In this episode of TravelPreneur, we engage in an insightful discussion of a world of personalized travel experiences with Chris Dehner, Director of Marketing for Modern Destination Weddings, Modern Travelworks, and Modern Travel Agent. The discussion centers around how Modern Travelworks crafts unforgettable journeys for its clients, leveraging industry relationships, in-destination experiences, and a deep understanding of client preferences. The conversation also explores the meticulous planning involved in destination weddings and group travel, highlighting how Modern Destination Weddings ensures seamless execution and cherished memories.
Lessons You’ll Learn:
Listeners will gain valuable insights into the strategies employed by Modern Travelworks to stay attuned to the latest travel trends and adapt its offerings to meet evolving customer demands. Chris shares his journey from a travel agent to a marketing director, offering valuable lessons on aligning marketing strategies with firsthand industry experience. The importance of building strong industry relationships and leveraging innovative marketing tools is emphasized, providing aspiring travel marketers and entrepreneurs with actionable advice for success in the competitive travel market.
About Our Guest:
Chris Dehner, the accomplished Director of Marketing for Modern Destination Weddings, Modern Travelworks, and Modern Travel Agent, brings a wealth of experience to the podcast. With a background that spans from being a travel agent to assuming a pivotal role in marketing, Chris embodies a unique blend of industry expertise and strategic vision. Through his journey, there are valuable insights into the evolution of travel businesses and the integration of innovative marketing strategies. As a dynamic leader, Chris is at the forefront of shaping the future of Modern Travelworks, delivering personalized travel experiences that leave an indelible mark on clients.
The episode covers a range of topics, including the intricacies of organizing destination weddings and group travel, staying attuned to travel trends, fostering industry relationships, and utilizing innovative marketing tools. Chris discusses the company’s vision for the future, integrating technology to enhance customer experiences, and offers advice to aspiring travel marketers and entrepreneurs. The conversation provides a comprehensive look into the world of Modern Travelworks and its commitment to delivering exceptional travel experiences.
Our Guest: Chris Dehner, Ambassador of Transformative Travel Experiences
Chris Dehner, the accomplished Director of Marketing for Modern Destination Weddings, Modern Travelworks, and Modern Travel Agent, is more than just a travel industry professional; he’s a passionate advocate for the transformative power of travel. With a deep understanding of the industry’s nuances, Chris believes that travel goes beyond the itinerary—it’s a journey that enriches lives and broadens perspectives. His commitment to providing personalized vacations reflects not only professional expertise but also a genuine belief in the profound impact of exploring new destinations.
Beyond the world of travel, Chris is a multifaceted individual with a love for diverse interests. His passion for gaming, musical pursuits with the guitar and singing, and a penchant for delving into sci-fi/fantasy novels and books on psychology, philosophy, business, history, and evolutionary biology, highlight a well-rounded personality. Chris’s dedication to continuous learning and exploration extends beyond the travel domain, showcasing a holistic approach to personal and professional growth.
Chris’s perspective on life is deeply influenced by his travel experiences. For him, travel catalyzes self-discovery, providing moments of gratitude and a break from the routine. His keen insights into the human condition, evident in discussions on psychology, philosophy, and evolutionary biology, contribute to a rich tapestry of interests. Whether engaging in late-night conversations or leisurely poolside reading, Chris’s approach to life reflects a harmonious balance between professional acumen, personal passions, and an unwavering appreciation for the beauty of diverse experiences.
Chris Dehner: This industry is 100% relationship-driven. So there’s all types of travel agent only Facebook groups that you can join, that you can connect with other agents, see how they do business. Other people in the space quote-unquote competition. You can collaborate with them. There’s enough for everybody. So I think understanding that you can learn something from other people who are in the space, partners, build relationships with them. I think one of the biggest problems that entrepreneurs face is that grind is brutal and it’s lonely.
