The Destination Wedding Planners Congress is a one-of-a-kind conference putting together over 450 luxury destination wedding planners, vendors, and industry professionals from 65 countries for three days of networking, education, and pageantry. According to the DWP, the hand-picked attendees are surrounded by “a lavish spread of organizations who push the boundaries of industry excellence.”
You can’t beat the locale either. Previously, the DWP has been to Greece, Mauritius, and Florence. This year, it was the beautiful beaches of Phuket, Thailand.
And let me tell you buddy- believe the hype. I got to speak at this year’s Congress and it’s all true. I saw hundreds of famous wedding couture designers, international jewelry magnates, 4 and 5-Star hoteliers, TV personalities, and one lawyer hob-knobbing against a backdrop of sun, sea, and sand. Despite being under the weather for most of the Congress (i.e. jetlagged and contagious), I had a blast taking in the presence of the baddest peeps in the industry. Luckily, the A-List attendees did not heckle me when I presented on contracts, ‘must have’ terms, and intellectual property issues for destination wedding planners.
Yes. I ate all of these.
Perhaps most impressive are the on one-on-one meetings facilitated by DWP between attendees and various vendors and sponsors. With most conferences, attendees are forced to go from booth to booth between education sessions, hoping to get a few minutes of uninterrupted face time. At the DWP, attendees could line up these meetings beforehand. In fact, 3 hours per day of the Congress were set aside for this purpose, organized in 15 minute intervals. Kind of like speed dating. Except not as pride swallowing.
Not only that, they do not skimp on the food either. Between the opening ceremonies, the black tie gala dinner, and the all night rave, they make sure that you receive only the finest in food and beverage. They had all you can eat macarons for God’s sake. For me, that equates to 487.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the sessions:
In Pursuit of Excellence (Keynote)
Preston Bailey, Preston Bailey Designs, USA
“Let me tell you about this guy, maybe you’ve heard of him- Ponce de Leon….”
Preston Bailey kicked off the education portion of the Congress with an excellent primer on how to become one of the world’s most well known wedding designers. Here’s some things that I learned from Mr. Fountain-Of-Youth himself.
- Don’t worry so much when people copy you. Only begin worrying when people do NOT copy you.
- Clients will usually forget what you said or did, they will never forget how you make them feel (I wish this was true for me- My clients have memories like elephants).
- Understand that you can do great things by being consistent with your schedule and eating the elephant one bite at a time. Habits create success.
- Most importantly, Preston advised that we all greet each day with a loving heart. When you greet each day with love, you can begin to make great impacts with clients. I agree with this. But, I would also add that you should greet each day with two fried eggs over easy, THEN with love.
Pricing and Profits in Changing Times (Panel)
Here’s some trivia for you: The B-Side to Bob Dylan’s 1964 record “The times they are a-changing” was the song “So wedding industry professionals should price accordingly.” As you can imagine, it didn’t top the charts like the former. Anyway, this panel was dedicated to pricing, commissions, profit margins, and marketing in today’s climate.
Aleit Swanepoel, The Aleit Group, South Africa
Evelyn Mills, Marriage Maestros, Hong Kong
Froonck, Monsieur Froonck, Germany
Sasha Souza, Sasha Souza Events, USA
Sumant Jayakrishan, Scenografia Sumant, India
- Commissions: Most of the panel agreed that accepting commissions from vendors was an ethical business practice so long as the client was made aware of the arrangements. Further, make sure that the price with commission remains competitive. Only one panelist refused to accept commissions.
- At the end of the day, commissions will vary from country to country, industry to industry, and from professional to professional, but if you’re getting paid that way, be smart and practice integrity.
- Your number one job is sales. Your number two job is designing or planning the wedding. Understanding that, sell your own personality to the client. Your voice should shine through. That is what is going to attract clients that are right for you.
- Be confident in yourself, your services, and your price. If you are not comfortable with what you charge, your client is not going to be comfortable either. Amen.
Over the Top- How the rich like to get hitched (Panel)
Very wealthy people are just like you and me. Except when it comes to getting married. Or, anything else. For example, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a billionaire eating at Taco Bell. And I’m there a lot, so I would know. Anyhoo, this panel delved into the differences between the average large-scale wedding and a luxurious, Richie-rich style large-scale wedding.
