Ashley Morris, Alpaca Your Bags Travel

With 175 all-inclusive site visits under her belt, Ashley Morris may have a funny name to her agency — Alpaca Your Bags Travel — but she does not joke around when it comes to planning amazing destination weddings and honeymoons for her couples.

Ashley’s website is now on its third iteration and this one is a beaut! Visually appealing, full of content and personality, and set up to streamline her operations, it’s a model for how to prime your prospective clients to fall in love with you and ensure they have a great experience their entire journey working with you.

And that website is clearly doing something right because Ashley is clocking in an average wedding size of 80-90 guests and a most impressive 75% close ratio after her free consultation calls, there is a lot any advisor—destination weddings or not—can learn from her. It’s no surprise to us that her 9 year old agency is currently on track for $4M in sales for 2023!

We discuss the various parts of her website including her new lead magnet, the custom page for each couple that seamlessly integrates into her site, the reservation form with live inventory of the group bloc and how she manages to head off future disasters with some unique questions she asks before guests get to the reservation form.

Whether you’re new or experienced, doing groups or individuals, have a listen because this episode is chock-full of tips that are applicable to agencies of all sizes and types of travel!

This episode is in memory of Will Medina. An icon in the travel industry destination wedding space who recently passed away unexpectedly. ❤️

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Show Notes

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  1. Host Week: Free! Fun! Educational! Deals! What more can you ask for. 30 hours of amazing content to up your agency game!
  2. Outside Agents: Special thanks to this episode's sponsor, Outside Agents!
  3. HAR's Ultimate Guide to Starting a Travel Agency Course (new!): We help you get past the 3 Ps—Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Paralysis—and get your agency up and running! Advisors can join the affiliate program and earn 20% on referrals that sign on.
  4. Travel Leaders of Tomorrow: A school to help new advisors that Ashley attended
  5. HAR's Guide to Travel Agent Training & Education: An easy to read guide about education options.
  6. Ashley's website, wedding groups page, and payments page: Check out Ashley's site that helps streamline the client experience.
  7. Dubsado: The project management software Ashley uses.
  8. Acuity Scheduling: A appointment scheduling software Ashley likes.
  9. TAC Episode with Will Medina: Rest in peace, Will. This is a great TAC episode with Will about his DW and honeymoon business.
  10. Host Week EduSpot on Training Your Clients to Communicate: Great info from Nikki Miller on setting boundaries with clients.
  11. Showit WordPress Builder: What Ashley uses for her website.
  12. VacationCRM: CRM Ashley uses.
  13. Loom, Boomerang: Some of Ashley’s favorite technologies to power her biz.
  14. Host Week EduSpot on B2B Networking: Networking to find clients is important. Equally as important is networking within the industry. Learn how!
  15. The Pumpkin Plan book: This is Ashley’s Indispensible book.
  16. HAR's Event Calendar: Over 60 industry events. Check it out!


[00:00:00] Steph: A special thanks to today's sponsor, Outside Agents.

[00:00:17] Steph: You're listening to Travel Agent Chatter Volume 25.

So Travel Agent Chatter is an audio series produced by the team here at Host Agency Reviews each and every quarter. Except that this quarter we're really behind. So this is actually Q4 2022. I'm sorry for the delay, but hopefully Host Week made up for it.

We were really booked tight this last quarter. So today's guest is a destination wedding in honeymoon guru, she is on track. For 4 million in sales for 2023 and has one of the most adorable agency names of all time, which is no surprise giving her prior experience working in the New York City advertising agency world.

Ashley Alpaca 2

And this mad woman that we're gonna be talking to today has toured over 175 all-inclusive properties, and we are gonna dig down into how she uses her website to sell her clients on her services so that when they do contact her, she has an astounding near 80% close ratio. So if that's intriguing to you, trust me, there is a lot more great info ahead!

Before we jump into the combo, we wanted to let HAR fans know that we have launched our very first course! So it is called The Ultimate Guide to Starting a Travel Agency. And for you newbies, it's gonna save you a lot of time, energy and it's gonna allow you into a private community to interact with the HAR team.

So if you're feeling overwhelmed at getting started, take the course and we will walk you through it. We'll put the link in the show notes.

And if you are experienced and tuning in, and you have clients or friends that have asked you in the past about how to start a career in travel, make sure to sign up for the courses affiliate program where you can earn 20% commission!

Again, we'll put the link in the comments, scroll to the very bottom of the footer, and you'll find information on the affiliate link. It is at

So without further ado, let's get onto the show.

Hello. I am thrilled to be here with you today. Thank you so much for joining us. I am Steph Lee, the founder of Host Agency Reviews and your host for today's show. And joining us today is Ashley Morris, the founder of Alpaca Your Bags Travel, currently out of Kansas City. And I'm gonna say it again because the name is so darn cute. Alpaca Your Bags Travel.

So her agency focuses on destination weddings, honeymoons, and all inclusives. But there are lessons for advisors from all corners of the travel industry that are really gonna help improve the client experiences and boost their sales.

So get settled in because today we're gonna be picking the brain of an advisor whose average destination wedding size is 80 to 90 guests, although she did book a group for someone that apparently has a lot more friends than I do, because the room block was for 85 rooms, and I don't even know how you have that many friends. But--

[00:03:09] Ashley: You and me both.

[00:03:10] Steph: I know, let alone wanting someone to travel to come see me get married, but whatever.

So we're gonna be discussing her website, which is honestly what every agency should aim for. So it's a website that sells clients before you ever even talk to them, and they know exactly what her expertise is and her value and the way that she speaks with her clients and her.

Testimonials on her blog are mouthwatering filled with in-depth content and goodies that sell Ashley to the unsuspecting site visitor before she's even talked to them. So I know this because I was that unsuspecting site visitor, everyone.

Any of the links and resources we talk about today will be in the show notes, and you can find them by going to and clicking on episode 25, or it will be in the description.

So another note that is episode 25, which is so exciting because I realized we started TAC in 2016 and now we have hit 25 episodes of these in-depth interviews with successful advisors from all walks of life.

So our itinerary today is going to be, we'll talk about Ashley's beginnings, hear how she got into travel.

Then we'll talk about that amazing website. We'll jump into her agency operations because if you're doing groups that big, you have to have some really slick agency operations. We'll check in with her wisdom through her years in travel and what she's learned. And then we will finish with our indispensable segment.

So let's do this. Ashley, welcome to Travel Agent Chatter!

[00:04:43] Ashley: Hi, thank you so much for having me. This is fun. And congratulations on 25. The 25th is my birthday, which is Saturday, so I like that. 25 and 25. It was meant to be.

[00:04:53] Steph: This is totally meant to be for multiple reasons. I don't know because Ashley— how Ashley and I met, we were trying to figure it out cuz I, I was like someone gave me your name and I swear they gave me your website and said she might be a good candidate.

But I don't know who it was. I searched my emails, I searched my social media cuz Ashley was like who did it? And I was like, I have no idea. So if that was you, let me know. I'm so sorry, I forgot. But I, but--

[00:05:20] Ashley: We're here. We made it!

[00:05:21] Steph: I got Ashley on because I just know when I landed on her cute website, I was like, this is definitely going on my prospective interviewees for Travel Agent Chatter.

 By the way, if you are someone that thinks you have a great idea or a cool website, cool name, et cetera, a different way of doing things, or even you're just a really successful agent that has found a operations and a process, a system that works really where that you wanna share email me at


[00:05:50] Steph: So Ashley, let's start from the beginning. Did you grow up traveling?

[00:05:54] Ashley: No. I, grew up. So I am from the Midwest originally and I have a big family. If we traveled, it was close to home. It was car camping, road trips, pretty basic stuff, great memories and experiences. But no, I, my first plane trip, I think I was 14. It was an eighth grade trip to Washington DC . Very exciting.

[00:06:19] Steph: Naturally .

[00:06:19] Ashley: So no, I did not grow up traveling. The travel bug did not hit me until college and later.

[00:06:24] Steph: So what happened in college? You just, you took off and did a like road trip or you did--

[00:06:30] Ashley: I'm trying to think of what the first trip was.