Megha McSwain: Welcome to Travel-Preneur, the weekly business show for the travel industry. I’m your host, Houston-based travel journalist, Megha McSwain. Each episode, we’ll be exploring what it takes to thrive as a business owner in the travel industry. From conversations with leading travel business executives and industry-focused venture capitalists to exploring the innovations that are shaping the next generation of travel business, if it impacts the travel industry, we cover it here on Travel-Preneur. Hello! Fellow travel enthusiasts. Welcome back to another episode of Travel-Preneur. I’m your host, Megha McSwain. Today we’re joined by Chris Dehner, the accomplished director of marketing for Modern Destination Weddings, Modern Travelworks, and Modern Travel Agent. Welcome, Chris.
Chris Dehner: Thank you. Megha, how are you doing?
Megha McSwain: Good. So glad you’re here. Chris, modern Travel Works is known for its dedication to creating personalized vacations for travelers. How does the company leverage its extensive knowledge of destination experience and industry relationships to curate these unique experiences for special events, weddings, you do lifetime moments for people? That’s great.
Chris Dehner: Yeah, it’s a lot. Yeah. For us, it really starts with our team. Our team loves to travel. A big part is you can’t really sell or recommend something unless you’ve experienced it yourself. And we live in a different world now, I think post-COVID maybe than we did before, where it’s super easy and accessible to be able to work from pretty much anywhere. So I think that’s a big part of it. Traveling, truly, is a passion for our team our agents love. They’re all over the place. I mean, right now, we have people in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Vallarta. We just had people come back from Europe, from Portugal, from London, Spain. It’s actually crazy. I think that’s a big part of it, being able to see and taste and experience it. So we know what to recommend for our clients to make sure that they get to have the experience that they want. And, then I think one of the things that I tell new agents when I’m mentoring them is, this industry is all about relationships. We’ve worked very hard to do things the right way and to treat our partners with kindness and to collaborate with them to solve problems when they arise, to make sure that our partners understand that we respect them and appreciate everything that they do for us. And I think that helps us too. Because, when our clients are in a destination, you always want everything to go perfectly. But I think you’re being honest… The true value of a team of travel agents or travel advisors is when things maybe get a little complicated. And so I think that’s really where having the relationships in destination help us to give our clients these crazy, awesome experiences, but then also resolve any types of complications and make sure everything’s always taken care of.
Megha McSwain: What key strategies are employed to ensure that each journey is not just a trip or a vacation? I mean, these are even beyond that. How do you ensure this really memorable experience for whether it’s the couple or the people celebrating or their friends, family members? Can you add that special touch?
Chris Dehner: Yeah, it’s a combination of a few things. On the front end, a trip isn’t just them in destination, it’s everything leading up to that. Our team works very hard to understand that the intricacies of each client. People have different personalities. We have some that are super type A and they want to be involved and they want to do research and they want to plan together. And it’s like they want to drink some mimosas and talk about the things that they found. And that’s cool. We can do that, right?
Megha McSwain: Yeah.
Chris Dehner: And then some people, it’s like busy business professional, I don’t care, I don’t have time. I want you to tell me what you think I should do, so I think a big part of it is leading from the personal understanding our clients, understanding the type of experience that they want to have leading up to the trip, asking the right questions, really making sure that we understand what they want, and then having the knowledge again from traveling to be able to recommend the types of experiences that they should have in the destination. There’s no reason to go to another country and spend the entire time at the resort. That’s just what I think. I think there are beautiful resorts. But you have to get out and you have to experience the destination and meet the people and do different things. And I think that’s a big part of what we try to do is to marry the two, make great recommendations, give them a great experience on the front end, and then tell them the cool experiences that they need to have off-property as well.
Megha McSwain: Right. Has the fun of a vacation or a trip is, it’s just the anticipation leading up to it? So I feel like even if you manage to take that stress away from the person, that pays for itself, right? So, destination weddings, specifically required, I mean, group travel requires meticulous planning coordination. How do modern destination weddings and modern travel works approach the intricacies of organizing those events? And how do your services and tailored solutions contribute to that seamless execution that you want?
