The Big Business of Weddings and Honeymoons

TWO MILLION, ONE HUNDRED SIXTY-NINE THOUSAND. Does this number mean anything to you? It should. That is how many weddings occurred in the United States from June 2006 through June 2007, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Some research indicates that number could reach as high as 2.4 million in the near future. Research also shows that 99 percent of people who choose a traditional wedding opt to take a honeymoon. So let's do the math: Let's say an average of 2.2 million people will get married this year. Ninety-nine percent of 2.2 million is 2,178,000. That is approximately the number of couples that will be honeymooning over the 12 months of 2008. Are you planning any of the travel for these happy couples? You should be, and if you're not, you'll be missing out on a huge opportunity.

Just in case you weren't aware just how booming an industry weddings and honeymoons is, here are some pertinent facts you might find interesting, based on U.S. patterns:

  • 1. Each weekend, an average of 44,230 weddings take place.
  • 2. For a traditional American wedding, couples spend an average of $27,852.
  • 3. The average number of wedding guests is 165.
  • 4. Weddings represent a $50-$70 billion industry.
  • 5. Honeymoons comprise a $12 billion-a-year industry.
  • 6. Couples spend an average of $3,700 on their honeymoon—roughly 14 percent of their wedding budget.
  • 7. The average honeymoon costs 170 percent more than the honeymooners' last vacation.
  • 8. The length of an average honeymoon is eight days.
  • 9. 16 percent of marriages are celebrated as destination weddings.

When you look at these numbers, it's easy to see just how many people are involved in the making of a wedding, apart from the ones walking down the aisle. From the parents who might help to pay for the event to the guests who attend the wedding to friends and family members who help plan, shop, shower them with gifts, throw parties and support them emotionally, it's a wonder a vacation isn't necessary for everyone once the big event has finally taken place. Take another look at these numbers. Are you starting to see where just one wedding could lead to numerous referrals for your business?

Why It's a Goldmine

"It's unbelievable how much business there is in the wedding and honeymoon markets," says Ellen Paderson, owner of Smiles and Miles Travel in Easton, MA. Having spent the past three years focusing on these markets, Paderson believes they are strong and only getting stronger.

Brooke Thomas, co-editor of the national bridal magazine Weddings Unveiled, seconds this notion. "The wedding industry is better than ever," she says, "and destination weddings are becoming more and more popular. They're on the rise at least in part because today's bride is modern, sophisticated, chic and...older. With that, she is more confident, more educated and more individual than brides of years past. Jet skiing in Cabo San Lucas

"Brides today spend more and are willing to hire event planners and event coordinators to help with the details of a destination wedding," Thomas continues. "Brides and grooms also use destination weddings as an opportunity to spend time with family and friends in a relaxed, celebratory atmosphere, and take care with planning activities and events that everyone can enjoy."

Thomas is right. Research shows that destination weddings accounted anywhere from 8 to 16 percent of weddings, and that number is likely to increase as wedding costs escalate. That puts the number of wedding/honeymoon combination trips at approximately 500,000 for last year, and likely more for this year.

"Many destination brides dedicate the entire weekend to their celebration, as opposed to one day, which provides the opportunity for families to mingle and spend significant time together getting to know one another—a great way to create memories and camaraderie that last a lifetime," continues Thomas. So really, when you're planning a destination wedding, you're planning not just for the bride and groom but for their families as well. "A destination wedding can be anything you want it to be," says Thomas. The marriage of a to-be-wed couple and a knowledgeable, creative travel advisor can only lead to travel bliss, right? To get in on the fun, you're going to have to do your own homework. Plaza de España in Seville, Spain

Wedding uber-website has long been the go-to guide for all things wedding-related. Tips, trends, suggestions and real-life engagement and wedding stories are the hallmarks of this lively site. Its top picks for the hottest destination wedding spots are Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, Fiji, the Caribbean, Italy, Spain, South Africa and Australia.

Paderson says Mexico is a highly popular site for her destination wedding clients, due in large part to its affordability and its proximity, allowing guests from all over the U.S. to get there with ease. "Typically, 30-40 people will travel as part of a destination wedding," Paderson explains, based on her experience. When planning travel such as a destination wedding, also consider the long-lasting effects a successful travel plan will ensure for your business—an exponential amount of referrals, all from obtaining that one happy couple. Sossusvlei Dunes in Namibia, South Africa

Ideas for Pitching Destination Weddings to Your Clients

With already-worldly couples coming to you for travel advice, you might have to become more savvy yourself. Think about current hot-button issues, such as "going green," and how you can apply those issues to your travel seekers. As if the aforementioned exotic locales aren't vacation enough, have you heard about the "Honeyteer?" Turning a honeymoon into a volunteer experience for a needy group or cause "may offer the perfect balance to [a couple's] wedding," according to Michael Organ, executive director of Charity Guide, a nonprofit organization that promotes volunteerism ( Giving back might be the perfect antidote to the excess that can characterize a lavish event. Options include (but are definitely not limited to): learning sustainable farming firsthand by working on an organic farm; volunteering with the Oceanic Society to study behaviors of bottlenose dolphins; rebuilding nature trails through the American Hiking Society; researching coral reefs with Coral Cay Conservations; or helping to build a house, classroom or medical clinic through Global Volunteers. Visit A villa with retractable walls overlooking a lagoon at the InterContinental Resort Tahiti provides a  romantic but sophisticated setting for honeymooners

Take advantage of booking a once-in-a-lifetime trip for couples and urge them to walk on the wild side. Adventure honeymoons are all the rage for brides and grooms (and perhaps even couples renewing their vows). Here are's suggestions for the top 10 trips of a lifetime, thrills included:

  • 1. A Himalayan road trip
  • 2. A race through Southern France
  • 3. Scuba diving in St. Croix
  • 4. Mountain climbing on Mt. Fuji
  • 5. Hiking the ruins in Angkor Wat, Cambodia
  • 6. Skiing, snowboarding or ski-boarding in the Swiss Alps
  • 7. Biking down a volcano in Maui
  • 8. Surfing in Tahiti
  • 9. A fishing expedition in Costa Rica
  • 10. Sailing on a glacier tour from Vancouver to Anchorage

Once you spend a little time getting to know your clients, what brings them joy and what some of their dream vacations are, your research will serve you well. For roughly $4,000, what kind of adventure can you plan to entice brides and grooms to book with you? You might find that for you and your business, they're just the ones to get the party started.