Where did we go? It was a big one. It was Argentina and... argentina, Paraguay and Brazil was one of my first big trips. I did like smaller things like, going to concerts and things like you do in college and visiting friends. But the first big international trip I took was to South America and I did it with two friends and we did one of those tour operators for young adults, like that we all know about.

And it was a great time. And after that I was hooked. I was trying to find every next trip I could take with them going through their catalog, , just trying to hit it all, which was fun.

[00:07:07] Steph: That's so fantastic. And I know when we spoke earlier, cuz we both talked about how, again, neither of us had really traveled growing up and but that's not necessarily going to be a roadblock for you.

[00:07:19] Ashley: No.

[00:07:19] Steph: You do need to travel if you're selling travel, but there's a lot of people that enter the travel industry that don't have huge travel backgrounds. And that's part of why you love doing the weddings with people is because you can, you talked about it being a gateway drug.

[00:07:33] Ashley: It is. I think destination weddings and honeymoons too, to some extent are a gateway drug, we'll call it for two things.

One for traveling and two for working with a travel advisor. That's an, a good entry point for someone to really work with an expert for the first time. I think a lot of people come to not, I think, I know a lot of people come to me and say, I've never worked with a travel advisor, but it's my wedding and I don't wanna mess it up.

Or I've never worked with a travel advisor and it's my honeymoon. I don't wanna mess it up. And someone told me to talk to a professional. They're high stakes travel events and , that is a good way for someone to be introduced to our services for the first time.

[00:08:13] Steph: I honestly don't know how anyone would ever plan a destination wedding with 80 to 90 guests without a travel advisor.

[00:08:20] Ashley: I found, that's how I got into this. We had a destination wedding, and this is pre-me working in travel. I used to work in marketing and advertising and we met with a travel advisor. I loved the idea of her job. Like that part of her job immediately sparked in my brain because I had been such a traveler.

I always tell people I'm not a shopper. I'm not. I don't have a closet full of shoes or things all over my house that I've bought all of my money has gone into trips my entire life. That's where that, I'm guess I'm a travel junkie in that sense. I don't know what it is with all the drag references, , I dunno where this is coming from--

[00:08:55] Steph: That'll be later on. We'll be talking about, stay tuned for part two where we talk about that.

[00:09:01] Ashley: But we met with the travel advisor. I love the idea of her job, but coming from a high tech advertising and media background, I couldn't stop thinking about ways that I would do it differently. And that's how I got into doing this.

[00:09:15] Steph: That's so cool. So tell us a little bit about your background in advertising, cuz I think that comes into play with the setup of your website and the targeting and just the design of it. So yeah, tell us the background in tech— or advertising.

[00:09:28] Ashley: So my not a lot of people do what they went to college for. I think we go to college, we get a degree and we end up doing something else. But my degree was in journalism and throughout my schooling I was introduced to the advertising side of journalism.

That's, what keeps the news going unfortunately. And so learning about the advertising industry led me to different jobs at advertising agencies. I worked for a couple of big retailers on the client side.

This is another connection we have is that I used to work for Target. So I was in Minneapolis for several years and finished out my advertising career.

Going back to the advertising agency world and working with clients, big tech subscription clients. Spotify was my biggest client when I left, and then I worked on Verizon for a bit too. And so my job in advertising, I'm not the creative person. I wasn't designing anything. I'm not making anything that you would see.

My job in advertising was in media, which means to put the message where people will see it. So if you are someone shopping for a honeymoon, my job was to look at, okay, what websites did you go to? What social media did you follow? what were your daily habits and where could we put an ad in front of you that would, get you in the right place at the right time?

So a lot, my media job, my advertising job was really more about like the psychology of media and marketing and understanding how people shop for certain things. And then I was also an account director, which is the person that kind of organizes all the things, like all the, anything that's going on with a client.

So that, yes, to your point, that led right into working with travel. I never realized how much I would use those skills in this job now. And it's definitely helped me get to where I am.

[00:11:09] Steph: Exactly. Now, when you were doing the work and you started your agency, you were still working at the ad agency, is that right?

[00:11:16] Ashley: I was, yes. So I was living in Manhattan at the time. I was still in New York. I had started this process of planning our wedding, met with a brick and mortar travel agent, like I said, and saw what she was about. And my husband Matt, is active duty Air Force. And so I saw the writing on the wall of I'm not gonna be living in New York and working in advertising much longer.

Ashley wedding pic

At that time, no one was working remotely. This is, I'm dating myself a little bit, but at that time we didn't have, all the tools and resources and it just wasn't as common for people to work remotely.

So I started shopping for the Plan B career and I looked into a few things and just didn't really know what I could take with me for the rest of my life with Matt's job being , what's the word?

Portable? The job is gonna be everywhere and I knew I needed something. But travel is just what I kept going back to in my heart. It's what I've always had the most interest in. I, it's what can suck me into a conversation faster than anything. So I looked at travel advisor programs and looked at different trainings that were out there, settled on the Travel Leaders of Tomorrow course.

 Did that while I was still being a media director at the advertising agency. Plugged away like nights and weekends and here we are almost nine years later.

[00:12:31] Steph: That's amazing. So I'm gonna put a link to the Travel Leaders of Tomorrow. If you're not familiar with it, it's a training program.

I'll put that in the show notes if anyone's interested as well as an article we have just on the training and education opportunities available to advisors, which of course doesn't list everything because there are thousands of them, but there will be, there'll be the main ones we'll be in there.

Before we jump into things, I don't wanna make you teary-eyed, Ashley, but I did wanna show some love to a huge personality in the travel industry who you were really good friends with and who passed away suddenly on Valentine's Day.

So for those that didn't know him, Will Medina was as full of life as you can be. And he was as equally as savvy as a business owner. And he was one of our earliest podcast guests on Travel Agent Chatter, and one of our most popular episodes. And it's— the episode is just pure fun.

It's very Will. It's fun-loving, not afraid to share his approach with others, full of great ideas. He specialized in destination weddings and honeymoons as well. So we're gonna link to that episode in the show notes because it's a gem for any advisor, especially if you're looking to do those destination weddings, honeymoons, or groups. He's got a great system in there.

And I just wanted to say a quick note to Will's husband, his family and friends before we fully dive into the conversation, please know that the team at HAR is sending you lots of love as you grieve the loss of a person that was so full of life.

It's hard to imagine him not being here because he was a real industry icon and his impact was— he mentored a lot of advisors. His impact was far and wide in the number of agencies he helped get through the years.

So Ashley, thank you for taking the time today because I know that this is not only Wave Season, but you've also lost a really close friend in the last week or so. And like we said, when we spoke, Will would've wanted you to do this.

So yeah, Will this one is for you.

[00:14:19] Ashley: Oh, that is, you said you weren't gonna make me cry .

[00:14:21] Steph: I know.

[00:14:22] Ashley: Oh, that is gonna make me cry. No, I'm happy that you mentioned that because he was such a huge part of not just the travel industry, but this specific space, destination weddings and honeymoons.

His impact was immeasurable. It just... the legacy that he will leave and the number of people that he touched during his time I know there's a lot of us who will feel that loss for a long time.

And yes, thank you for mentioning Mario and his family. Um, that's a tough one, but all we can do is just continuing to, you know, live up to the mottos he shared. He was very big into community over competition, which is I know what something you believe in too. That's why we are here, is to share and help each other grow so we can elevate this entire industry.

[00:15:10] Steph: Mm-hmm.

So Will, we miss you. Um, but yeah, this one's in memory of you.


[00:15:16] Steph: So, um... whoa. Hard to change gears here, but we're going to.

Um... let's, let's chat about your website because it's number one, very beautiful. And--

[00:15:29] Ashley: Thank you, thank you

[00:15:30] Steph: As you're drying your tears. I'm gonna um, I'm gonna pull up the website maybe as we're talking.

So for those that are watching on YouTube, instead of just listening to the podcast, they can see what we're talking about. And I'll also put a link in the show notes to Ashley's. website because everyone, if you're listening, you should really get a visual on it.

So one of the things I really loved about your site, besides just the design is the content of it.

