"I Do" … Again

St. Regis Princeville Resort
Hawaii’s St. Regis Princeville Resort sets the stage for weddings and vow renewals.

It’s time to talk about romance travel for the 21st century, which, ironically, begins with baby boomers. Vow renewals, anniversary trips and second marriages (or third or fourth) are often glossed over, perhaps because they don’t seem as sexy as a first-time engagement with all the fanfare, pomp and youth. In reality, this is a sizable market that deserves more attention. If you have clients looking to book a vow renewal, milestone anniversary or second destination wedding, let this be your handbook.

Vow Renewal 101

The key to booking a destination vow renewal is to remember that the basics are similar to that of a destination wedding, and there are just as many options. First and foremost, like booking any trip, it is imperative to listen to what your clients want. “Every couple has a different idea of what they think the perfect vow renewal would be,” says Greg Strobach, founder and CEO of All About Honeymoons and Destination Weddings. “Once we know their vision, then we can guide them to the location, property and experience that will meet or exceed their expectations.”

Nona Mounir, a romance travel specialist with All About Honeymoons in Elk Grove, CA, cannot emphasize enough that “a bride is a bride is a bride.” Whether you are planning a first-time wedding or a fifth-time renewal, it is the job of the agent to make sure all the details are in place.  “Regardless of whether they’re getting married for the first time or they’ve been married 10 or 50 years, there is going to be some anxiety about wanting everything to be perfect,” says Mounir.

Then there are the details that set these types of trips apart from the typical first-time wedding. Let’s start with the basics. Since a vow renewal is not a legal wedding, there is not as much paperwork to go through. “Booking a vow renewal is the same process as booking a legal destination wedding,” says Loleta Gaddis Ling, president of Professional Travel in Raymour, MO. “The only difference is that we don’t have to send off legal documents to the wedding coordinator ahead of time. Basically everything else is the same as far as the booking process, ceremony and package inclusions are concerned.” Gaddis Ling also points out to agents that most resorts still require couples to be on the property two to four business days in advance.

When you plan, it helps to get some information on the couple’s original wedding. Was it a destination wedding?
How satisfied were they with that total experience? Is there anything they would have done differently? “If they had a traditional wedding, what locations would they now be interested in?” says Quentin Carmichael, Jr., president of Destination Weddings Travel in Framingham, MA

El Dorado Royale’s
The bride can stroll down the aisle at El Dorado Royale’s beautiful wedding chapel.

Once the vision of the vow renewal has been established, it is time to start hammering out the details, specifically location and cost. “Location can be key for a romantic renewal,” says Michelle Thurston, owner of Your Travel Concierge of Naples in Naples, FL. “This could be on a beach with an amazing backdrop such as the Pitons in St. Lucia, on a ship, or perhaps on a private island with just the couple. There are as many options for a vow renewal as there are for an actual wedding. It’s just easier to plan.”

Cost also factors highly in the planning of a destination vow renewal. Agents tend to look for properties that offer perks for their clients. Jackie Waechter, a romance travel specialist at All About Honeymoons in Kansas City, MO, says, “I always suggest a venue that offers a free option for the couple.” Many properties organize free vow renewals for a party of a certain number of people that stays a minimum number of nights.

Where to Stay

There is a wealth of options when it comes to matching the perfect location with the right cost. Not surprisingly, the top locations for vow renewal travel are similar to those of destination weddings. Clients want the exotic, where the magic is built into the scenery.  The specialists unanimously listed out the top destinations to us: the Caribbean, Mexico, Hawaii and French Polynesia. Within these locations, top hotel names have packages and perks for travelers renewing their vows.

El Dorado Spa Resorts & Hotels and Azul Hotels, a collection of hotels scattered throughout Riviera Maya, Mexico, has a new vow renewal package that is either complimentary with a five-night qualifying stay or costs a minimal fee for a shorter trip.  The “Vow Renewal Celebration Package” offers a religious ceremony on the beach, beachfront dinner for two, sunrise breakfast basket, keepsake photo and a romantically decorated suite. Agents can contact Faith Wishnie (305-715-9844, [email protected]), director of wedding services, for more information.

Dreams Villamagna Nuevo Vallarta
Dream Infinity pool provides a romantic setting at Dreams Villamagna Nuevo Vallarta.

Playa Grande Resort & Spa in Cabo San Lucas offers an “Eternal Romance Package” for up to 15 people. This package includes a service led by a minister, commemorative marriage certificate, beachside setup, bouquet and boutonniere, wedding toast and spa discount. Travel agents can contact Rosaura Carrillo with all wedding queries.

Clients who want a Caribbean-style vow renewal can’t go wrong with the Luxury Included Sandals Resorts. These resorts offer a vow renewal package that includes, among other features, a ceremony, personal wedding consultant and marriage officer; hors d’oeuvres for the bride, groom and two guests; and a two-tiered wedding cake. For wedding inquiries, contact Weddings Manager Susan Mangan.

