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Yesterday, we sat down with travel agent, Laura Hanaford. Laura specializes in custom vacations, honeymoons, group travel for destination weddings and travel for out of town guests to local weddings. Her company, The Trip Trotter, is part of the Tzell Travel Group. Laura helps us understand why in the world of internet bookings where information is at your fingertips, it’s still best to work with a travel agent.

What is your process for working with couples choosing a destination wedding?

Resort matching is the longest and most difficult part of planning destination weddings, yet it’s the most important. Most of the time, couples don’t have a resort in mind, but they have an idea for a location. It’s also important to know where they don’t want to have their wedding and why. Ironically, couples actually book on islands that they originally did not want to because they had previous false misconceptions. I begin by either meeting the couple in person or having a phone interview. It’s important to learn about who they are, their families and any expectations and must-haves that they need for their wedding. Obviously, budget is a largest factor when planning but unlike planning non-destination weddings, the costs for the guests is often more important than the wedding itself. It’s also important to note if you’re allowed to bring in outside vendors and if there’s a cost. After getting to know the couple, I pull a few different properties and have the couple let me know what they like and don’t like about each. We will then look at different properties until we find the perfect fit.

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What’s the advantage of working with a travel agent over booking the property directly with the resort yourself?

As an agent, not only do we have access to the best group rates possible, but we can also help negotiate extras in addition to the group amenities. They vary depending on the resort, but can include free transfers, upgrades, better room locations, wedding packages, and extra parties. Sometimes, we can even negotiate services of a judge or minister- that’s huge! There’s also more flexibility with the cancellation policy within our contracts. Many couples complain that the upgrades that were promised do not get delivered, but as we have relationships with these properties, promises are delivered. The contract can also be confusing and most couples have never booked group travel before. We help explain the ins and outs and make sure that you’re taking advantage of everything that is available.

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Ok, but what about booking the honeymoon?

I usually book my own trips. Why should I hire a travel agent? Couples come to me at the last because the pressure and time needed to plan the wedding became overwhelming. The honeymoon is a once in a lifetime trip for most couples, so why not have a professional plan it. Travel agents also are able to get better rates at many top hotels and resorts. One of the hotel programs that my agency is part of is The Signature Group, which gives upgrades, amenities and value-adds at over 800 properties worldwide. Add-ons include daily breakfast for two, early check- in/late check-out upon availability and resort credit.

We’re the ones that can send bottles of champagne to your room. We also make sure that you’re taking the right tours, have all of the right transfers and are not trying to fit in too much or make unreasonable connections. We’re not just your booking agent, but your consultant and can provide you with destination opportunities that you’ve never dreamed of. Couples often have an idea of where they want to go, but in reality it may not match their personality, honeymoon time, or budget and we help you realize that and come up with alternatives. For brides that like to plan, I help target their searches so it’s not so overwhelming yet they still feel in control.

For instance, I’ll give them several hotel options and let them choose. Most importantly, when something goes wrong, you know that you have someone with influence to call when you need help. Because my agency has such strong relationships with vendors, we’re able to step in when there’s a problem and get you help faster than those who book themselves. For example, my agency even has a direct line with Delta, so we can get to the airline agent that much faster.

Great, I’m sold. So what’s the best way to contact you?

I’m reachable by phone at 212-537-7154, or email at thetriptrotter@tzell.com. Can’t wait to help make your next dream vacation a reality.

Photography by Tatiana Valerie 2015