Chris Dehner: Yeah, so I’ve talked about the team a lot. But again, it’s really, largely, about the team. I mean, for instance, the way that we organize and structure our company is a little bit different. A lot of, for instance, destination wedding travel agencies, they have a single person who takes care of the wedding couple. This person helps them find a venue and then books the wedding, but then also has to book the guests as well,
Megha McSwain: Right.
Chris Dehner: Well, this can create some conflict. Because, of course, from a business perspective, what the company gets paid for is booking travel for the guests, so there’s an incentive structure that’s problematic. Because you want to take care of the guests, you want to book the guests. But the number one, most important person, people is the wedding couple, right? They have to have every need taken care of, and they need to make sure that they’re confident in the process, so, I think that what we’ve done has put us in a very good place to be able to deliver on both sides. We have a wedding team that all that they do is work with the wedding couples to help them find the venue, to get the wedding booked, and to be there to assist with all of the nitty-gritty, of the wedding details. Because, you can’t know everything about every room category, and then also every wedding venue and every wedding package. So we split it up that way. And, then we have a travel team that works with the guests to book the travel for the guests and to make sure that they have all their questions answered about passports and transfers and, you know, kind of the nitty-gritty of the travel, so a big part is the way that we’ve set up the business is to be able to deliver a great experience to both the wedding couple and the guests as well.
Megha McSwain: That’s interesting. I never thought about that. I mean, obviously, the needs would be different, so that’s pretty smart doing it that way.
Chris Dehner: Yeah, It was almost by accident, because my mom, she was working with us. She just retired. But she has a family business. So it’s my brother started the company in 2006. My mom retired from being a high school, Spanish teacher in 2007, and then I started in 2009. And it just happened where my mom went to Puebla, Mexico, where my sister lives. She was having a child. My mom went for a couple of months to stay with her, and while she was out, I was just helping with the destination wedding stuff. And I was like, I think we can maybe divide responsibility. I didn’t really want to work with the wedding couple, you know like it’s different. It’s a different type of thing. So sometimes that’s the way that the things work. It’s just happened.
Megha McSwain: Organically, Right.
Chris Dehner: Exactly. So it’s been like that since then. So it’s been a good fit.
Megha McSwain: Interesting. So the travel industry is constantly evolving. We know that there are new trends, and new preferences from people, especially after Covid. As you mentioned, more people are working remotely. It’s easier to do things. How does modern travel work stay tuned to the latest travel trends and emerging customer demands? There’s always something new that people want, right?
Chris Dehner: Yeah. Again, because travel is so important to our team, they were going crazy during Covid. They were constantly going on trips. So I think that’s a big part of it is they’re also researching for themselves. They want to see what new places are coming up. For instance, maybe it was about five years ago you started to see Tulum as an alternative to what people felt like was, I’ve already done Cancun. Even though Cancun isn’t just one thing, right? You have Playa Mujeres, you have Cancun hotel zone, you have all along the Riviera Maya and.
Megha McSwain: Yeah, there’s tons to do.
Chris Dehner: There’s so much. But people felt like Cancun’s one thing and I’ve already done it. What is something else? And so Tulum was an alternative. And I think more recently we’ve seen stuff like Holbox and Bacalar and just in Mexico, as an example, become more popular. I got to go to Bacalar earlier this year. It’s off the charts. I mean, the Lagoon of Seven Colors, it’s unbelievable.
Megha McSwain: Wow!
So I got to experience that and see that. The Dominican Republic has been a destination that we’ve seen just growing incredibly. The things that their tourism board and their government is doing, I mean, they have these huge $90 million projects of fixing up the colonial zone in Santo Domingo. It’s incredible. So, to stay in touch with the trends and stuff, it’s like you need to be traveling and in destination, but then also just consuming the content. I mean, that’s a big thing is there’s so much great content on TikTok and YouTube and Instagram of people going around and experiencing things, and our team loves to consume that content too and see what’s new.