The copy is so well written. The process that you go through with your couples is so well explained, and your personality is just stamped everywhere across it. So it was like--

[00:16:04] Ashley: Better or for worse .

[00:16:05] Steph: Yeah, it's true. But it's-- I knew the process. I knew which locations you sold. I knew that you didn't sell Disney or domestic vacations.

I knew who was gonna be a good fit for you and who wasn't because you, you put that up there.

And one of the content ideas that I really liked was you had these in-depth blog posts that each couple answers. They're answering the same questions but then the post is just filled with these beautiful photos from their weddings and these long explanations.

So let's start with how in the world did you get your clients to write such in-depth information? Because people can't even get 'em to three sentences reviews, and you've got these whole blog posts. So tell us the process. Yeah. And then how you choose who you're gonna ask, and then I'll pull it up while we're doing that.

[00:16:48] Ashley: Okay. So it, it's a journey and, something that's unique to the destination wedding business is I am with these couples for a year, 18 months. This is a relationship. We are coming together at the beginning as partners and as collaborators and I am, I spend a lot of time with these couples, so by the time we make it through the end of the process, and I do have a pretty particular and specific process that we work through.

By the time we get to the end, we're friends. I continue to be friends with a lot of my couples after their event is over, they're still following me on Instagram. We're still interacting. It's a relationship be and I'm so grateful that they let me be such a small part of what is obviously a huge day for them.

 And the reviews in the blog post that comes at the end of my process, after their wedding is over, I send a questionnaire. I try to send it, there's of like a perfect time when you can send it, where they still have that post wedding glow and they're excited to talk about every detail, but before they get burdened down with going back to work and the every day, I try to hit them right at the key moment.

And then, because I do know it's a big, it is a lot of time for them to answer these questions and send me pictures, I do give them an incentive to do that, which is typically a gift card. And then they'll get something for their time; I have something beautiful to share on the website.

We're able to give some love to their other vendors, like their photographer, makeup artists, things like that. And everyone feels really good about sharing at the end.

[00:18:17] Steph: Yeah, beautiful. Like this couple, I was just going through that showing that had the burrow.

[00:18:23] Ashley: yeah.

[00:18:23] Steph: Yeah. They had the cute burrow that they... the little donkey that came on during the ceremony, which is adorable.

But this is a good full page of writing. The, yeah, the paragraphs are amazing and it's like, what surprised you about your destination wedding experience? And it's all in caps, how true, how easy it truly was. And yeah, it just, there are just huge accolades to you within here.

[00:18:45] Ashley: It— and part of that comes... you asked a very specific question about how do I get this at the end?

But I think the answer really comes at the beginning, that the couples that find me most now, I'm very fortunate that I get a lot of referral business or guests from other weddings that then come to me and want to work with me, which is fantastic. But someone who doesn't know me and they're just blindly searching for a travel advisor and they might search for a destination wedding, all-inclusive destination, wedding travel agent, whatever they're searching for, if they see my business name, they are probably my people and that was kind by design.

I want—

[00:19:19] Steph: I'm your people, I'm your people.

[00:19:20] Ashley: Yes.

[00:19:21] Steph: Straight up.

[00:19:21] Ashley: So I wanted something. , really reflects what it's like to work with me. Yes, I know what I'm doing. Yes, I'm professional. Yes, I will get everything done for you, but we don't have to take this so seriously. And let's find our quirky personalities and be friends as we work through this.

I think my position as an advisor really is that word advisor. Like I'm here to coach these couples. I'm here to help them through what is an overwhelming process. But we're gonna be friends along the way and if you see my business name and you like me, it's a hit, right away from the beginning.

We usually have a pretty good spark in that first call, purely just based on personality, which is great.

[00:19:58] Steph: Yeah. That's fantastic. And one of the other things on the site, I'm gonna pull this up too, but you have your destination wedding quiz on the bottom of the site that can help--

[00:20:07] Ashley: We do.

[00:20:08] Steph: --couples find their destination wedding personality and it's such a great lead gener-- lead gen idea.

So two questions, like how many people fill it out and is is it the conversions really high? Tell us a little more about that.

[00:20:22] Ashley: Yeah, so that, that is new for this year. And so as of right now, that's only been running about two months. The goal of that was to really get some information that would be good conversation fodder on our first consult.

I wanna know if they took the quiz, what were their answers? Did they agree with their answers? Do they not agree with their answers?

By design, it's a little polarizing. There's of some extremes in there. So we can put people into buckets and then I wanna know, do you think that reflects you or does it not?

Because with weddings, sometimes these couples have a hard time articulating exactly what they're looking for. A lot of people choose a destination wedding because they are not these people that have planned their wedding since they were five years old. They don't have a Pinterest board full of ideas or old school, like a binder full of like tear outs and things like that.

People who gravitate towards destination weddings are more in it for the quality time with their guests. The not having to make so many decisions, doing something that is more of a vacation versus just one day. And sometimes it's hard to articulate that. Like they don't, because they haven't spent time obsessing about their wedding.

They don't know what their style is, they don't know what their budget is, they don't know, what exactly they wanna do. And a tool like a quiz is really helpful to of pull that information out of them so I can get to know them better. And that directs directly affects my close rate.

So getting a couple on the phone, I do a free consult for everyone. If you wanna talk to me about your wedding, make an appointment on my site, we do a consult and I— my close rate's pretty high. It's about 75% of those calls and I do charge a fee. So I think the close rate in combination, which with what is a more premium fee, is even more spectacular, that we're able to build those trust with that trust with people.

[00:22:09] Steph: That's fantastic. And one of the things that really impressed me with your site is the level of detail and information that you share as well as the. Thought that was put into the user experience, cuz it made me feel very comfortable, like I said, with your process and what to expect who you're a good fit for.

And it very, it was very clear that you were an expert before we even spoke because there was a lot of things that most people would never even think of that you're addressing proactively. So some of the things like, let me show on the homepage, you're addressing that who you're a good fit for and you're saying that, let's see— let me see if I can find the homepage real quick.

Here we go.

I think, yeah you're saying where you specialize in that the availability for the destination weddings is 12 to 16 months to get a good selection. So that, if someone's oh, it's four months before I wanna do this destination wedding, they can be like maybe that's not as great of an idea as I thought.

And then you have these kind of three landing pages. So you have the destination weddings, the honeymoons, and then the all-inclusives. And each page is very optimized in its voice to what those clients, the specific clients would need or want. And I'm not gonna go through them all on the podcast, but I do wanna encourage people to take a look at them because again, there's great ideas for every agency on there that they should be implementing.

But on the frequently asked questions, one of questions was you give an idea of the average cost of an Alapaca Your Bags Travel— by the way, do you call it ABYT (A-bit) or do you do a Y b T?

[00:23:37] Ashley: Oh we usually just say a y B or usually just alpaca for short.

[00:23:41] Steph: Okay.

[00:23:41] Ashley: And then it's funny now when I run into people, or if I'm like at an industry event, or even with some of the resorts, they're like, oh, this is Alpaca ashley that's how people introduce me now.

Ashley Alpaca 1

And it's that I never dreamed in a million years. I just wanted a name that didn't sound like everybody else's. I did not know I was giving myself a nickname for the rest of my life. what has happened?

[00:24:02] Steph: I love it. So the, when you have the FAQs I think they're really good for self selection of visitors to the site on if someone, like you said, is a good fit for you.

But how do you answer that? Because the, how do you answer the question of how much a wedding is gonna cost because it varies so much. So what do you usually tell people?

[00:24:19] Ashley: Yeah, it does vary. And thank you again for all the compliments on the site. It is a true labor of love. A lot of time investment went into that.

But that is something that's required, I think in the wedding space. The wedding space is so trend driven. There are definitely, there's a look and feel that couples are looking for. They want somebody who's modern, and on top of things. And that all went into every decision that was made for that site.

So thank you for that. How do I tell people how much a wedding costs? A lot of people don't know. Almost every person that I talk to on a consult when I say, have you thought about a budget range? Do you have anything in mind? And it's okay if you don't. Most people don't. And I can feel them relax, like I can if we're doing a Zoom, I can see it. If we're on the phone, I can feel it because they don't know. And all they know is that a wedding is really expensive.

