With the traditional wedding month of June around the corner (although it’s been eclipsed by increasing numbers of September and October nuptials), Travel Agent felt it was as good a time as any to check the pulse of the destination weddings and honeymoons market. We reached out to a few experts for their perspectives.
While there are some indications that destination weddings may have peaked or plateaued, Danielle Stephens of Harmon Travel begs to differ.
“Destination weddings are multiplying and gaining a lot of popularity in our area,” the Idaho-based agent tells us. “I do a big wedding show every January and I generally have one or two people talk to me about destination weddings and this year I had at least 10 couples mention it.”
Where are these couples tying the knot? “Beaches are by far the most desired traditional wedding destinations,” says Jenna Mahoney, travel editor of Bridal Guide Magazine. More specifically, “Caribbean and Mexico remain the most popular,” by a wide margin.
Case in point: “I have 12 weddings coming up this year and 10 of them are in Cancun or the Riviera Maya, the other two in the Dominican Republic,” Stephens says.
Beyond the beaches, “Italy remains popular and weddings at castles in Ireland have been picking up steam,” Mahoney says, adding that Thailand, Bali and the Philippines have also made big pushes for the U.S. destination wedding market in the past five years.
Regarding post-nuptial vacations, “I’ve noticed an increase in clients wanting to honeymoon in the Hawaiian Islands, the domestic U.S., or further northern areas like Canada, specifically British Columbia,” says Anna Yott of Dream Come True Vacations. “I think some of the increase in popularity for these areas vs. the Caribbean may be due to concerns about Zika.”
Stephens agrees: “Zika is still a big concern in a lot of couples’ minds.” Regardless, a lot of her clients have been heading for St. Lucia, Belize and Costa Rica, although she notes that New Zealand, Fiji and Thailand are also pretty popular.
Uniqueness, one-upmanship and bragging rights also come into play.
“Clients come to me not wanting to visit the same destinations that their friends went to on their honeymoon,” says Yott. “They want theirs to be unique.” This, she adds, has led to more clients seeking to explore more of Central America, smaller Caribbean Islands, and some out-of-the-box locations such as Nova Scotia.
These days, particularly with Millennial couples, it’s not just about where to go, but also what there is to do at a given destination.
“Many honeymooners I speak to lately are less interested in R&R and more interested in getting out to explore, go hiking, kayaking and experience new cultures,” says Yott. “Many of them also say they’d prefer to take a more active / difficult trip now since traveling may begin to get a little more complex as they begin to expand their family.” Along those lines, Stephens points out that she recently sent a honeymoon couple to a hunting lodge in New Zealand. This all dovetails with Mahoney’s observation of another recent wedding trend.
“As the population in general seems to be more active, adventurous wedding ceremonies — such as on top of a ski slope or at a special snorkel spot — are gaining traction,” she says, noting, “In the past few years, thanks to the boom in gastrotourism, we’ve seen an uptick in weddings at places that specialize in farm-to-table cuisine.”
‘Culturally Distinctive’ Nuptials
“By far the biggest trend from a vendor’s perspective is what they unfortunately call ‘theme weddings.’ The real name should be culturally distinctive and authentic celebrations,” Mahoney tells us. “When vendors say ‘theme’ they mean Kosher, Desi or LGBTQ wedding packages and menus. As a destination, Mexico and the hotel groups there have really been at the forefront of such offerings.” The Palladium Hotels Group, for example, offers a Baraat & Wedding Ceremony package by Karen Bussen in Riviera Maya as well as a Vivah package by Shaadi in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. She adds, “Atlantis Paradise Island also has such programs” (specifically, “Pyaar” Indian ceremonies).
