How One Travel Advisor Made the Jump from Selling Weddings to Bar Mitzvah Vacations

Travel advisor Ellen Paderson had a brilliant idea back in 2006, and it has paid off in spades ever since.

She had been successfully arranging destination weddings for several years through her Smiles and Miles Travel agency. Then she read an article about a boy who celebrated his bar mitzvah at a Jewish synagogue in St. Thomas, USVI – and that sparked an idea about how she could apply her skills and experience with destination weddings to a new niche. In that instant, Bar Mitzvah Vacations was born.

Founded in 2006, Bar Mitzvah Vacations specializes in destination bar and bat mitzvahs. These are family travel experiences that include the solemn observance of a Jewish boy’s or girl’s coming-of-age ritual. Paderson has arranged these once-in-a-lifetime celebrations in synagogues throughout the Caribbean, Europe, and the U.S., as well as on cruise ships.

Meeting a need out-of-the-box
One of the reasons Paderson has flourished is that she created a distinct specialty that meets the need of a large market segment with an out-of-the-box approach.

“Families are looking for alternatives to traveling to Israel for this type of event,” says Ellen Paderson, owner of Bar Mitzvah Vacations. “Being Jewish, I understand the challenges that a child may encounter in preparing for a bar/bat mitzvah. A boy or girl may have special learning needs or a heavy sports schedule, for example. I offer simpler options to these families, which can reduce the stress of preparing for the event.”

Another travel trend working in Paderson’s favor is the fact that multigenerational travel has been strong. Destination bar/bar mitzvah events fit perfectly into this travel bucket. Generally smaller than home-based celebrations, destination bar/bat mitzvahs offer a more intimate and relaxed time for parents, children, grandparents, cousins, and close friends to bond. In addition, blended families, those unaffiliated with a synagogue, and non-traditional family groups can partake in the festivities.

And just like destination weddings, destination bar and bat mitzvahs are an evergreen product for which there will always be a high and consistent demand.

Meaningful travel resonates
The idea of meaningful travel resonates in our post-pandemic world – and destination bar and bat mitzvahs once again deliver.

For instance, one of Paderson’s favorite bar mitzvahs that she arranged was for a Russian family that immigrated to the United States. The grandfather, father, and son all celebrated their bar mitzvahs at the same time. They did not have access to a synagogue, but Paderson’s rabbi colleague was able to make it work for them.

Paderson also says that Southern Italy is one of the most popular destinations for family bar/bat mitzvah celebrations. She collaborates with “a wonderful female Italian American rabbi in Calabria whose synagogue is attached to her house (and has been in her family for many generations). A surprising number of Jewish Americans have ancestors from this area of Italy, so they’re excited to return to their roots and learn about Italian Jewish history and culture. They can then explore the Italian Riviera, as well as Rome, Venice, and other iconic sites.

Costa Rica is another destination that is popular with kids and families, as Paderson’s agency arranges destination bar/bat mitzvah events in the rainforest.

She goes on to say: “It’s touching and so rewarding to receive positive feedback from families when they have returned from their destination mitzvah adventure. With families today scattered to all parts of the world, they have a reason to all gather together and enjoy a family vacation with the celebration.”

SEO, social media, and word of mouth combined
Paderson has a few secrets to her success to share. First off, she markets her niche through a solid combination of SEO, social media, and word-of-mouth referrals.

As soon as she decided to launch this specialty, her web content manager purchased several URLs that were relevant to bar/bat mitzvah vacations. They then concentrated their efforts on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to place and stay high in Google search rankings. Since Paderson is the pioneer in this niche, she happily reports that has been No. 1 on Google for many years.

In fact, her most important piece of advice for other travel advisors is to “partner with a great web content manager, to ensure that you can be found on the internet and social media easily, when potential clients are searching for what you’re offering.” 

Her team has also established a presence on social media platforms such as Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook, which further bolsters their SEO rankings. Plus, a subscription page on her website solicits signups for the agency’s mailing list. “It’s not unusual for parents to begin planning their child’s bar/bat mitzvah two or three years in advance, so the sales cycle can be long,” says Paderson.

Word-of-mouth referrals are also critical, especially in a deeply interconnected community such as the one Paderson serves. “I’ve received regular referrals from my clients from the beginning, from very satisfied past guests. Some clients have planned as many as four different bar mitzvah trips with me!”

Also, Paderson says to be sure to “surround yourself with trustworthy suppliers and companies that will be true partners. From the very beginning, I formed strong partnerships with a few stellar companies that understand my clients’ needs. I know I can rely on their invaluable assistance on the ground, especially in locations across the globe.”

Furthermore, she partnered with rabbis who were willing to travel to global destinations and who were flexible in the type and amount of preparation needed to fulfill the prescribed roles and requirements for the bar/bat mitzvahs.

Based in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Paderson has been a travel advisor for 30 years and is affiliated with NEST and the Affluent Traveler Collection. She is a solopreneur who works with a team of celebrants and staff members for back-office and web support.

Has this profile of Paderson’s success gotten you thinking about a new niche for your travel agency? Well, as Paderson says, “If you have a unique idea, run with it!”

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