They've probably been terrified to think that it's gonna cost, 60, $70,000. Because if you have a wedding in a major city in the US and you invite a couple hundred people, that is very realistic that you could spend that kind of money.

And so one of the things we walk through is, okay, what is your vision? What are you seeing for the day? Do you want like a traditional ceremony, cocktail hour reception, or do you want something totally. Once we establish some of those things, I can give them some ranges. I can say things like the biggest driver of cost is how many people you're going to invite.

Let's estimate how many people first. Once we get a kind of a rough idea, I have some tricks for that. Once we get a rough idea of how many people, then I can give you like some ranges, , I something I've done over the years and having had so many weddings now I save copies of all of my clients' invoices, like not the travel invoice, the wedding invoice, so what they're actually spending on the wedding.

And I've been able to, divide by the number of guests and I have a good idea of average cost per guest for the types of weddings that my clients want to have. That kind of replicating that traditional at-home wedding, but in a destination. Doing that ceremony, a little bit of floral entertainment, cocktail hour reception.

I know what kind of wedding they wanna have, and I have really solid estimates now, just from years of data, and I can give them kind of a range or per head cost, which is usually pretty helpful.

[00:26:28] Steph: What are we looking at then? If someone is looking for, they don't want the burrow necessarily.

They're like, I'm gonna say goodbye to the donkey, which is very sad, but they just want your average wedding what's the cost per head? Do you think--

[00:26:40] Ashley: It, it really, there is no I know it sounds like I'm blowing you off. I'm not there. There really isn't like a first picked answer. I'm gonna give you a number, but I wanna explain it.

These couples are at a point where they're probably going to tons of weddings, right? Like they're just at that age where all of their friends are getting married and they're going to a lot. And so one thing I say is you've been to a lot of weddings. You've probably seen a range in what people spent.

You see the people who do the very basic, simple, and elegant, and then you see the people that blow it out, do every bell and whistle, every extra, every add-on. Just destination weddings are just like that. There is a range. I think a good rule of thumb with the caveat that this is different for everyone is usually two to $300 per guest.

 Plus photography. Photography and video is so personal to that couple. And everyone's arrangements for photo and video are so unique that it's hard to put that in any kind of estimate. But rough ballpark, back of the envelope math, two to 300 per guest gets us pretty close for that type of wedding.

[00:27:36] Steph: And you had said when we were speaking that since the pandemic, you've been talking with advi— or talking with your clients about training them to lock in earlier because the availability just isn't there and the prices are up a little bit more.

[00:27:51] Ashley: Resorts are booking up quicker, not just on the wedding dates, but the room blocks too, because we do have to think about both.

Resorts, unfortunately, the wedding team doesn't always talk to the groups department, so sometimes they will sell a wedding date and then we find out that there are no rooms available because of like a corporate buyout or an event or something. So rooms are booking up quicker, wedding dates are selling out faster.

Groups are bigger. I think people are really, excited to travel again now that we're over that post pandemic hump. People are excited to travel and a wedding is a pre-planned vacation where all they have to do is RSVP and sign up and they're there. So we have seen all, everything you said, things, cooking up quicker, groups, getting bigger, it's all happening.

It's after a very difficult couple of years, it's refreshing to now be in such a good place in this part of the industry.

[00:28:40] Steph: . So your recommendation would likely be instead of like the 12 to 14 months, like 14 to 18 months,

[00:28:47] Ashley: If they want their first choice of destination and resort and date, if they're a little more, yes, I do say that it's getting longer.

I used to say 12 to 14. I'm saying like 14 to 18 now. If they're more flexible, if they will do a midweek wedding versus a weekend wedding , knock some time off that. But they have to be flexible. Yeah.

[00:29:05] Steph: And then you mentioned that when you're onboarding your couples, that you set up the boundaries, which I think is so important for any travel advisor, letting their clients know what you're there for and what for you're not, and what the time, like when you can call and when you can't.

But I think especially for destination weddings in these huge groups, because they, there can be some time sensitive things. So can you talk to us, expand a little bit more on the boundaries that you set with your clients?

[00:29:32] Ashley: I, so boundaries— sometimes people pick like a word of the year, I've heard we all see that in social media or in different business books. And that was my word for last year was boundaries. This year it's simplify, but that's a different topic.

And weddings are so high stakes. It's highly emotional for these couples, for their families, for their guests.

Sometimes the family isn't on board with the wedding and it's the couple really driving this idea of a destination. Sometimes the guests are not totally on board with the idea of spending thousands of dollars to go to someone's destination wedding. So it's just a high stakes, high emotion part of travel anyway.

And the way that I've established boundaries is visible in really every part of my process. The first one is I do charge a fee, so I'm not working with everybody who comes in the door. I'm very picky about who I work with, and because I am picky, that allows me to, that gives me the freedom to find those who are the best fit.

Like I, I want couples who understand that I have a life outside of work because they have a life outside of their job. Like it's a personality trait that I look for even in the hiring process. And the fee helps with that because I am very boutique. I don't work with everyone. I do have a higher fee than probably the average in the industry, but I also explained to my couples that's by design.

I have a higher fee because I want to cover my time so I can give you the one-on-one attention that you deserve. I can't give these couples one-on-one attention. If I have to work with every single person that comes in the door and I have a hundred couples on my plate at any given time, I can't do that.

So by design at the beginning, charging a fee helps with that boundary of really getting the people who are the best personality fit for me as I onboard them. Once they sign up, they sign my planning agreement, they pay my fee, I give them a welcome guide. We use Dubsado. So it's a very awesome tool at automating this part of the onboarding process.

I have a welcome guide. It's a PDF that comes to them. They get a client portal they can log into, and one of the first things, and that welcome guide is: Here I am. Here's my team. I introduce myself. A fun fact, introduce my team, a little bit of a fun fact about them. And then here are business hours.

This is how you can reach me. I, during these times by email, here's a link to schedule an appointment. If you schedule an appointment, you have to have an agenda. I try to make every part of this process as clear as possible. And that has done wonders at eliminating the panic bride phone calls at 10 o'clock on a Sunday night.

They just don't do that with me because we've established a process from the beginning.

[00:32:10] Steph: That's great. I'm gonna put a link into Dubsado because this is the second advisor that has told me that does groups too— that does Dubsado and has figured out a way to tweak it for travel. The other one is with ....

It's with Molly Williams a couple episodes ago, so I'll linked to that as well in the comments if anyone wants to listen. Cause if you're interested in doing groups, whether it's destination weddings or Emily or not, Emily Molly does the entertainment travel, so she moves bands around the world.

[00:32:40] Ashley: That's cool.

[00:32:41] Steph: It's, there's a lot of similarities because it's you're moving this, it's a lot of logistics.

[00:32:46] Ashley: Yeah. And then, and that's what my part of travel is like. Yes, there is some creativity. Yes, we have the hearts and flowers of weddings and all that stuff, but really managing weddings truly is managing groups and the wedding is the hook.

That is something Will used to say, actually, speaking of Will, the wedding is the hook, the group is the benefit and groups are logistics. I am a project manager far more than I am a wedding planner. That's the difference in what I do. And Dubsado been a great tool. In combination with my C R m, Dubsado does not replace a C R M., it's a tool that you use in conjunction and if you do manage a lot of groups or if you have a type of travel where you need a very strong onboarding process. I think it's a really great tool for that.

[00:33:29] Steph: Yeah. I'll also link to Nikki Miller did a Host Week presentation about training your clients--

[00:33:35] Ashley: oh cool.

[00:33:35] Steph: —and how to communicate with you. So we'll link to that as well. Cause I do think for any advisor, that's something you should put some thought and time into cuz it can save so much heartache for both parties.

Yeah. So you have a few areas of your site. I'm gonna pull up your site again, that that are for established clients.

So one of the one is to find out the details of the wedding group and to make a reservations, and the other is to put on payments. So when we're up here you have find your group and then putting on the payments up here. So with each of the wedding groups you have, because right now I think you have about 20 groups in here and they each have their own details of the wedding, the important dates that are involved, the process, the inventory and to make reservations.

So that's a lot of details to handle. How do you set that all?

