Destination weddings and honeymoons represent the second most popular category of niche travel, according to a recent Travel Leaders Group travel trends survey. With that in mind, and with engagement season in full flower, we reached out to a number of travel advisors and consultants who identify as specialists, or simply have considerable experience, in making romance couples’ dreams come true, for tips and trends regarding this potentially lucrative market. Here’s some of what we gleaned.
Destination weddings have lots of moving pieces. To get off on the right foot, it’s important to speak with the couple on the phone (if you can’t meet in person). Melanie D’Souza, a travel consultant and independent affiliate of Divine Destination Weddings & Honeymoons, says, “All three of you will learn about each other [while the couple will learn about the wedding process].” She adds this call will also “help solidify the relationship between the three of you.” D’Souza notes it’s also important for the advisors to understand the contracts that they will be working with. “This is vital to your integrity with your clients [and the hotels], as well as your longevity in this business,” she says.
Ashley Lancer, a senior leisure travel advisor at Valerie Wilson Travel, concurs. “Make sure to have an initial conversation with your clients to fully discuss what they envision for their honeymoon,” she says. “Not only the destinations they have in mind, but rather experiences and activities, as this will give a travel advisor a sense of what they are really looking for — the advisor may be able to suggest a new destination they never thought about!”
“It’s so important to take the time to know each new wedding and honeymoon couple individually,” agrees Legacy Travel’s Audrey Kupovics. “Once you form that connection they will trust your input and the process.”
Another way to prove your value and integrity is to know the products. “Be the expert,” D’Souza says. “Be sure you’re very familiar with each of the resorts or destinations you’re recommending. It’s crucial to have firsthand experiences with both — and it’s equally crucial to continue visiting, so you’re always up to date on the latest.”
It’s also important to stay in touch with the couple [especially the bride] throughout the entire planning process. “Be your bride’s wedding BFF,” D’Souza tells us. “Brides are excited and want to talk about what they are thinking. Be there to talk about their wedding and ideas. Or, just be there to support her as she works through family issues. Being her confidant and her go-to person goes a long way in developing the trust and your relationship.”
You also have to be ready to adapt. “Destination weddings are like a giant puzzle where all the pieces need to come together and, often, those pieces don’t fit perfectly, so you have to be patient, flexible and be ready to adapt,” says advisor Mina Nguyen of Blissful Honeymoons & Destination Weddings. And the puzzle isn’t just limited to the logistics of getting everyone from their home to the resort. You also need to consider their interests and free time.
“Destination weddings can be a beast,” Nguyen says. “You have to cater to the comfort of the wedding guests, as well. If a resort or destination doesn’t fit the guests’ dynamic and they’re unhappy, even the most beautiful backdrops and blue waters, won’t make for good wedding memories.”
Harlan deBell, co-owner of The Travel Siblings, recommends developing a specific destination niche. “Do you know the best local contacts for florals, lighting, production?” he says. “Think about all the details surrounding these events, and focus. Don’t always count on a ‘wedding package’ that a hotel offers, it’s not enough... couples are very resourceful these days!”
Couples, too, are asking for highly destination-specific ceremonies, in celebration of local traditions and customs. “We are doing a Thai wedding now and the bride and groom have requested their guests arrive in traditional Thai attire for each event,” deBell says.
In terms of destinations, deBell says that the Southeast has been “majorly trending” this year. “From Low Country weddings in Palmetto Bluff at the Montage to city soirees in historical Savannah, America’s south offers a lot of charm and varied scenery, as well as a diverse food culture, without needing a passport,” he says.
Mexico is a hotspot this year, says Kupovics. “Mexico is always a crowd-pleaser with destination weddings,” she notes. “The country has such a variety of landscapes to offer.” She says that Mexico also tends to be very cost-effective for couples, making it a good fit for more price-conscious clients.
Costa Rica, too, has been drawing interest lately. “These are couples that have already been to weddings in Mexico, Dominican Republic and Jamaica and are looking for something a bit different,” Kupovics says.
TravelSmiths’ Brittany Bridgewater agrees, adding that, “Major hubs are adding more and more non-stop flights to Costa Rica making it an easy flight away. Combined with all the opportunities for adventure; zip-lining, hiking in the rain forest, swimming in waterfalls, it has something for everyone — especially those looking for a romantic getaway.”
While a destination wedding can certainly take up plenty of your time, be sure that you — and your clients — don’t put the honeymoon on the back burner. “It’s important that you remind your clients that the honeymoon is just as important as the other components of the wedding,” says Nguyen. “The honeymoon is the one thing that is solely for the couple. It’s the one thing they get to enjoy for themselves without having to share with anyone else. The honeymoon is literally the beginning of their lives together, so they need to start on the right foot.”