Megha McSwain: That’s a good way of getting the information, finding a place on social media and saying, “Okay! That looks really cool”. But then like going and experiencing for yourself, you might discover ten more things that are cool about that area or region. So I, definitely, agree with you that you have to experience it.
Chris Dehner: And it gives you the personal stories to tell. The best way to really paint the picture for a client is to have stories. I mean, that’s how our brains are structured. We do better if there are specifics. It’s a lot easier if you’re in a destination to say, “Well, here’s what my trip was like. This is what I did. This is my favorite part. I would have done this differently.” I think the storytelling aspect makes a big difference and can only really be done when you’ve been there.
Megha McSwain: Sure. So you transitioned from a travel agent to a marketing director. How has your first-hand experience in the travel industry influenced your marketing strategies? Clearly, you have a wealth of experience, but like, we mentioned, things are changing so fast. I’m sure just having that knowledge helps you navigate through the future.
Chris Dehner: There are a lot of things I learned from being a travel agent that would have been counterintuitive from the beginning. I remember early on, there was this sense of. Because in this industry, you have to hand your clients off so many times that you don’t control their experience and destination. Once they get to the transfer company or the hotel, that’s your partner’s responsibility. And so as an example, there is this feeling I remember early on where it’s like if something went wrong, I wanted to make sure they understood it wasn’t my fault because it’s like I have no control over that aspect. I’m going to do everything I can to be solution-oriented. But I realized quickly, like, the client doesn’t care, the client just wants it fixed. They don’t need an explanation, they just want their problem solved. When you have certain experiences like that, that’s affected the way that I think about marketing too. You don’t need all this over-the-top stuff. It’s just like what is their problem, What are they trying to solve, What are they trying to learn, What are they trying to know. Most wedding couples, if you’re honest, they have the same needs at the top level. They are overwhelmed. They’re stressed. They don’t know what to do. There’s too much information online. It’s like an overload. And they need a trusted person to hold their hand. That’s going to take care of them the entire stretch of the way and make recommendations and empower them to make the right decisions as well so that they also have an active part in the planning. So working one-on-one on the customer service side and the sales side helped me realize that sometimes we overcomplicate things. And if you just listen to the customer, they’re going to tell you what they want. And if you can just communicate your ability to deliver on that to your client, then I think that they’ll also respect and understand that too.
Megha McSwain: This episode is brought to you by travelpayments.com. Travel businesses have unique needs when it comes to credit card processing, from large average ticket sizes and tolerance for higher chargeback ratios to simple integrations with the most popular shopping card systems. The travel industry specialists at travelpayments.com have you covered. Unfortunately, many of the most popular credit card processors, initially, accept travel businesses. But without warning, freeze their merchant accounts and the thousands of dollars in them. Because these service providers don’t understand or support the unique needs of the travel industry business. Don’t get stuck with one of the big guys who will freeze you out without a moment’s notice. Instead, work with a travel industry specialist who will support your business every step of the way. Visit travelpayments.com to get a free quote today.
Megha McSwain: I know you mentioned the relationships that you have with people like partners on site. How do Modern Travel Works and its related brands foster these relationships with hotels, resorts, and airlines and just get those exclusive deals and packages that you’re able to then offer to your clients?