[00:34:21] Ashley: Yeah, so those pages are great. I, some agents will help a couple make a wedding website in another place, like another tool, a separate tool. Yeah. I really wanted to own that content on my site. One, because I want the traffic to my site— let's be real.

And then two, because. . I want them to see my my assistance from beginning to end, like we are full service at all parts of the wedding. And I think having the couple's page on my site versus a third party site helps reinforce that, that we're here from beginning to end, and the couple pages are designed to give guests the information that they need.

Who, where are we going? What are we doing? What's a room block? When do I need to make payments? What about my error? How do I need a passport? It's all that FAQ section that you scrolled by is really helpful. And hitting some of those like common guest questions, which saves me time because I'm not answering the same questions all day.

It's very easy for them to get that information and see if that's, do they even want to come to this wedding? Is this even possible for them, with their schedule and their budget and things like that.

Managing a contracted group is very different than managing individual travel and being as transparent as possible about those details, the policies, the timelines.... that's critical to the success of a group. And these couple pages help us do that.

And then the actual reserva reservation form, which you're getting to that is from my C R m I use Vacation CRM. Every individual group has its own page, its own booking form. We just embed that form right into the couple's page.

And those guest reservations flow right into Vacation CRM dashboard.

[00:36:02] Steph: That's so nice. And then yeah, I'm just scrolling through. So for those that are listening, again, this is probably one you wanna watch on video because there's we're doing we're showing a lot of the site as we're going through this.

But let's see. So one of the questions I wanna ask, you have this big, you have the frequently asked questions on each couple's page that are just the generic things, like, how do I do my airfare? Do I need a passport, et cetera. But then before the reservation section, before they're submitting these, you have do any of these scenarios apply to you? And I'm gonna read through them . But I wanna hear, cuz I feel like anytime there's something like this on there, it's because something has happened.

[00:36:37] Ashley: Oh yeah.

[00:36:37] Steph: It's double check the name on the passport. What are the requirements for covid testing?

Passport processing is delayed. Is your passport valid or unexpired? Are you using a debit card? Are you pregnant or planning to become pregnant? Are you traveling with a child with both biological, without both biological parents present? Have you ever been convicted of a felony or a DUI/DWI? Do you any back child support?

So it feels really personal, but maybe give a big picture of some of these?

[00:37:07] Ashley: Yeah. So this is. I don't know if I can swear on this, but this is like the, oh shit section, like this is, and this this specific set of questions also appears on our payment page. So it's the payment and the reservation page.

And we talked about destination weddings being like that gateway entry point for travel. Sometimes a couple has a destination wedding and there's a wide variance in travel experience with their guests. Some guests are super well traveled, some guests, this is their first time out of the country and they don't know a lot of things that we take for granted.

Things like that. The name on your passport has to match the name on your reservation. Not sorta. It has to match the name on your reservation. Or if you don't have a passport, there may be some things in your past that limit your availability to get a passport. So before you put in a reservation, before you put money down on a trip, let's knock these things out right away because I'm trying to save future Ashley from having problems down the road when these people have paid a deposit and then they come back and say, but my passport's expired or I didn't know that I can't leave the country.

I really we're just trying to prevent issues by sharing and being transparent at every step of the process. .

[00:38:19] Steph: And when we were looking at the couples pages, so I remember when we were talking earlier, you mentioned that you had looked cuz your site is built on WordPress and you suddenly realize oh, instead of looking at the themes just for travel agencies, I should, I'm in the destination wedding space. And can you explain a little bit about that?

[00:38:36] Ashley: Yeah, sure. So I think for better or for worse, one thing that we get locked into, and we have blinders on, is that travel industry, people tend to only look at travel industry tools or travel industry resources.

And I have tried from the beginning to get inspiration and input from other industries because that's how I stand out. I don't wanna look like every other travel advisor website out there. I don't wanna look like everybody that's using the same pre-packaged website or the same, resources, same social media.

Like I'm trying to be different because couples have a choice and I want them to see the different options that are out there.

Yes. So when I was looking at a website designer, it's my website is built on WordPress, but the design tool is show it. That's the overlay that we use to design it. And I looked for, show it designers that really had more wedding industry expertise. So they worked with wedding photographers, traditional wedding planners, like I wanna be in the wedding space, not in the travel space. And that helps us stand out from the pack and that helps us have something that looks different than every other travel advisor out there.

[00:39:44] Steph: Yeah, exactly. Now, okay, so let's go through, I'm gonna show the screen again and then I just want to— hold on, I am not sharing my screen like I thought I was.

Okay, so then you also have the payment section on your site. So everything is I don't wanna say automated cuz I know there's work behind the scenes.

But you can send the clients—

[00:40:03] Ashley: it's very efficient.

[00:40:04] Steph: Yeah. It just saves so much time. But you have the payment information here where they can put their payment in right away. And then, I didn't point this out, but on the group section, I'll go back to this, but in the reservations at the very bottom there's the inventory.

So if there's only one room available for the junior swim up suite they can see that right in there. Let me see where that is.

[00:40:25] Ashley: Room type right there. Yeah.

[00:40:27] Steph: Oh, here we go. Nope.

[00:40:29] Ashley: Bedding type.

[00:40:30] Steph: No.

[00:40:30] Ashley: Nope, just above it.

[00:40:31] Steph: Room. Oh, here we go. There we go. Yeah. So eight available, 10 available. And that's with vacation C R M integration, right?

[00:40:37] Ashley: Yes. So vacation CR. is a fantastic tool. And one of the things that I have to give Steve and team credit for are they are, is that they are very open to user feedback. And so over the years I've been using Vacation CRM since the beginning, like I was a very early adopter of that tool. And over time it has grown and changed so much because so many successful advisors give their feedback.

And because Vacation CRM and their team are willing to incorporate that feedback and add features. So that group inventory feature is something that was added and it's been fantastic. It cuts down on our back and forth with guests so much that they can just choose the room they want and that it forces them to make a choice.

Some of these CRMs, you, it just has a write-in box and then we found that half the guests would forget to write in a room type and we would've to chase them down and say but where do you wanna sleep? What kinda room do you want? And having. Tools that are directly connected to our room invo inventory really helps us be more efficient, so then we have more time to spend with other people.

[00:41:41] Steph: It blows my mind that this wasn't something that was available 15 years ago. the like technology.

[00:41:49] Ashley: Yeah. And a lot of tools in the tr there's a lot of different types of travel advisors like, and a lot of tools in the travel industry are built for kind of the lowest common denominator.

They have to serve everyone. They have to serve people who do Europe, they have to serve people who do Disney. They have to serve people that do contracted groups like me. Like it's really impossible to have a tool that fits every part of the business. And so having a system like this, The ownership, like the company that owns that CRM is so open to agent feedback and they're willing to grow and adapt and change.

that's been critical for my growth because I know if I have an idea, I can just go to Steve and team and say, Hey, I was thinking about doing it this way. And he'll probably do it at some point, like they will add it. It's amazing. The partnership there is fantastic and I highly, I know there's a lot of choices out there and you have to do what's right for you, but for me, Vacation CRM is a game changer.

[00:42:41] Steph: We'll also put a link in,

[00:42:43] Ashley: enjoy that plug guys.

[00:42:45] Steph: Yeah, we'll also put a link into Vacation CRM for people as well as the show it WordPress builder. So for people that are interested,

[00:42:53] Ashley: sorry, I wanna add to that any— the best c R M is the one you use. like the one that you use to keep yourself organized.

I sometimes in this business we get shiny object syndrome and if somebody says like the name of a tool, everyone runs to the name of that tool. It doesn't have to be V C R M, it just needs to be the one that you use. There's a lot of good options out there. Travel joy, TESS, all of them. You just have to get really good at that.

Pick one and go with it. Pick one and learn everything about it and try to make it work. Whatever the tool is, the tool's not important. You just have to use it and use it to its greatest capability.

Agency Operations

[00:43:28] Steph: Now let's move into another topic, but I always like to ask about which is fees. And that'll fall into our next segment, which is the agency operations.

And the reason I like to ask about fees is because there are so many different approaches to it. So you already shared that you do charge a fee for the cons consultation. So tell us why you charge a fee. You did a little bit, but maybe do a quick recap.