However, unlike the cake, flowers or DJ, you can’t “taste-test or audition” the honeymoon. Just as it’s important to have firsthand experience visiting a variety of resorts and destinations for the wedding, you really have to know the right destination or hotel for the honeymoon. Advisors have to understand what the clients want, so you “can hand pick the best options and tailor them to each couple so they can have peace of mind knowing that their honeymoon will be just as memorable as the wedding itself,” Nguyen says.
When recommending a destination for the honeymoon, think outside of the box; don’t just recommend a typical vacation. “Be ahead of the curve,” says D’Souza. “Recommend those locations that meet the clients’ needs but also something that they may not have heard of or know about.”
What destination that is could vary based off your client, but we’re told that honeymooners and other romance travelers are more often asking for a combination of adventure, culture and relaxation. Don’t forget, “Romance generally means luxury accommodations, another important requirement,” according to D’Souza. Here are some popular honeymoon destinations right now.
Southeast Asia: “Vietnam is top of list these days,” D’Souza says. “Clients are traveling the length of the country from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City — and the beaches along the way. [The] varied and diverse country allows for history & culture, exploration and multiple ways & options to experience the country.”
New Zealand/Fiji: “A top option for those wanting the outdoor adventures of New Zealand’s diverse topography — glaciers, river valleys, alpine lakes, mountains and city life. [It] gives travelers all the adventure they seek,” she adds. “And, by ending the trip with a stop in Fiji for some of the world’s best beaches, our romance couples get it all.”
Morocco: “This country is a top option for these travelers,” D’Souza says. “Varied topography with mountain ranges, desert and incredible history and culture keep our couples busy with touring this country, followed by a beach stay on the west coast of the country. The favorite not-to-be-missed activity is a stop in the Sahara Desert for a camel ride to an Oasis and an overnight stay in a Bedouin tent — with unparalleled sunrise and sunsets.”
Europe: “Italy, France, Croatia and Greece remain the most requested Europe locations in 2020, but it’s the off-the-beaten-path trips they are requesting,” D’Souza notes. In Italy, Puglia, Sardinia and Sicily are popular; Southern France and its cities, beaches, wine regions and history, are also trending. Croatia’s islands and walled cities make it a huge pull. In Greece, Santorini, Mykonos, Naxos and Crete all offer incredible beauty and island-hopping allows for a mix of adventure, beach and culture. Slovenia, she adds, works well for an add-on to Italy.
For the romance-and-relaxation traveler, French Polynesia, Antigua and Turks and Caicos are highly sought.
Romance on Ha Long Bay: Travel consultant Melanie D’Souza touts Vietnam as a top destination in Asia for weddings and honeymoons. // Photo by Getty Images / ninelutsk
Nguyen tells us, “As we get into an age where memories and experiences are more meaningful than physical objects, younger honeymooners tend to already be well-traveled, so they’re not waiting until old age to hit up those ‘bucket-list’ destinations. Younger honeymooners are also looking for that “Instagrammable” post — so Hawaii, Bora Bora and Fiji tend to be on their dream honeymoon list.” Although she also sees honeymooners who ask for Ireland, Australia and Japan.
An unusual destination that D’Souza has booked is Ukraine. The couple “wanted to drive tanks, wear the military garb, shoot Soviet weapons, visit the Chernobyl Exclusion zone and explore the country and its history,” she says. “I put together an itinerary that had them touring the country, seeing Kiev, Odessa, the Black Sea, Yalta and then heading to the Carpathian Mountains to hike and explore the untouched Ukrainian culture of past centuries. It was such a fun and interesting trip to put together.”
It’s always not an exotic (real-life) destination. Nguyen says, “I once had a honeymoon couple who wanted to do the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal for a few days before [lazing] on a beach in Negril, Jamaica.” Point is: No clients are the same, so it’s crucial to find out what’s important to them.
That “most special day” is more than just a day these days — increasingly, couples are opting to turn their destination weddings and honeymoons into multi-destination extravaganzas with an emphasis on adventure.
“I love to plan honeymoons with what I call ‘the trifecta,’” says Lancer. “This means including a major city for culture, great food and night life. Then continuing with a destination that is off-the-beaten path and adventurous, and finally ending with a beach location to relax and get pampered before returning home.”
For these romantic adventurers, destinations such as Patagonia, South Africa, Southeast Asia and Australia and New Zealand are trending this year. “Clients may start their trip more focused on cities and adventure activities, such as glacier hiking, safaris, elephant interactions, or bungee jumping in Queenstown,” explains Lancer. “They will then end in a unique beach destination, such as Uruguay, Mauritius in Africa, Ko Samui in Thailand, or Fiji on their way back from Australia.”
