With wedding and honeymoon spending continuing to rise, the lucrative potential for agents is palpable, says Sam Lewis
Brides and grooms can be notoriously demanding, but those who work hard to get a slice of the wedding cake — organizing the big day or honeymoon — can reap the rewards.
Despite challenging economic times, 77% of marrying US couples took a honeymoon last year, according to wedding website TheKnot.com. And, with an average spend of $4,466 — around three times as much as a typical vacation — it’s a lucrative business for the industry.
The stakes are raised when it comes to luxury honeymoons, with an average spend of $9,954, while destination weddings — typically averaging 48 guests — tend to cost around $20,600.
“In 2012, we saw wedding budgets continuing to rise even more and to a new high since 2008 figures,” says Carley Roney, cofounder of The Knot. “Couples are increasingly less concerned with the economy and are comfortable investing more than ever in the once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
While Delta Vacations has only seen a slight rise in destination weddings, it says the number of friends and family attending these events has nearly doubled since 2012. To facilitate this trend, it offers couples exclusive promotional codes where wedding guests can save up to $200 per booking, and the newlyweds get a rebate for each booking to help reduce costs.
“Destination weddings and honeymoon vacations are a great opportunity for travel agents,” says MLT Vacations director of marketing Patrick Walters. “These events are often the first big trip a couple takes together and everything has to be perfect. For travel agents, it’s a real chance to wow a couple. If they get it right, it’s a chance to earn that couple’s travel business for life.”
While many couples choose to marry in the US — Las Vegas is top of the leaderboard — 30% of destination weddings take place outside the continental US, with Mexico, Hawaii, and the Caribbean top of the rankings, while Italy and France are favorite European options.
And while Hawaii, Florida, California and Nevada also remain popular among honeymooners who want to stay close to home, for those prepared to travel overseas, Mexico, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Italy, St Lucia, France, and the US Virgin Islands are perennial favorites.
As for up-and-coming destinations, SmartFlyer travel consultant Ansley Thomas says: “A luxury safari is hot right now among honeymooners, with Royal Malewane in Thornybush Private Game Reserve and Singita Lebombo in Kruger National Park two examples of properties honeymooners are drawn to in South Africa. Closer to home, Nicaragua is becoming popular, as you can combine beach and jungle at a spa resort with adventure but also relaxation.”
Following on is a snapshot of world-class resorts for destination weddings and honeymoons.
1. Barcelo Bavaro Beach, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic: Catering for a large wedding party with a wide variety of tastes can be tricky. Not at this adults-only resort with nine a-la-carte restaurants and a huge array of facilities, from tennis courts to a PB Dye golf course. Delta Vacations says it’s a top choice for wedding couples, as it offers so many choices for ceremonies — on the beach, in the gazebo or a private chapel. Honeymooners should book the Premium Club section of the resort to benefit from an upgraded suite, access to an exclusive lounge and special concierge services. www.barcelo.com
Sample: The Mint wedding package costs from $3,970 per couple in June 2014, and includes four nights in a superior room and international flights with Delta from Atlanta. T: 1 800 800 1504. www.worldagentdirect.com
2. Couples Tower Isle, Ocho Rios, Jamaica: Private island weddings needn’t cost the earth — this resort has a coral outcrop about a quarter mile offshore. A dedicated romance officer can arrange everything, including a Jamaican steel drum band, and there are a host of packages for vow renewals too. Activities include watersports, scuba diving and golf at Upton Country Club, as well as a number of off-site inclusive excursions plus island attractions such as Dunn’s River Falls. www.couplesresorts.co.uk
3. The Ritz-Carlton, St Thomas, US Virgin Islands: Champagne at sunset, starlit dinners and unabashed luxury — this intimate yet large 180-room resort will make couples want to marry all over again. Weddings or vow renewals can take place on the bone-white powder beach, in the cliff-side gazebo with amphitheater-style seating, or on the resort’s 53ft luxury catamaran, Lady Lynsey, holding up to 49 guests. www.ritzcarlton.com
4. Parrot Cay, Turks & Caicos: If location is more important than budget, this luxury private island could be a couple’s dream. The 1,000-acre resort has a mile-long beach with beach houses nestled among the sand dunes, plus ocean views, private pools and butlers. Couples can marry in an intimate beachfront service with a dedicated wedding planner to arrange all the legal requirements and everything from flowers to fireworks. And if the bridal couple don’t feel like sharing the island with other guests, they can rent it all for themselves. www.comohotels.com/parrotcay
