The development of a niche at Sunset Travel
& Cruises in Chicago came about by happenstance. About 10 years
ago, Sunset began organizing destination weddings in response to
client requests, according to Jay McArthur, operations manager. The
agency took on the challenge, learning the ropes along the way.
About five years
ago, after seeing how popular destination weddings had become,
Sunset began marketing its expertise.
Today, the agency's
five-person staff handles eight to 15 destination weddings a year,
McArthur said, which accounts for about 30% of the $3.5 million
agency's annual volume.
These days, the
agency benefits from word-of-mouth referrals by previous wedding
clients. It also gets some business from people who had been guests
at a Sunset wedding.
But the agency also
is getting customers via traditional media such as the Yellow
Pages, promoting at bridal shows and using purchased mailing lists.
The agency advertises and stages twice-monthly presentations for
engaged couples who are prospects for a honeymoon or a destination
wedding, McArthur said.
Sunset first helps the couple select a destination that will work
for all parties, then provides travel arrangements for the wedding
pair and guests.
The agency does not
plan the wedding itself. McArthur said Sunset refers the clients to
wedding planners at the destination. However, Sunset is copied on
e-mailed exchanges between clients and wedding planners as a way to
head off problems. For example, McArthur might remind the clients
to order their flowers, or he might nudge a planner if
communications with clients have not been timely or
essentially group trips with participants traveling from scattered
places. Sunset will arrange for sightseeing activities for
Group sizes vary
widely, from four people to more than 300. Sunset planned a
destination wedding with 318 guests on the Riviera Maya, Mexico,
McArthur said. Guests arrived from all over the world.
Five hundred had
been invited to the large wedding. The couple expected about half
"I tell clients
they'll be happily surprised at how many guests come," he
Mexico and the
Caribbean are the most popular destinations, but the agency has
sent wedding parties to Hawaii and Italy as well as on cruises. One
group traveled by cruise ship to Barbados for a shoreside
As for his own
recent wedding, McArthur and his bride selected Sedona,
Mexico offers the
best value for the dollar, McArthur said, with the Dominican
Wedding work is
labor intensive, but McArthur said the agency does not find it
necessary to charge specific planning fees. The agency gives the
bride and groom a price break if their groups are large.
Requests can be
unusual. McArthur recalled the wedding where the bridegroom's
divorced parents were so estranged that the mother and father each
privately demanded that their part of the wedding party be housed
in a different building.
For the Barbados
wedding, the bride's brother was afraid to fly and too
claustrophobic to travel on a cruise ship, so Sunset arranged
surface transport from his home in Washington to Miami and a
chartered boat to Barbados and back.
Things can go
wrong, though McArthur said he hasn't seen a wedding canceled yet.
Two events were washed out by hurricanes. One couple had taken the
vows and the storm forced them and their guests out of the resort
the next day. Another couple rescheduled their wedding.
The agency has
learned from its errors. One time, when the destination wedding
business was just starting out, McArthur said that a couple had
asked if they could quote trip prices to guests, and the agency
This turned out to
be a bad idea because it led to confusion, leaving family members
unhappy, said McArthur.
Now, if clients
suggest conveying trip information to friends and family, Sunset
asks them to refer everyone to the travel agency.
"We tell clients
that they don't want to plan their trips, and we explain why we
know this," McArthur said.
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A wedding on
the Riviera Maya
Jay McArthur, operations manager at Sunset
Travel & Cruises in Chicago, prepared the following sample
itinerary for a destination wedding on Mexico's Riviera Maya. To save money,
he recommends a wedding in the spring, after the busy winter season
1: Bride and groom arrive in Cancun, at least three days
prior to the wedding date, ideally on a Monday or Tuesday. After a
private transfer, the couple checks in at the all-inclusive
Iberostar Paraiso del Mar, where they stay in the presidential
2: The couple meets with the resort's wedding planner in
the morning. They do a site inspection of the resort and the
wedding location. In the early afternoon, they observe a wedding at
the property from a distance. There is a wedding every day at the
Iberostar Paraiso del Mar.
3: The couple greets friends and family, including kids,
who are welcome at the resort. The couple and their guests relax in
the afternoon by the lagoon-style pool. That night, the group goes
on a sunset dinner cruise. A photographer takes candid shots
throughout the day and evening.
4: More guests arrive. The group goes on an
all-terrain-vehicle ride in the jungle, traversing narrow, dirt
paths. Then they head to Maroma Bay and skim the Caribbean in
speedboats. The dress rehearsal dinner is at La Hacienda, the
resort's Mexican restaurant.
5: Wedding day, ideally a Friday or Saturday. Guests go to
their late-morning session at the spa. At sunset, the bride walks
down a pristine, white-sand aisle. The wedding reception is in a
private room with music and dancing.
6: Family and friends depart. The newlyweds move to the
adults-only El Dorado Royale and stay in a Casita Suite for a
seven-night honeymoon. The couple experiences private, candlelit
dinners on the beach; bathes under the stars in their casita's
open-air showers, known as Aguas del Amor; and enjoys couples
massages on the beach.
The Perfect Itinerary is an example of an itinerary an agent
crafted his or herself, not available anywhere else, but can be
duplicated by other agents to sell to their clients. To send an
example of an itinerary you've customized, e-mail to [email protected] with "Perfect Itinerary" in
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