When Donna Jacobsen, Managing Director and Travel Specialist at Equality Travel, began working in the travel industry, it was because she had become bored with her previous career. "After I graduated with an accounting degree," Donna explains, "my sister graduated from a travel and tourism business school. She got a job in a travel agency just opening in New York City, and they needed an accountant." Donna applied and got the position, but it wasn't long before she was making contacts with the clients too. "After a while I got involved with clients and the travel side of the business and began to explore the options of doing both. I have successfully been in the travel industry for 36 years."
Most of those years have been with Entertainment Travel, parent company for Equality Travel. That umbrella, specializing in travel arrangements for bands, TV and film personalities, and professional sports teams, was no stranger to niche subsidiaries, though, as they had already established their Destinations Galore and Honeymoons Galore divisions.
Equality Travel, now just one year old and serving the LGBT population, has been an additional successful venture. "We have prided ourselves with niche marketing at our parent company, Entertainment Travel; the right personnel and changes in marriage equality laws opened many new doors for us," Donna says.
But she adds that in all of their divisions catering to marriage-bound clients, the goal for those clients is the same. "The bottom line," Donna explains, "is that couples are looking for that dream vacation, that once-in-a-lifetime wedding. Planning a once-in-a-lifetime vacation is very satisfying. Our staff gets to know the couple and helps makes their travel dreams come true."
Increasingly, those travel dreams include very distant destination weddings. "We are getting more requests for destination weddings," Donna explains, "because couples are thinking that if they're going to spend $50,000 on a local wedding, they'd rather have a smaller destination wedding, combining the wedding ceremony and honeymoon. She points out that there can also be additional savings when the wedding, reception, and honeymoon are booked together. "When that is done, many venues will throw in the wedding at no cost," she says.
She says that destination weddings can be small, and she books many with just the immediate family. She provides an example using one trending destination wedding spot. "For instance, a family all flies to Florida for the wedding, but then the couple, alone, flies on to the Bahamas or Aruba for their honeymoon."
But she says there are much larger destination weddings too, with guests numbering in the hundreds. "For example, I've flown in 150 people and everybody comes to the wedding. It takes more than a year for the planning, with the couple sending out "save the date" cards in advance. So now, instead of going on vacation, relatives and friends make that wedding their annual vacation."
She adds that there are times when the couple pays for their guests, or a portion of their trip. "You might have a couple doing a destination wedding and they're going to pay for just the immediate family and wedding party. But some couples pay a percentage for other guests, with the remainder of the cost paid by the guest."
Regardless of the wedding size, there is almost always a honeymoon to follow, and Donna says she is booking more adventure-types of trips. "Some couples don't want to sit on the beach and sip piña coladas for a week," she explains. She adds that she has set up a number of safaris, and trips to the Galapagos Islands, which include hiking opportunities.
But, she adds that romance is still in. "I think romance will always be a big part of the honeymoon and destination wedding experience. We do some adventure wedding destinations, but not too many because people still like strolling on the beach and candlelight dinners. It's all those intimate romantic moments couples want to have when they start their new life together. Romance is still priority, the top of the list in what couples are looking for." She adds that this also applies to couples who have already been together for 20 or 30 years. "They didn't get to have that romantic honeymoon, they still want it, and they can do that now."
Regardless of the size of the wedding, Donna says there are places couples want to go. "Hawaii, Mexico, and Europe still remain top choices. Italy is big, especially Rome and she has sent couples to Barcelona, Spain." One of her recent couples also visited Thailand, and Tahiti and Fiji are popular, but London is perhaps the most popular destination for Equality Travel couples. "London, as far as Europe goes, is a top seller," Donna explains. "Same-sex marriage is legal there."
And "acceptance" is an important factor. "For my LGBT couples, one step I take is finding them a place where they will be comfortable, safe, and welcome. A place where they can walk down the street holding hands. That's the main thing I can do for our same-sex couples, to send them some place they can be safe, comfortable and accepted."
The bottom line to every wedding and honeymoon trip she plans, however, is the couple's comments on the success of their trip. "Upon a couple's return from a trip that we have planned, hearing all the positive feedback is wonderful."
Part of that success, Donna explains, is planning ahead, and she advises couples to contact her very early. "Couples planning a destination wedding and honeymoon, or both, should try to contact us at least six months ahead of their event." She says that many couples contact her 12 to 18 months ahead, and that's even better. "But if a couple calls and says they're getting married in 45 days, we will, of course, plan something for them."
Donna finds that her trips are so successful that couples return from their destination weddings and honeymoons, then call her again and again for annual vacations. For that reason, Equality Travel is planning a way to reward such travelers, the VIP Travel Club, so clients can earn points toward free services such as massages, dinners, and even airline flights. "We are working on a way to reward our clients and their referrals," Donna says.
With all that she does--weddings trips, honeymoons, vacations, and more—there is never a dull moment. "I love working with every couple at the most exciting time of their lives. Planning for the future and helping them to plan the perfect vacation comes naturally to me." Now beginning year 37in the travel business, Donna says, "I still love it." Not once has she been bored.
(Contact Donna Jacobsen at: Equality Travel 610.706.0984/ 917.763.8978/ firstname.lastname@example.org.)