5. Boucan by Hotel Chocolat, Soufriere, St Lucia: Possibly the only thing closer to a bride’s heart than her husband, chocolate takes center stage at this boutique hotel, with 14 hilltop lodges and views of the ocean and Petit Piton peak. Guests can lie by the 50ft infinity pool listening to calypso tunes and the chorus of tree frogs, make their own chocolate in a cooking class or enjoy a spa treatment using — you guessed it — cocoa beans, butter and oil. The restaurant serves up innovative dishes, many incorporating chocolate, and weddings can also be arranged (with or without chocolate). www.thehotelchocolat.com
1. Moana Surfrider, Oahu: Couples can marry on Waikiki Beach with a view of Diamond Head. Opened in 1901, this Westin Resort & Spa offers historic charm with an outdoor courtyard and spa. www.moana-surfrider.com
2. St. Regis Princeville, Kauai: Located on a clifftop on Kauai’s north shore this resort has a spacious spa and two championship golf courses. www.stregisprinceville.com
3. The Fairmont Orchid, Hawaii Island: Situated on the Kohala Coast, this beachfront hotel offers a variety of wedding locations, and guests can while away the hours in the oceanside spa or golf course. www.fairmont.com
4. Four Seasons Resort Lanai: At just 13 miles wide and 18 miles long, the island of Lanai has an exclusive feel. There are two golf courses and a spa, but the icing on the cake is the variety of dining. www.fourseasons.com
5. Grand Wailea, Maui: Wedding parties with kids will love this grand, 40-acre resort with its nine pools. Weddings can take place at the seaside chapel. www.grandwailea.com
EUROPE & THE MED
1. Bastion Ste Anne, Burgandy, France: Butterfield & Robinson is perhaps best known for its group trips but it also offers some unique properties for private stays. Take this private villa in the historic town of Beaune in the center of the Burgundy wine region. Here, couples can join guided tours with a historian, bike through quaint villages to explore local markets, wine taste with an expert or relax in the private garden within the villa’s medieval walls — a chef can also prepare romantic meals.
Sample: A five-day/four-night stay costs from $4,795 per person (double occupancy). Best from May to October. T: 1 866 551 9090. www.butterfield.com
2. Hotel Santa Caterina, Amalfi, Italy: Panoramic Amalfi coast views are topped only by the honeymoon suites, according to Connoisseurs Travel. Some have sunken whirlpool baths and shell-shaped beds, others are split-level with gardens, terraces and infinity pools. Two restaurants serve everything from grilled fish to pizzas and fine wines. www.hotelsantacaterina.it
3. the Royal Crescent hotel & spa, Bath, UK: Couples keen to follow in the footsteps of Jane Austen and explore the historic city of Bath can stay at this fine Georgian hotel, with its palatial suites decked out with chandeliers, swag curtains and oil paintings. Indulge in fine dining and a traditional English afternoon tea in the restaurant and gardens or relax in the spa. For something memorable, couples can take to the skies in a hot air balloon or climb aboard the Lady Sophina, the hotel’s 1920s boat, for a Champagne river cruise. www.royalcrescent.co.uk
4. Rosa Alpina Hotel & Spa, Dolomites, Italy: Just two-and-a-half hours north of Venice, honeymooners can combine city and snow at this charming hotel, built in traditional Ladino style. The perfect place to unwind in ultimate style, expect open fires in the lounge, a two-Michelin star restaurant, a lively apres-ski lounge and a relaxing Daniela Steiner Spa. Hang-gliding, helicopter rides, and hot air balloon excursions are just some of the activities available. www.rosalpina.it
5. Sun Rocks, Firostefani, Santorini, Greece: Champagne sunsets don’t get much better than at this enchanting hideaway, carved into the sides of a volcanic cliff on the Aegean. While some rooms are modern with wooden floors and sunken whirlpool baths, others are more traditional, with four-poster beds. It may feel like a million miles away from the world, but it’s actually a short distance (seven miles) from Thira Santorini International Airport. With views like this, weddings need to be booked far in advance, but perhaps not for those with vertigo. www.sunrocks.gr
1. Viceroy Riviera Maya, Playa del Carmen, Mexico: For couples who don’t want strangers gawking at their wedding, this hotel’s Extreme Takeover wedding package is just the ticket. The bride and groom rent the entire resort for their guests, with an array of tailor-made dinners and activities. The newlyweds can personalize their wedding down to the tiniest detail — they can even create a branded cocktail with the help of the resort’s mixologists and chose to be blessed by a shaman.