Chris Dehner: A big thing for us, being that we’re a family business, it was my brother, my mom, and I. And so it was like big on the company culture that when we started bringing people in, it was like a family. And I know that said a lot. But truly, to care about people, we’ve worked very hard to establish a company culture that is like a family where you love and you care and you take care of your team. And it’s not just our team. We never wanted it to just be like, “Oh, if we’re at an event, it’s just our team that’s a family”, and then everybody else is on the outside. That’s a horrible thing. So we’ve always been intentional about wanting the people around us to feel like they’re involved and they’re part of the family. And that also extends when things get complicated. Sometimes people lose their temper, and I’ve seen a lot of situations where agents will write an email to a partner. That’s why it’s not helpful. It’s rude, it’s aggressive. The way that we always work to communicate with our partners is first and foremost respect. We both want the same thing. We both want our mutual clients to have a great experience. So let’s focus on the solution and how we can fix it. And because we’ve worked very hard to be kind and respectful to our partners, I think they appreciate that. And that’s allowed us to build some great relationships because they know if everything’s going great, everything’s going great. But when things go hard, when there are challenges to be kind and respectful and to do things the right way. So I think that’s helped a lot.
Megha McSwain: That’s great advice all around, really.
Chris Dehner: Right. I mean, it’s also just if you’re just being selfish too, you’re going to get more out of just being kind to people and it doesn’t cost you anything, so like, why wouldn’t you just be nice and smile, and understand that every person’s going through some stuff too, and they got some stuff at home?
Megha McSwain: Exactly. Use that advice with, in all aspects of life really and you’ll go far. So marketing obviously plays a pivotal role in any business. How do modern destination weddings and modern travel works utilize tools like digital platforms, and social media to engage with clients but also potential clients? How do you guys incorporate that? I’m sure, you do.
Chris Dehner: Yeah. You want to have this dance or this marriage between the two things you have like the old tried and true stuff, the website, the information, the email marketing newsletter. Like, like you don’t have to recreate everything because some clients, they just like that. And then you do need to test with new types of social media and new types of tools. For instance, I just bought, I haven’t even used them yet, but I just bought the new Meta AI sunglasses with the cameras on the realms.
Megha McSwain: Oh, wow!
Chris Dehner: Yeah, so I’m excited to try that for a site inspection. I was just curious what is that like, as opposed to carrying a phone around all the time? What is it like to give a first-person view of the experience on a resort? So I’m going to be creating content and stuff for social, for stories, reels, TikTok, stuff like that. So it’s not crazy like AR and VR yet, which I think will eventually get there. I think we’re a little ways off, but that interim of new tools and new technology. Again, you’re just trying to tell a story and give people an idea of the type of experience that they can have. And so anything that you can do to be a little bit different or a little bit unique, I think can be interesting to people.
Megha McSwain: Well, you’re way ahead of the curve because I’ve been doing this podcast now for several episodes, and that’s the first time I’ve heard of anyone using that tool. I mean, that’s really interesting. You definitely have to report back on how those work.
Chris Dehner: I will for sure.
Megha McSwain: So it’s a family business. What is your and your family’s vision for the future of modern travel works and its brands? How do you plan to further solidify its position in the industry?
Chris Dehner: I divide it into two different categories. First and foremost is to stay true to the company culture. Sometimes as companies grow, they lose their identity. That made them special in the first place. And I think that that’s on our mind is that as we continue to bring people in, is to make sure that that we welcome them the right way, that they understand the kind of the way that we want to do business and we want to treat other people in the industry, other travel agencies, too. It’s like community over competition, right? It’s kindness and everything that we do that will do a lot. Ultimately, that makes your employees and the team happier. And if your team is happier and they feel more passionate, they’re going to be able to deliver better for the clients anyway. So it’s it just makes sense for everybody, on a more like, quote-unquote business point of view. We have some big projects we’re excited about. We want to continue to up our game in the destination wedding space. So we’re working with our partners to find sort of unique offerings and kinds of unique comps that we can offer in destination to just give destination wedding couples a unique experience in destination. Again, everybody wanted to go to the beach, and then you started to see more sky terraces. And so the trends are going to continue to change. We know a lot of agents are maybe resistant sometimes to change or to technology, and it’s a little tricky. So we’re trying to make that easy. We’ve been working on it for two years set to release that this next year. So I think that’s going to help other agencies do what we’ve done to scale the business through groups and to stay organized and structured, and to make sure that you’re able to deliver the best experience for your clients. So it’s like we have some exciting things. We have some travel, like chaperone trips with our leisure teams, where our agents travel with a group of people and have fun together. And yeah, so there’s a lot of projects that we’re working on, we’re excited for. Ultimately, it’s just, again, listening to the market and the customer and kind of figuring out what they want. Some people want unique experiences. So how do you deliver on that?