Bryan Rafanelli, Rafanelli Events, USA
Carrie Schwab, Junebug Weddings, USA
Ghada Blanco, Ghada Blanco Events & Weddings, Lebanon
Joe Blackman, Collection 26, UK
Kent Wong, Chow Tai Fook Jewellry Group Limited, Hong Kong
Christina Hold, Wedding Concepts, South Africa
- Luxurious weddings require big-picture “wow factor” stuff, like a life-size King Kong ice sculpture, but also require attention to minute details, like the names of each guest on the champagne glass (which can be tricky for the Polish/Indian inter-faith weddings).
- All weddings must revolve around a principal story. If the design does not incorporate a cohesive story, it will not come together.
- The clients should be asked how they want to feel after the wedding is over, rather than what they want to see, i.e., “lots of flowers.”
BRIC Focus: Shifting Trends in Emerging Destination Wedding Locations (Panel)
Brazil, Russia, India, and China are the fastest growing locations for destination weddings in the world. This panel focused on spending trends, preferences, and attractions that make these locations spit hot fire, so to speak. The panelists also talked about the challenges of their local clients having destination weddings in other places around the world.
She’s a BRIC houuuse.
Bhavnesh Sawney, Wedniksha Wedding Planners Private LTD, India
Gariela Carvalho Dias, Lela Eventos, Brazil
Jingwen Hu, Vanessa Wedding, China
Mickey Jain, Beautiful Weding Mangement Pvt., India
Varvara Peregudova, BMWedding Russia
- I think the big take away from this panel was that the current generation of BRIC clients getting married want a truly unique experience. The BRIC client wants to be able to say that no one else’s ceremony was like their own. For example, Russian clients are keen on utilizing venues around the world that have not been used for weddings before. Specifically, venues that have “naturally occurring” photo opportunities, such as waterfalls, lakes, or mountain views. So basically, Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Just kidding.
- BRIC clients are also often a member of the first generation to be married in a high-end, luxury wedding. In fact, the number of destination weddings from China has increased by 200% each year for the past several years. That is a lot of new people getting hitched abroad! So the challenge for destination wedding planners in BRIC countries is educating clients about how the process works, and how they can put their own unique stamp on the weddings.
- BRIC clients, particularly in Russia, sometimes face certain challenges. This mostly has to do with language and culture. According to the panel (i.e., not me), many Russians do not learn other languages, and therefore expect there to be a Russian speaking individual at the destination to help. The destination wedding planner must make sure that local staff understand traditions and customs of the wedding.
Big Fat Weddings: From celebrity fairy tales to multi day extravagant celebrations (Panel)
Big fat weddings are not just when I eat an entire pizza with a bag full of Doritos Locos Tacos Supremes in one sitting. It means weddings that have large guest lists, but also where the clients expect a luxurious experience. Is it even possible? This panel addressed how to execute a large, yet unique and luxurious wedding without sacrificing the small details.
True story: Rob’s nickname is “Big Fat.”
Franc, Weddings by Franc, Ireland
Kathy Apostolidis, Events by Nightingales, Australia
Kevin Lee, Kevin Lee Productions, USA
Lelian Chew, The Wedding Atelier, Singapore
Mohomed Morani, Cineyug Entertainment International, India
- This panel started off with a philosophical discussion of what the word “luxury” actually means. According to the panel, luxury might mean opulence and extravagance, like having 1000s of bottles of the best 1982 cabernet passed out by Playboy bunnies. Luxury might mean an experience that excites all five senses, like elaborate dance numbers. Still, luxury could be as simple as triggering a childhood memory, such as having snowballs line the the aisle for the Swiss bride getting married in Thailand. Finally, luxury can mean star power, or quite simply, “Can you get Beyonce to your wedding?”
- Luxury weddings, particularly royal weddings, have their own sets of challenges. Security and privacy being the principal pain points. As a regular watcher of the Netwflix show the Crown, Royal weddings require an understanding of ancient etiquette rules. If you sit the Dutchess of Buckingham Windsor next to the Duke of Salami, you could cause an international incident. Be aware of the protocol, and pay attention to details.