New Romance Getaways
The Towers at Pacifica — a multimillion-dollar “resort within a resort” — opened at the adults-only Pueblo Bonito Pacifica in Los Cabos just before Christmas. To celebrate the expansion’s opening, Pueblo Bonito Pacifica has introduced a new romance package (think honeymoons, vow renewals, weekend escapes) designed exclusively for Towers guest. It includes a 45 percent discount on online rates; sparkling wine and chocolate covered strawberries upon arrival; $100 credit for a private dinner on the beach; $100 credit for a couple’s massage or other spa treatment; and locally made, hand-blown glass heart keepsake. Bonus: Towers guests get 24-hour British Butler Institute-certified service.
Fortland’s Point on Jamaica’s Discovery Bay, a Villas of Distinction property, has seven bedrooms where the newlyweds and guests can celebrate.
For destination nuptials, Pueblo Bonito Pacifica has a team of wedding professionals and an array of venues, including a secluded beach (accommodating up to 500 guests); Constellation Pool Deck (up to 200); Fountain Deck (100); and the chapel at sister resort Pueblo Bonito Sunset Beach (80).
Mountain Shadows, a new $100-million boutique resort in Paradise Valley, AZ (near Scottsdale), is courting prospective newlyweds with several venues that can accommodate events for up to 500 people. Paradise Ballroom has a wall of retractable glass that opens to a terrace for indoor-outdoor dining, reception and dancing space, while the Valley Rooms have a more intimate setting for smaller affairs. Mountain Shadows Lawn has a desert landscape as a backdrop, while at the Camelback Overlook Deck, guests can celebrate from up high with a built-in bar.
In the Bahamas, Meliá Nassau Beach- All Inclusive, which just completed a $19 million renovation, offers The Level, Meliá Hotels & Resorts’ elevated service concept (think private check-in, referential bookings at the restaurants, an expanded choice of premium top-shelf liquors throughout the resort, free room service and much more).
A stage for live entertainment and activities was built adjacent to the adults-only pool to cater to couples and adult groups. There’s also a Ballroom and Gazebo for weddings.
The Villa Option
Whether your clients want a private place all to themselves or a multi-bedroom vacation rental to accommodate the wedding party and other friends and relatives, Villas of Distinction has more than 1,000 places in the Caribbean and hundreds more elsewhere.
Fortland’s Point on Jamaica’s Discovery Bay, for example, has seven bedrooms where the newlyweds and guests can celebrate after, say, a wedding at the foot of Dunns River Falls or on the beach at sunset with a choice of five open-air dining areas. The staff can even serve dinner on the very point itself, followed by a seaside bonfire if your clients wish. All rooms open to wide stone terrace, swimming pool and hot tub. Four steps down to lawn, three steps down to main beach on the bay. Across the lawn, four steps down to two more beaches on the sea.
For a couple-only honeymoon, there are one-bedroom options such as Lindon Villa on Fowl Cay, a private 50-acre island in the Exumas, the Bahamas; Les Palmiers in St. Martin; Leamington Cottage in Barbados; or, for urbanites, Midtown Jewel 103, 60 stories above New York City streets. Sir Richard Branson’s private Necker Island, BVI, also has several one-bedroom houses available through Villas of Distinction.
Teaming With Vendors
Travel agents who are serious about making destination weddings more than a sideline should consider hooking up with related vendors and services. CruiseOne / Dream Vacations and Cruises Inc., for example, are partnering with David’s Bridal (320 locations worldwide) to expand their destination wedding and honeymoon offerings available to franchised travel agencies and home-based agents.
Participants of this program will have access to David’s Bridal customers through multiple channels. Those include having an in-store presence where agents can meet with brides before and after their dress fitting appointments, and participation in in-store events. These franchise groups have also negotiated an exclusive lineup of promotions with select vendors and a Creative Kit with customizable, branded collateral for use in stores.
Earlier this year, CruiseOne / Dream Vacations and Cruises Inc. also formed a partnership with Honeymoon Wishes, a full-service, online honeymoon gift registry that makes it easy for travel agents to book every aspect of an engaged couple’s honeymoon.