[00:43:51] Ashley: Yeah. So I've charged fees from day one.

If you Google around out there, I was a guest on another podcast talking about fees that's the only other podcast I've ever done. This is only the second one I've done. And that one I did talk about fees. So it's out there. I have charged a fee from day one because my time is valuable and I want to know that the people I am working with are equally as committed to working with me.

I don't want tire kickers, I don't want window shoppers. I want people who buy in to what I'm doing and are on board through the whole way. So I think some of that comes from my advertising background. I know that sometimes it's hard for people to conceptualize I don't have a product. I'm not selling anything.

Like, how can I don't have a thing, like a widget like that I'm selling. But you do, it's your brain and it's your knowledge and it's your time.

[00:44:40] Steph: Mm-hmm...

[00:44:40] Ashley: I know more than people about destination weddings. That is worth something. And yes, I do charge a fee because being realistic, I've gotta keep these lights on for the next year.

Working on weddings, that's a long lead time. It's a long purchase cycle. I'm with these couples for a year and a half, so I can't gamble on just hoping that everybody books with me , like , if I do that, if I'm just solely relying on that commission, I can't keep myself in business for the next year.

So yes, I have charged a fee, and I do think that came from my advertising agency mindset because when you hire an ad agency, you're paying for humans and brains and expertise and knowledge. It's it's less tangible. And so that was always an easier concept for me to grasp coming from that. Does that make sense?

I feel like I'm just rambling , but

[00:45:27] Steph: No, it does. And you mentioned too that you, you tried doing it as a deposit kind of pay-to-go yeah.

[00:45:33] Ashley: Yep.

[00:45:33] Steph: And then that was just, yeah, that was just really messy via your bookkeeping.

[00:45:37] Ashley: That's the word. It was just messy because.... I know a lot— I do think that is a good stepping stone for people who aren't charging fees.

I will say that like I think that's a good, like training wheels to get into the practice of asking for it upfront. If that's what you have to do to make yourself feel comfortable, that's great.

But pretty quickly I jumped into just straight fee because the accounting messiness of it was, Hard. If I did a plan to go deposit and put it towards their trip, what happens if they cancel? When do I refund them? Do I refund them at final payment? Do I refund them when I travel? What was just messy, so I just went to straight fee and that made things a lot easier. .

[00:46:10] Steph: And for those that aren't familiar with the plan to go, it's, you put down whatever the fee is, and then once you actually make the booking, you put that money towards the booking.

 So it's not like a separate fee per se, it's almost like a deposit.

And then the other thing I thought was interesting you did was when you talk with your couples, you tell them, you ask them, are you aware of how travel advisors are compensated? So tell us the thought process behind that.

[00:46:34] Ashley: This is just part of me being crazy transparent, probably to a fault , like probably like just, it's part of my personality and I don't know any other way to be. I think that there is this mystery in the world of how travel advisors make a living, and so I, that's part of my like, closing process. As I'm talking to the couple, I'm asking about their wedding.

I'm explaining how the wedding planning process works. I'm explaining what the hotel does versus what I do. We're getting all their questions answered so they feel good and confident. and then there's usually a natural pause and sometimes they will even ask, those are the best consults when they say, okay, what's your fee?

Because I've done such a good job of explaining everything we do at every stage in the process. They are now prepped and ready that I'm a specialist and that just like their wedding photographer, just like any other vendor that there is a fee of working with me, they're ready and four times outta five they ask me, which is great.

And so I start off my answer by saying before I answer that, are you aware of how travel agents make a living? Like I just wanna tell you how I get paid so I can explain how this process works and this is how we're all on the same page. And I will walk them through that. Travel advisors work on commission and I usually give an example of let's say you came to me for a honeymoon because it's easier for me to explain a trip for two people than a trip for 80 people, which is what a wedding is.

And I walk them through listen, I work on commission. I get compensated for my time, expertise, relationships with the hotels, like my knowledge. When I make the actual booking and when you return home. So this is a backwards industry where we're not compensated for all that good stuff until the client actually returns home.

So to make sure I'm working with the people who are the most ready to go and the most ready to start working, I do charge, I call it a setup fee at the beginning. I do charge a setup fee for weddings. This is what it is. This covers me. This is the only thing you pay to me, and now I'm yours for the next 18 months.

And that once I explain it that way, they get that there's risk on my side. Yeah. And working with them too, like obviously they're uneasy because this is a big process that they've never done before. I've hopefully made them comfortable with all my knowledge of how this works, but then I want them to see Hey, this is like I'm choosing to work with you too.

And this is also risky for me. We're both, putting something on the line. Let's agree to work together and move forward. .

[00:48:56] Steph: And Ashley thought this was really weird and people I always tell my guests, I do a lot of research on you before we even get on the call, . And I was like, you were very thorough.

I know. I was like, I was in your like, terms and conditions or something. I can't even remember. I think it is terms and conditions, , but she does have within there too. There's fees outside of it. The changes to the reservations. , the late fees. The cancellation fees. So that if someone does end up booking or like canceling their reservation for some reason that there's compensation there, but you don't always charge that, is that correct?

[00:49:27] Ashley: Not always. It depends on the situation. Sometimes that's there because that's a fee I'm charged by the hotel. And I have to pass that through. Like I have to cover that if that's the case. Sometimes they're convenience fees, if we're making a lot of changes to a booking and a thing like takes time.

Yeah. And that takes time away. That I could be spending on booking another room or working with another couple. If you wedding guest, there's just a time in life where there's a lot of change sometimes with their friends. We've had couples where they've changed their plus one, like their date four or five times, that's because there's breakups and new girlfriends do you know, significant others. We have to change that name four times. You know by about the second time, I'm gonna charge you for the time because now that's time, that's, I've lost, like I can't get that time back. Time's the only resource we have and I need to cover that time.

[00:50:16] Steph: And then there's flexibility, if someone has a terrible situation that you don't feel comfortable charging if fee, you don't have to. You can say I'm waving this, but..

 Let's move into tech-wise. So what do you use in-house? You mentioned Dubsado, vacation c r m, anything else? Any other tools you're using?

[00:50:33] Ashley: Yes. The two other big ones are Travefy which I think is fairly common at this point. A lot of advisors use Travefy.

[00:50:40] Steph: Yeah.

[00:50:41] Ashley: I use it for proposals and documents. Like itineraries. We use it for both.

And Loom, I am a huge advocate of Loom. If you're not familiar, it's a screen recording tool. You can make videos of your screen and I use Loom for everything from presenting the actual proposal to the couple, like here's the four or five resorts I think are a good fit for you.

The documents for the guest, Hey guest, you're invited to this wedding. Let me show you how you're gonna find your transfer. Let me show you, how to fill out your immigration form or whatever it is. Like we do a lot of Loom and that's really because everybody learns in different ways.

Everybody absorbs information in different ways. With group travel, it's a lot more about managing logistics and repetition than it is about— it's just a lot of that, it's a lot of logistics and repetition. If you have a group of 50 people, not everyone's gonna read everything you send.

Like we are crazy to think that clients are gonna read every word of every document that they send. But if you take that document and break it up into pieces and send it out, with an email series or making a video about it, if you, the more that you repeat that information and share it in different ways, the more likely it's gonna stick somewhere.

And then that's one last question you have to answer down the road.

[00:51:54] Steph: And the nice thing I like— we love Loom too, and use it all the time. The nice thing is if someone's like not understanding it the first time, they can always go back and watch it.

[00:52:02] Ashley: Yes.

[00:52:02] Steph: Because some people don't pick up on things quite as quickly or grasp it quite as well

[00:52:07] Ashley: Yeah, it's helpful for the last minute questions too. These wedding guests, they're bombard— they have a life, they have a jobs, they have kids, they have other things. This wedding is one tiny piece of their day and their life. We think it's everything to them, but in reality it's not. And so Loom was really good.

I added an email to— I have a pre-travel series of emails that goes out to wedding guests. I get that's another tool, like it's through Vacation CRM, but just automated emails themselves as a tool is worth mentioning. But the very last email that is in the pre-travel series now is top five last minute questions about whatever the destination is.