“Many honeymoon clients these days are not just looking to lay on the beach for a week, but want a mix of both relaxation and adventure,” says Juli Morgan, vice president at the Luxury Travel Institute, noting that she has seen Italy, Saint Lucia, Hawaii, the Maldives and Bali trend this year. “The most popular destinations offer the best of both worlds where the client can escape to a secluded beach and enjoy some alone time or venture out when they’re feeling up to it to go take an ATV tour, go on a hike, scuba dive or take a private tour of the Vatican followed by an off-the-beaten-path tour of Rome, discovering local hidden gems that only a private guide can show you.”
Legacy’s Kupovics recently put together such a honeymoon itinerary, combining New Zealand and Bora Bora. “This couple wanted a combination of hiking and adventure, culinary experiences, relaxation and to hit two of their bucket list destinations,” she says. “I was able to set up a helicopter to pick them up from Blanket Bay Lodge in New Zealand and take them to a secluded hiking area for a private picnic lunch and amazing scenic views.” After a week in New Zealand, they switched gears to relaxation, spending the remainder of the trip at an over-water bungalow at the Four Seasons Bora Bora.
One tip? Lancer recommends a brand-new luxury lodge in Cambodia called Shinta Mani Wild for adventurous couples. “Not only is it remote in the jungle, but you arrive at the resort via ziplining into reception,” she says. DeBell says multi-destination honeymoon trips continue to be popular, which can challenge advisors to help couples adequately experience each country given the time constraints involved.
“Recently, we booked a honeymoon to Amanwana, the ultra-private and exclusive resort on Indonesia’s Moyo Island,” deBell says. “The couple specifically requested a day visit to Komodo Island, famous for the prehistoric looking reptiles that resemble large dragons and are known to frequent the beach. We arranged a private helicopter excursion with one of the island’s most resourceful nature guides so the couple could see these mystical creatures up close.”
Babymoons, too, remain a popular getaway for couples in a later stage of growing their family. “Most of my past honeymoon clients are now on to their babymoons, which have become very popular,” says Morgan. “In a sense they are very similar to honeymoons in that the soon-to-be parents want to relax — because being pregnant isn’t easy — and enjoy some last bits of adventure before they take on a whole new kind of adventure with their children.”
The Uniqueness Factor
Uniqueness — and the desire for it — has been a running theme among happy couples this year. “Every couple is looking for something unique to their needs and wants,” says Kupovics. “With social media playing a huge part in our day-to-day lives, it is important to know exactly what vibe and atmosphere they are wanting to experience.”
Swim-out suites, cooking classes and cultural immersion are all popular with novelty-seeking wedding planners, says Kupovics. “Now more than ever, couples are looking for more from the resort they are staying at than just the destination they are visiting.”
Wedding Trends and Vow Renewals
Destination weddings are not cookie-cutter, anymore. “Even just a few years ago, it seemed wedding couples were perfectly fine with base level wedding packages offered by the resorts,” Mina Nguyen of Blissful Honeymoons & Destination Weddings says. “Now, almost all of my wedding couples customize every component and are willing to pay to upgrade their selections. [It’s] ‘Here’s my Pinterest board, make it look like this.’”
Vow renewals are becoming more common and not just for landmark anniversaries. Photo by Getty Images / monkeybusinessimages
The good news, Nguyen adds, is that resorts are constantly evolving and have adapted to meet this level of planning. “That’s why destination weddings are becoming more and more popular,” she says.
In addition, guests are making more of a vacation from the wedding now. Nguyen says she’s seeing guests stay for more than the usual three-night stay. “I think, with the appreciation of the value in the memories and the experience, attending a destination wedding no longer feels like a chore to them. Most guests are truly taking advantage of the time away. It’s the best way to spend quality time with those you love.”
Melanie D’Souza of Divine Destination Weddings & Honeymoons says destination weddings are growing in size. Where in the past, she would typically book groups of around 30, it’s not uncommon for her to book 50-plus guests now. She adds that vow renewals are more common (a great way to double dip on the same clients!).
Geri Bain, co-author (with Susan Breslow) of “The Complete Guide to Vow Renewals,” points out that, “Couples celebrating their anniversaries often do not think of planning a vow renewal until they see other couples renewing their vows at their destination.” Suggesting a vow renewal can be a tremendous service and might turn a simple anniversary getaway trip into a memorable, multigenerational event. Many couples mark fifth- and 10th-year anniversaries with a destination vow renewal but, “We’re also seeing one-year vow renewals,” says Bain.