Megha McSwain: So it’s, definitely, a challenge. It’s a big world, but it’s always someone who wants something that you haven’t thought of. Right? I feel like you’ve given such wonderful advice, really. But we ask everyone this as someone who has been in the travel industry and obviously has a wealth of experience, what advice would you offer to aspiring travel marketers and entrepreneurs looking to establish their presence in this space?
Chris Dehner: This industry is 100% relationship-driven. So for instance, if you’re a travel agent, as an example, that’s a lot of people that we work with are agents. They book travel. There are all types of travel agent-only Facebook groups that you can join, that you can connect with other agents, see how they do business, and start to build relationships so that when you go to industry events, you see people that I think really other agents or other people in the space, quote-unquote, competition, you can collaborate with them. There’s enough abundance for everybody. So I think understanding that you can learn something from other people who are in the space, partners build relationships with them. And also because I think one of the biggest problems that entrepreneurs face is that grind is brutal and it’s lonely. It’s so hard. It’s crazy long hours. Nobody’s experiencing that. Nobody knows what you’re going through when you’re doing it, and you can feel like you’re out on an island, like you’re supposed to solve all the problems. Right? So I think that also making sure that that you plug yourself into the community and you don’t make yourself kind of their challenges of how they feel and the problems that they’re trying to solve and how they’re doing it. And I think you also feel less lonely. I think it’s just making sure that you’re part of the community and that you’re doing things the right way. I think it’s great for the industry, for the community, and for you as a person too. So relationship-driven,100%.
Megha McSwain: Creating a virtual office space where you can bounce ideas off of each other without even having to leave your house. You know, with social media, with Facebook groups, any kind of groups like that, it’s easy to connect. I mean, you don’t even have to go to a networking happy hour to connect anymore, right? You can just do it through a message or through a thread.
Chris Dehner: And a lot of people are. So they’re facing the same challenges too. That recognition is like you’re not alone. Whatever you’re trying to solve. There are people right now trying to solve that problem too.
Megha McSwain: Right.
Chris Dehner: And, y’all can work on it together.
Megha McSwain: Right.
Chris Dehner: Sure.
Megha McSwain: Well, this has been so insightful, Chris. Thank you so much for sharing your journey and all that you guys are doing. Let our listeners know where they can learn more about Modern Destination Weddings and the other brands, and where they can get in touch with you if they want to learn more.
Chris Dehner: Yeah, absolutely. So it’s pretty much all the social of TikTok, Instagram, all that stuff. It’s at Modern Travelworks, at Modern Destination Weddings, at Modern Travel Agents, or at Chris Dehner. So we also have modern travel websites, moderndestinationweddings.com, moderntravelagent.com. It’s pretty much all the standard stuff. You go into Google and search for the brand names we’re going to come up with. Any questions that you all have about travel, destination weddings, or being a travel agent, we’re here to help out, so I’d love to hear from anybody.
Megha McSwain: Great. Sounds good. Well, we would love to catch up with you again in the future, especially about those sunglasses. Those sound super interesting. I would love to see what footage you capture. Thank you so much for joining us today. To our listeners, please follow and subscribe for future episodes and leave us reviews. That helps us out a lot. Thank you so much, Chris.
Chris Dehner: It’s been a pleasure, Thank you.
Megha McSwain: You’ve been listening to Travel-Preneur by travelpayments.com make sure to subscribe on your favorite podcast listening platform so you never miss a new episode, and we’ll see you again soon on Travel-Preneur.