And I stick a Loom video in there too. And I'm like, you're probably gonna ask me about transportation. So if you didn't have a chance to read, I know you're busy. Let me tell you one more time about how to find your transfer or how to do this. And that alone cut down on the last minute questions immensely.

I no longer fear— I used to get really stressed when a group was traveling because I'm like, oh my God, I'm gonna lose my whole day to all the questions. And it doesn't happen anymore. And it's amazing because everyone feels so prepped and ready. And that in my reviews too. Like one of the things that you see in those client reviews is all of my guests felt so prepared.

Ashley at work

All of my guests knew Ashley was there if we needed something. And I love that. That makes me feel so good about my job. ,

[00:53:26] Steph: I like the repetition because that's not something I hear people say, but I do think you're, when people get...." they didn't read my email!" And I'm like I think we've all, I think we've all done that where we haven't read the emails very carefully.

Yeah. And so repetition is a great way to cut down on those questions. And I put a link to Loom and Travefy. Yes. And I know you use Acuity too for—

[00:53:47] Ashley: oh yeah, I forgot about that.

[00:53:48] Steph: Scheduling.

[00:53:48] Ashley: Yes. Acuity scheduling. So for people to schedule an appointment with me, it's an Acuity embedded form on my site.

And then I have a separate Acuity link that is just for my clients. Like after you've already paid and you work with me, I have a separate calendar that has a little bit more availability. So if they just have a question or a check-in or something, they can schedule that time. And for wedding couples that have already paid, I'll do a Saturday morning, I'll do a later evening because they've already invested their time in me.

I know that it's worth it. And that's been a great tool too.

 Back to the repetition thing. I literally did not put that together until just now in real time. That's also from my advertising days, because frequency, ah, is a thing. You ha-- somebody has to see the same ad three or four times before they take action.

That's called frequency like, and we wanted— we used to measure frequency and how many times people would see a message. I think I'm just subconsciously building frequency. . . So it, I didn't even realize it till now, but they have to hear it three times that they're not gonna do anything. That's better. Yeah.

[00:54:49] Steph: Let's switch gears and move into the next segment. Cause I wanna talk a little bit about marketing and those cute stuffed Alka animals that I saw on your Facebook page. So I'm gonna pull up—

[00:55:00] Ashley: I'm looking...

[00:55:00] Steph: do you have one?

[00:55:01] Ashley: I was just looking. Lemme get one.

[00:55:03] Steph: Okay.

[00:55:04] Ashley: Yeah, hang on. Yeah.

[00:55:06] Steph: This is gonna be so exciting because they're adorable and I'm gonna pull it up on the Facebook page.

Let me, it's hard to do all this stuff live...

[00:55:16] Ashley: Real time people. Magic of technology!

[00:55:18] Steph: For real!

[00:55:19] Ashley: So we have these and new brand new. This is exclusive . I got these little pinatas made .

[00:55:27] Steph: Oh, that's super cute.

[00:55:30] Ashley: Yeah.

[00:55:30] Steph: So is there, actually, you can put stuff in them or no?

[00:55:33] Ashley: No they're just hollow. I guess it could, there's not like an opening to it.

I would have to figure that out. But there's a company, it's Lula Flora and she actually started off in the wedding business and now makes these mini pinatas. She's on Etsy and I found her and thought those were super cute. So yes, we have these. That is adorable.

More alpaca cuteness
Alpaca getting famous in Fiji

[00:55:50] Steph: And here, so I'm gonna pull this up because this is there's a little alpaca just traveling around Mexico and the Caribbean. So tell us a little bit more about the marketing idea behind this.

[00:56:02] Ashley: Sure. So this is part of my weird , like this is that quirky personality thing of just not taking this so seriously. I love, so once I had the alpaca name, I knew that I had to like, connect that somewhere or it just didn't make any sense.

And so the way that I connected that to the travel is by sending these to all of our clients. So wedding couples get these, honeymoon couples get these, family. I do a very small amount of family travel, but I do send these. And the idea is that they can take their picture of their alpaca in fun places, send those pictures to me, and then I'll post them on our social.

And we've gotten some creative stuff. Like this little guy has been floating in a floaty at Hard Rock . He's been, on a boat. He's been sipping cocktails. Like we, we do get, our clients are really creative and we get a lot of good stuff. And then that's been great social media content over the years.

[00:56:55] Steph: Oh yeah, it's fantastic. It was really fun to—- it's Flat Stanley, but the alpaca version!

[00:57:01] Ashley: That's the exact idea. And the original, like the OG alpaca is my, like the first one I ever got. I, that poor guy, his eyes falling off , he's all beaten up. I have to only show the one side in pictures because it's just falling apart.

Alpaca in Fiji
Alpaca's Fiji portrait

But that one's, I've had that one since the beginning and that's a fun thing for me to bring on trips and FAMs and site inspections and things like that too.

I also give them to vendors. So when I do site inspections and meet with the wedding team, I make them a little goody bag because I think that relationship is equally as important as the relationship with our client.

And so a lot of the wedding teams I meet with, I'll make them a little goody bag with a mug or an alpaca. And then it's fun to see those in their office. And other advisors will say, oh, I had a meeting with when I saw your alpaca in their office. I, it's just my way of being everywhere.

[00:57:51] Steph: That's awesome. Brilliant marketing idea.


[00:57:54] Steph: So I wanna, okay, we're running a little short time, so I've gotta speed through, otherwise we talk more about marketing. But I wanna check on on just the wisdom you've had from being in the agency world for quite a long time now. Sure. So what's your favorite place or places to get your learning on within the travel industry? What do you find most helpful?

[00:58:13] Ashley: Oh gosh, that's a good one. I don't think there is anything that can replace actually traveling, which I know seems obvious, but it's sometimes something that gets pushed to the back burner because we're all busy and it's a, you do have to invest. It can be expensive but ev—- nothing, there's no webinar in the world that compares to seeing a resort in person. There is no course or program or something that you sign up for and spend money. Nothing will replace being there and meeting that GM or sales manager or wedding planner in the flush. Like nothing replaces that personal experience.

And so when I'm sitting down at the end of every year and looking at my business budget and where I'm going to invest for the coming year, my biggest line item is travel. And it always has been because I love being able to tell people, I've been to 175 plus all-inclusive resorts. I'm giving you this advice because I've been there and I've seen.

And I think sometimes that gets forgotten. People are so worried about, oh, I need to take this training and I need to be this, this certificate or this whatever. Nothing will replace actually traveling and , why our clients come to us is for that expertise, not just in the destination, but how do I check in for my flight?

How do I fill out these forms? How during the pandemic when we had all these like regulations, extra steps people had to take to travel. It was really important to actually show people that so they can see, I'm telling you this because I've done it and this is what it's like when you get there.

[00:59:46] Steph: Exactly. You I'm gonna link to during Host Week, we had, when you're talking about the relationships on the travel industry side of things, and not just with our clients, we had a session on bus— like B2B business to business marketing and how that is just as important in the travel industry as it is for networking for your agency and finding clients like it's very relationship based.

Ashley, probably because she's very memorable if she's bringing in an alpaca and like little gifts for the wedding team, that means a lot. And, her emails, I'm sure float to the top versus someone that they've never met and has not given them an alpaca. That for me, I know brings people to the top of my list.

[01:00:27] Ashley: So yeah, it's, I think that relationship is critical and one that can be overlooked. But realistically speaking, we can do everything right. In this job, we can get everyone prepared. We can tell them everything they need to know, but the people on the ground in the destination, they take it the final mile.

We are nothing without the people in the destination. And so making relationships with the transfer companies, with the resorts, with the wedding team, just thanking them. Like a thank you after every wedding. I email the thank the wedding team and say, thank you. They had such a great time. Here's a piece of the review they left me. Just something to share.

So everyone at every step along the way feels appreciated because this is a very delicate ecosystem and we are all helping each other. We have to give our appreciation to the people in the destination too, because they are the ones that make or break the final experience.

[01:01:23] Steph: Yeah. And so for, let's see. For any new listeners that are out there, do you have any words of wisdom for them as they're getting started?