- Also, the richer they client is, the more frugal they tend to be. Luxury clients want itemizations and explanations for all expenses. So, basically me when I give money to my nephew for the ice cream man. As such, you must be ready with justifications, and make sure your integrity shines through.
Transformational Leadership: Screw it, let’s do it! (Keynote)
Marcy Blum, Marcy Blum Associates, USA
This lady was a riot. She went into detail about transformative leadership and what that means to creative businesses.
- Using creativity in and on your business, rather than just for your events. We spend more time working in our business than working on our business. When you work on your business, it allows you to step outside the business and enjoy life.
- Don’t give up. Part of this is not believing the hype that you see on Instagram. Everyone struggles, embrace it and rise up. Don’t fall into the depths of self-pity.
- Delegate. It is impossible to grow if you do not delegate the things that are not necessary for you. As you work throughout your day, document what could be done by someone else. Give these tasks to a virtual assistant, employee, intern, contractor, or a Tupac hologram. This allows you to concentrate on putting your unique voice into the parts of the business that reflect you.
- Shake things up. Respect consensus, but do not let it be your master. For example, Marcy charges flat fees without commission, which is definitely not an industry standard.
- Dismiss skeptics. Marcy says that it is OK if you are not naturally a nice person, as long as you are trying to accomplish good things. In other words, you can be bitchy but not be evil. Kinda like the Devil Wears Prada. Just kidding, I’ve never seen it.
Supercharging your resilience for total success (Keynote)
Julie Lewis, Mountain High, UAE
“We are all mountains. Except Rob. He’s a human mole hill.”
Julie Lewis is a motivational speaker. She is also both a figurative and literal mountain climber. She gave an impassioned presentation on how having and using resilience can get your wedding business over the figurative (not literal) mountain.
She defined resilience as the ability to stand like a mountain, but flow like water when needed. It’s the ability to bounce back after a set back (or several), disappointment, or failure. To stick to the job, adapt, and see it through to the end. But, in particular, resilience are these five characteristics:
- Optimism: As a wedding planner, you are the vendor of MAD love, with MAD being an acronym for “making a difference.” Or, if the wedding is cancelled, “mutually assured destruction.” Keeping a big smile on your face and looking only at what is possible will help you make better decisions.
- Solution Orientation: Be open to different ways of doing things. Always ask yourself, “what else can be done?”
- Individual Accountability: Always, always, always do what you say you are going to do. This will build integrity with your clients.
- Openness: Be able to adapt and change direction when needed. Be open to everything and attached to nothing.
- Manage Stress & Anxiety: When a client has you stressed, just think of a nice BLT. That is, breathe, listen, and trust. In the long run, Julie suggests identifying your stress triggers and then attempting to minimize them. For example, no phone calls after 8pm.
Marketing without money- Smart ways to grow your brand (Roundtable Discussion)
Wendy El-Khoury, Wedded Wonderland, Australia
“Oh, I thought you were Jason Statham.”
Wendy led a “roundtable” on growing your wedding business through Instagram and social media. At times, it resembled a sit-in at the United Nations. Wendy did not buckle under the pressure and answered scores of questions from the mob. Lots of great take-aways from this one!
- Treat your social media like your own online magazine. The content should showcase you in a uniform, unique, and eye-catching way.
- The average number of hashtags on Instagram is eleven (eleven will also get you paid on the come out roll in Craps).
- Start your Instagram videos at the most interesting spot. Do not have the video start on blank space.
- Make sure you maintain continuity in imaging between all of your social media accounts. Share three photos from one wedding on all the accounts.
- Only post during your peak times. This is often Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday night. These periods correspond with television watching. This will generally be the same around the world.
- Pinterest is basically used only in the United States. Twitter is basically used by no one anymore.
- Inspirational quotes are usually better in the morning.
- You MUST cull and remove non-performing posts. This will increase your ranking and improve client experience.
I’m not quite sure how to be “hand-picked” to attend DWP, but it is certainly worth inquiring and/or registering on their site here. Next year the DWP will take place in Los Cabos, Mexico. You better believe that it will be very, very, caliente.
“The macarons were for everyone, Rob”
Also, I would like to give a very big thanks to every single person who’s a part of the QnA International team that was behind the success of the event, the entire credit truly goes to all of them.