Sun, April 21, 2024

Pivoting in a pandemic

What does a travel advisor in Evans, Georgia, do when people are not going on vacation?

The global pandemic of 2020 really took its toll. Agents spent most of the year canceling all of the amazing vacations that we planned for people in 2019. It was heartbreaking, brutal, exhausting, and devastating. We truly put our heart and soul into planning each vacation for our clients, and to have to undo all of that was hard. Very hard. Our Vacations To Remember team worked 16 hour days for most of March, April, May, and June doing nothing but fielding questions, canceling trips, deciphering travel policies, and processing refunds. It was like we were walking through a nightmare.

Unfortunately, when people don’t travel, we don’t get paid so it wasn’t easy for our small business to continue to pay rent, utilities, phone, Internet, and salaries just to stay available to our clients looking for refunds, but we did it. And we are now back to planning vacations for those ready to get back to living and some looking forward to 2022 and beyond.

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It’s still a challenge trying to navigate these new waters with every country having different restrictions, the CDC coming out with new guidelines for Americans traveling abroad and all of the travel protocols we need to advise our clients of but we are doing it because we love travel and we love our clients.

When the pandemic hit, Julie Lanham and her team at Vacations to Remember worked 16 hour days canceling clients’ dream vacations.

After the initial shock began to wear off, I started to think of all of my friends in the wedding business. They had it hard too. Most of them are small business owners, and the wedding industry was impacted very significantly during the pandemic. I watched so many of them on social media vent about canceled weddings or rescheduled weddings and how heartbroken they were for their couples. No one was complaining about lost business… They were just genuinely sad to see these couples lose their dream weddings that they had waited so long for. That was exactly how I felt about canceling vacations.

That’s how my wedding vendor friends felt about watching these weddings slip away. Sad. Just so so sad.

I have been in the travel industry for 35 years, and I’ve owned a travel agency for the last 25 years in the CSRA. During this time, I have really fallen in love with planning honeymoons. That has introduced me to an entire second industry that I feel very connected to. I do tons of bridal expos and events that introduce me to local wedding professionals, and I’ve really gotten to know a lot of them very well over the years. These people are amazing. They make dreams come true! I decided I had to do something to help them, so an idea was born…

Towards the end of 2020, when bridal fairs were not happening and we didn’t know when people could all be in a room together again, I decided to launch www.AugustaWeddingPlanning.com.

From dream vacations to dream weddings, Julie Lanham leaned into her marketing skills and desire to help others. With the help of her friend and web designer Keziah Felak of Bek Design, she launched augustaweddingplanning.com.

Initially, it was a love letter to wedding professional friends who I knew couldn’t get out and advertise their services for future weddings. I bought the domain name, gathered my favorite wedding professionals, and mentioned it to a friend Keziah Felak with Bek Design, and she graciously offered to assist in making the entire project so much better than it ever could have been—with expert web and marketing help!

When we launched the website on Valentine’s Day, 2021, we had approximately 20 businesses listed. Mainly those I knew and trusted. No one was charged a penny as this was all a mission to help after a really hard year, but then I realized what an amazing resource this was for local couples planning their wedding!

Meeting vendors is still challenging, so I expanded our vendor list and include as many as possible in an effort to make the wedding process painless.

All of the wedding professionals listed on augustaweddingplanning.com are serious about what they do, experienced in their field, and completely vetted by us.

I’ve literally seen hundreds of brides post in local networking groups on Facebook asking for recommendations on the best wedding photographer, florist, planner, venue, etc. and every post gets so many comments.

Lanham has been in the travel industry for 35 years. As a result of the pandemic, she pivoted and launched a successful online wedding planning website. Augusta Wedding Planning now lists around 70 area vendors.

When you ask for a recommendation for a professional make-up artist for your wedding day, do you want someone who does weddings every weekend or someone that does it as a hobby? You don’t really know who someone is that gets tagged in the comments of a Facebook post!

With the help of my team at Vacations To Remember, we have approximately 70 amazing wedding businesses listed so far.

We spotlight a different pro on Instagram every day so brides can get to know the vendors’ services and the owners. I am so proud of this venture and have such high hopes. If it helps local couples connect with their perfect vendor and weddings can get back to the way they used to be, my job is done!

For more info reach Julie at 706-869-8355 or visit www.AugustaWeddingPlanning.com.

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