[01:01:33] Ashley: I have a lot, I have a lot of opinions. big shocker. You're running out of time because I can't stop talking. Be a sponge. Learn — expose your brain to as much information as you can, and it's okay if you take some time to pick a niche, like finding a niche and travel is very important.

You do need, in my opinion, to be successful. The most successful people in this business specialize. It's really hard to be everything to everyone. And what's that saying? If you don't specialize, if you're not good at one thing, then you're ba you know what I'm trying to say?

Best of Weddings the Knot

[01:02:04] Steph: I know what you're saying and I'm terrible at remembering quotes too.

[01:02:07] Ashley: It's, you have to be good at something or you're bad at everything. Like you have to be known for some-- and it's so much easier to market when you have a niche. It's so much easier to be known for something. That doesn't mean that's the only thing you ever do.

Yeah. Weddings are my business. That's what I market, that's what on my website. But I book other travel for my repeat clients. I do book other things. It's just weddings are, what brings it, brings people in. And so being a sponge, taking in as much as you can. and yes, pick a niche eventually, but it's okay if that takes some time.

it's okay if you try a lot of different things and realize it's not for you. Like it's okay if maybe you start off thinking you wanna do weddings and groups, and then you get into it and you're like, oh my God, I hate this . Like I can't do this. And that happens. It does, and life is too short as we have very recently learned, life is too short to do something you don't enjoy.

So figure out what it is not only that you're interested in and can be profitable and can support you and your family, but that you also enjoy it too. I think that's a really big piece of advice for people who are coming into this.

Do this because you love it. It's too hard if you don't love it.

[01:03:16] Steph: Yeah. And it's too easy to get burned out in the traveling industry cuz it's there's a lot of balls in the air when you're working.

So before we move into our last segment, the Indispensable segment, one more quick question. For most entrepreneurs, whether it's been you've been an entrepreneur for five months or 20 years, whatever it is, the work life balance is very hard for a lot of people to manage.

So , how do you balance it? Any advice on that?

[01:03:40] Ashley: First off, I don't think there is such a thing. I think ev— balance is a big word and you're never in a single day gonna be totally balanced. Sometimes family is more important, sometimes work is more important. Sometimes you gotta put yourself first, like you gotta take breaks and you have to self care is a big part of being an entrepreneur.

because all we do is give all day long to people and we have to make sure that we are filling up our own cup and being there for ourselves and make taking time as well. So I think balance is a myth. I think that there's always gonna be things that need to be prioritized at a certain time, but the way, if I feel I am out of balance, if I feel like I need to course correct or switch things up a little bit, I'm a big list maker.

I'm a big priority person, and I just have to take a step back and look at what's going on for the week, how— what is most important today, what is most important this week, what is most important this month, and try to keep those three things in check.

I got very burned out during Covid. I think most people did.

It was a brutal time and me doing weddings, I rescheduled 39 weddings that year. Oh, 39 weddings, times 50, 60 guests a piece, times chaos. It was a really tough time.

And there were a couple of times, if I'm being really honest, that I second guessed if I even wanted to do this anymore. It was hard.

I had to take a break. I had to take a step back and just reevaluate. But I also learned about myself. I got into this because I love travel and sometimes when we make a hobby, a business and our livelihood, it sucks the fun out of it. and we forget, we lose sight of why we got into this in the first place.

So because I was building a business so quickly, all of my travel during the first few years was all inclusive resorts. Doing, trying to invest in things that made sense that I could make money on, that I could monetize later. And I wasn't taking the time for myself. I forgot to travel just for fun.

I forgot that you don't have to post every single thing you do on a trip. You can post it later. You can enjoy the moment and then have that content for later. I really had to reset my brain to say travel is fun and I don't have to give all of it to everyone. I can keep some of that for myself and just enjoy it for what it is.

So finding time to schedule trips just for the sake of trips to enjoy my love of travel again, was really important to find that balance after the pandemic.


[01:06:04] Steph: That is a fantastic note to wind things down on. For our next segment, the indispensable one, this is where we ask travel advisors what technology, book, or person has been indispensable to the growth of their agency.

And then tell us why. So Ashley, what's yours?

[01:06:20] Ashley: Oh, not shocking, I'm gonna pick something different. It has nothing to do with travel and has nothing to do with anything else. It's a book called The Pumpkin Plan by Mike Malowitz is his name. And the Pumpkin Plan is of a business book, but it's written in a way that I think everyone can understand and absorb.

It's a very quick read. It's a very easy read. And when he was writing the book, he interviewed these people. You know when you go to the state fair and there are these farmers that grow these pumpkins that are like the size of a car—

[01:06:51] Steph: Oh I sure do!

[01:06:51] Ashley: You have the Minnesota State Fair, that is one of the best ones.

[01:06:55] Steph: So you know!

[01:06:56] Ashley: It is!

He— it's about specialization and focus. And so he interviewed all these pumpkin farmers and basically said, okay how do you make these big pumpkins? Do you like, have a whole field and you pick the best and you focus on like those 10 or those five and just make them great? And every winner he found consistently, every major winner win all in on one pumpkin.

The one pumpkin that they planted from a seed and nurtured and fed and watered and grew, all of their attention went into that one pumpkin. And it was do or die with that one pumpkin. And that's how they won these crazy contests and the state fairs and everything else. So they weren't spreading themselves too thin.

They weren't giving energy to things that didn't deserve the energy. They were really just focusing on one thing and doing that one thing really well, and that was their success. And so the way that applies to our business is, don't spread yourself too thin. Don't get distracted by shiny objects.

Don't compare yourself to others. Comparison is the thief of joy. That is a quote that I tell myself all the time. Focus on yourself. Do one thing really well, and that is your success, and that's what's gonna drive you to the next level.

[01:08:06] Steph: Yeah. The art of specialization is where your value really can come in.

So I'm gonna, I'm gonna put a link to that because I also wanna check this out and I'm curious how he ever decided to write a book about large pumpkins, .

[01:08:20] Ashley: I love it.

[01:08:21] Steph: I know, me too !

Well, Ashley, it has been an absolute pleasure to picking your brain today and hearing about your journey as an agency owner.

Thank you so much for taking the time.

[01:08:31] Ashley: Thank you. Thanks for having me. This was fun.

[01:08:34] Steph: Yeah. And just for those listening in, because all of our guests, I, I don't think people know this, but all of our guests are so generous with their— everyone has successful agencies, they have busy lives and I always, before I do these recordings, I always do like a one and a half to two hour interview with them beforehand to really get to know their agency. And I ask all sorts of questions as mentioned before. So it's in total, it's a good two and a half, three hour commitment from our guests, which I don't think a lot of people will realize.

So thank you again, Ashley.

[01:09:05] Ashley: Oh, you're so welcome. I just, if anybody found any of this helpful, it was worth it. So thanks for having me.

[01:09:11] Steph: Yes, and thank you all for tuning in today. Our TAC episodes come out quarterly except for, of course, this one, which is embarrassingly late. So thank you everyone for your patience on this.

But don't worry because in the podcast feed or on our YouTube channel, you can also catch the Friday 15 every week where we answer the industry questions that you've submitted at 12:00 PM at Central Time. And we'll be back with another TAC episode in the next month or so. And that will actually be our Q1 2023 podcast since this is our Q4 2022 podcast.

So keep an eye out for that. And if you missed Host Week a few weeks ago, don't forget to check out the link in the show notes where you can watch 30 hours of excellent content and free that will really help you up your agency game.

So that is all for now, kiddos. We will see you all very soon.

[01:10:01] Ashley: Bye-bye. Thanks.

[01:10:03] Steph: A special thanks to today's sponsor, Outside Agents.


[01:10:08] Steph: You can read a transcript, view the show notes, and watch a video of today's episode all in one place. So head on over to and click on episode 25.

You'll also be able to see pictures of Ashley and perhaps some cute alpacas or stuffed animals in the transcript.

Now the travel season is starting to gear up do you know what travel industry events and opportunities are out there? Don't forget to check out HARs Industry events Calendar with over 60 events in 2023. Everything from conferences to FAMs to webinars, and you can find it by going to this very well named URL: