since they last set foot in 'Weddinglandia'. And then there is the question of basic 'Weddinglandia' knowledge. I'm always amazed by North American travel agents who call me and continually refer to Costa Rica as 'the island' (um, it's an isthmus). If they can't even find it on a map, what kind of advice are they going to be giving to your clients? Call me 'locationcentric', but if I'm going to Rome, I'd rather deal with a Roman. Check out websites for in-bound travel agencies and look in 'Weddinglandia' guidebooks for recommended companies.

Then make contact - I recommend talking to at least three agencies. Phone, email and fill out a form on their site to gauge how quickly they respond and the quality of their communication skills. This is an important step as the results can vary wildly. Very few places outside of the USA and Canada operate with the same level of customer service so be prepared for things happening considerably slower than a New York minute. Keep Aunt Hilda in your mind - is this agent someone she'd feel comfortable dealing with? Not everyone in the wedding group will have email so a good phone manner is going to be vital.

Think you've found the 'one'? Tomorrow, we'll look at the questions you need to ask your travel agent before making the final decision and then walk through the process of setting the stage for group travel.

© 2008 Larissa Banting for The Smart Planner™

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