Jamie Biesiada
Jamie Biesiada

How has a travel agency managed to book a record number of destination weddings and groups during a pandemic? For the advisors at VIP Vacations in Bethlehem, Pa., it was the perfect mix of positivity, planning and posting.

VIP president Jennifer Doncsecz discussed her agency's approach to selling destination weddings in the time of Covid-19 on episode four of Trade Secrets, a podcast by Travel Weekly and TravelAge West. VIP's record-breaking bookings trend has continued from the summer of 2020 to the first months of 2021.

Communication was a key part of VIP's strategy.

"I think the pandemic affected too many people," Doncsecz said. "They all had their own story to share, whether somebody couldn't go to a graduation, somebody couldn't have a baby shower. A relative got sick, or died and people couldn't go to funerals. People lost jobs.

"Our industry, travel, shut down," she added. "Restaurants were closing. There was a lot of sympathy and empathy going out there, but that meant that a bride wasn't really getting the attention that she might have felt she deserved when her entire wedding had to fall apart, because there were so many other things crumbling."

Before the pandemic, VIP mainly communicated with wedding couples via email. Sometimes they texted, too, Doncsecz said. But that changed during the pandemic, with many working from home and feeling isolated. They wanted to talk on the phone or via Zoom.

Doncsecz capitalized on that. VIP has always had a link for clients to make an appointment in the signature of emails, but she switched that up: The very first sentence VIP agents would use when replying to wedding inquiries asked if the prospective client wanted to talk.

It worked like clockwork, she said. Advisors would hit send on an email, and the potential client would book an appointment.

"We went back to the skill of communication," she said.

She also believes VIP benefitted from the fact that many domestic wedding venues were restricting the size of the wedding, and destination weddings tend to be less expensive.

VIP also shared success. Every time a wedding booked, the staff at VIP popped a confetti-filled balloon and took a fun video of it. They shared it via social media.

"I think that resonated with other people," Doncsecz said. "If you see agencies closing down, storefronts closing down, you wonder, are they still around? Are they still relevant? But here we were, still opened."

Positivity was also part of the equation. VIP stayed positive in its posts. Not positive as in, "Everything is OK," she said, but as in, "We believe things will get better."

That also resonated with clients.

"There's a point during a pandemic where people actually gravitated towards a little bit more optimism," she said. "Would you rather hang out with somebody who's, like, an Eeyore and complains, or would you rather hang out with somebody who's fun and who's optimistic about the future?"

Throughout the pandemic, Doncsecz never dialed back on marketing. That was a lesson learned after 9/11, she said, when so many businesses stopped advertising and went out of business. Instead, she even booked a new billboard advertisement for VIP when the Caribbean opened up. It said, "The Caribbean is open, and so are we."

"What we needed to do was keep advertising, keep doing what we were doing, and I think that just paid out," she said.

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