Hawaii’s St. Regis Princeville Resort makes bespoke arrangements for couples planning their vow renewal ceremony. A wedding specialist is on hand to craft the dream setting for couples still in love. When your clients hold events at the property, they will be upgraded to a Prince Junior Suite with signature butler service; breakfast in bed for two; a dedicated bridal attendant; and a complimentary bridal room for the bride and bridesmaids. Agents can reach out to Christopher White (808-826-2478, [email protected]), director of sales and marketing, for more information.

Milestone Anniversary Magic

There is a booming market for anniversary travel that is often quite profitable for agents. “If you’re not targeting this market, you should be,” says Your Travel Concierge’s Thurston. “Most of the anniversary vacations I have done are for couples who pay for the entire family to travel and stay. It’s a very special time, and they want to make sure that everyone attends.”

With the whole family expected to travel, a destination that is kid-friendly is a must. Family all-inclusives such as Beaches Resorts are top sells in this department. Note: Beaches Resorts also offer vow renewal services for couples. All-inclusive properties make the most sense for clients who want the whole family in tow because they are cost-effective and offer flexibility for all ages. Sandals’Susan Mangan is the contact person for Beaches as well.

If your clients are looking for a more intimate affair, it is best to plan for it as you would a honeymoon. In fact, many couples taking a milestone trip have never been on an actual honeymoon, so this is an excuse to really celebrate.
“I have many clients calling me back for one-, five- and 10-year trips. It is very much like planning the honeymoon: finding out what the dream looks like and what the budget is, and putting together a romance package,” Waechter of All About Honeymoons tells us.

Professional Travel’s Gaddis Ling looks for resorts with Romance Concierges who are on hand to arrange the extra touches, such as champagne and chocolates in the room, upgrades, romantic beach dinners, etc.

Find out from your clients if they had a destination wedding. If so, it is worth finding out where and if that property gives any perks to returning couples. For example, Dreams Resorts offers a free return stay of two nights. Dreams Villamagna Nuevo Vallarta in Mexico is an up-and-coming destination, which would be perfect for your clients. Agents can contact Director of Sales Rodolfo Cresta (011-52-322-226-8700, [email protected]), with queries.

Palace Resorts provides free rooms based on the size of the group and number of room nights booked, for the wedding group; this can also be used during a future visit.

Playa Grande
Entrance to Playa Grande gives couples a taste of the elegance that awaits within.

Lately, agents have noticed a trend of adult children pooling their resources to send their parents on a milestone anniversary trip. While this is a generous and heartfelt thought, there are some caveats to keep in mind. “From past experience, I advise my clients to be sure that the trip is not a total surprise,” says Russell Vara of Maestro Travel in Huntersville, NC. “I have a client who, along with her brothers and sisters, decided to send her parents on a special anniversary cruise, but kept it a secret until the documents were ready. When they approached the parents with the present, Mom was thrilled, but Dad was not. Mom ended up taking the cruise with her sister and had a blast, but I’m not sure if Dad and the kids are speaking yet!”

If at First You Don’t Succeed…

And what about clients who gave marriage the old college try once and now are ready to give it another go? More often than not these couples are a bit older and have already gone through planning the elaborate centerpieces, gift registry and guest list. This time around, they want something calmer, low-key and, usually, only about them.

For agents, this type of mellow travel may appear less than lucrative, but fear not. “Capitalizing on the ‘low-key’ destination wedding is all about selling the dream. Paint the picture and sell up on everything from the wedding package to the butler accommodations on the club floor,” says Your Travel Concierge’s Thurston. “Sell everything you can before the couple leaves so you can reap the commission on all of the extras.” Many agents fail to realize that some resorts pay 10 to 20 percent on the wedding package. Agents ought to book excursions, sell private transfers, candlelight dinners and such. “If you don’t [book the extras], the local tour operator will sell to them and you will lose out on the commission.”

When clients book simple ceremonies, it is important to point out that the money they save can be used toward extra pampering at the resort—which will also pad an agent’s commission. “The best way to encourage clients to splurge on themselves is to reinforce that this is such a special event that it should be memorable for all the right reasons,” says All About Honeymoons’ Mounir. “This is not the time to skimp. They can do that with regular vacations.” Some of the special extras often recommended are couples’ massages, private picnics or unique excursions.

Finally, although these clients may want to downplay a second or third marriage, it is still an occasion that is very special, and many clients have the ideal vision of a perfect experience. Strobach, of All About Honeymoons and Destination Weddings, discusses this vision with his clients on a “discovery call.” “We use our experience and relationships in the travel industry to educate and guide them to a great experience and the best value. These significant milestone events should be celebrated with a great experience, and couples who are given the best information possible will make great decisions.”

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