Sample: The Extreme Takeover package costs from $125,000 and includes three nights in 41 villas accommodating up to 82 people; snacks, breakfast, lunch and dinner daily; unlimited drinks; exclusive use of the beach and other venues such as the spa and gym; and use of the resort’s van for trips to Playa del Carmen. www.viceroyrivieramaya.com
2. Esencia, Riviera Maya, Mexico: Once the private vacation home of an Italian duchess, it’s no wonder Connoisseurs Travel recommends this 50-acre private estate for honeymooners. With just 29 guest rooms and cottages set on a white, sandy beach, couples will appreciate the excellent food and personal touches — including butler service — that evoke a sense of staying at someone’s residence. Just 20 minutes from Playa del Carmen, there’s plenty to do, from horseback riding to scuba diving and yoga, but many guests will just enjoy a margarita and a spa visit. www.hotelesencia.com
3. Dorado Beach, Dorado, Puerto Rico: Opened in December 2012, this 1,400-acre eco-resort is ideal for couples who want tropical luxury and plenty of activities. The original plantation home, Su Casa, owned by the Rockefellers, has been converted into a four-bedroom villa for weddings, but chances are couples staying here will be too busy to say their nuptials. After exploring the 11-mile nature trail, enjoying spa treatments, playing rounds at the four golf courses and taking scuba diving lessons, they’ll need a vacation to recover. www.ritzcarlton.com
4. El Colibri, Estancia de Charme, Argentina: The Ritz-Carlton hotel group has seen rising demand from honeymooners for adventurous activities like trekking, skiing and horseback riding. At this traditional hacienda, they can enjoy riding, polo, mountain biking or work on the farm sheep shearing or milking the cows. Spacious suites have wood-burning fireplaces and large bathtubs. Intimate weddings can be arranged. www.estanciaelcolibri.com
5. Pontos dos Ganchos, Santa Catarina, Brazil: For couples who want to wear their flip-flops while sampling the finer things in life, this private beach paradise ticks all the boxes. Each of the 25 bungalows has a private deck with hammocks overlooking the sea, and some have private pools. There’s a Christian Dior Spa, excellent food accompanied by South American wines, and couples can enjoy a romantic candlelit dinner for two on a private island accessed via a wooden bridge over a peninsula. www.pontadosganchos.com.br
ASIA, AFRICA & INDIAN OCEAN
1. Sanctuary Retreats, Chobe, Botswana: A new Romance, Stars and Spa package gives guests the chance to experience a six-night safari in the Okavango Delta at three different luxury tented camps, complete with private decks and spa treatments. Guests can take guided walking, 4WD and riverboat safaris to see game such as elephant, lion, antelope, buffalo, hippos and zebra.
Sample: The six-night Romance, Stars and Spa package costs from $4,731 per person, sharing, with meals, game drives and transfers included. www.sanctuaryretreats.com
2. The Oberoi Udaivilas, Udaipur, India: Connoisseurs Travel believes the lakeside resort of Rajasthan provides the ultimate honeymoon, with great sightseeing, shopping, cultural activities and fabulous food. Its tip for honeymooners? Book a suite with a private plunge pool, steam room, outdoor tented pavilion and breathtaking views of the majestic Aravalli Hills, Lake Pichola and the City Palace. And for the ultimate package, combine a stay here with the Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur, the Rambagh Palace in Jaipur and the Imperial in Delhi. www.oberoihotels.com
3. Azura, Mozambique: This luxury eco-retreat in Bazaruto National Park offers two boutique hotels on two private islands. Both offer deserted white-sand beaches, sparkling turquoise seas and beachfront villas with infinity pools and butler service. SmartFlyer recommends combining a stay with a few days in Cape Town and/or a safari in South Africa. www.azura-retreats.com
4. Leleshwa Camp, Masai Mara, Kenya: The Safari Company reports growing demand for Entumoto Safari Camp and Leleshwa Camp in the Masai Mara, offering special honeymoon extras such as a private dinner on your veranda or a private game drive. For a small extra fee, Leleshwa can organize a traditional Maasai blessing ceremony where the couple is joined by 20 Maasai women, 20 Maasai male warriors and two elders to facilitate the ceremony, along with their guide. Traditional items are given to the couple and the evening ends with sundowner cocktails and a dinner under the stars with the community. www.thesafaricoltd.com
5. Manafiafy Beach & Rainforest Lodge, Madagascar: Canoeing and camping may not be to every honeymooner’s taste, but Jenman Safaris says its kayak tour allows active couples the chance to spot unusual animals such as lemurs and giant chameleons. Days consist of kayaking, snorkeling, whale-watching and exploring deserted beaches and forests, while evenings are spent in barefoot luxury tents with French cuisine. The last four days of the 11-day trip are spent at the four-star Manafiafy Beach & Rainforest Lodge. Designed in an African lodge style, there are six chalets nestled into the forest and overlooking the beach. www.jenmansafaris.com
PUBLISHED IN THE WINTER 2013/14 ISSUE OF ASTAnetwork