Weddings and honeymoons
By Debbie Ward
Lockdown has allowed couples to save hard and dream big, with many planning on splashing the cash to have the ultimate destination wedding – when they can!
Worth the wait
Weddings and honeymoons are traditionally booked well ahead so, with vaccines now in progress this lucrative sector is showing some movement and, better still, couples are in the mood to upgrade.
So has the pandemic made people more or less keen to wed abroad? The Bodrum EDITION hotel believes the appeal of a destination wedding will be even greater after the ‘lost year of travel’ and has launched an Ultimate Takeover Package to encourage exclusive hire parties complete with beach barbecues and poolside live music.
Planet Holidays is more circumspect: “The appeal continues for the same reasons as pre-Covid: guaranteed weather, exceptional value for money and a great way to bring family and friends together in an idyllic location,” says MD Matilde Robert, though she believes guest counts will likely stay small for now.
“There will be elderly relatives that will not wish to risk flying just yet and with those clients we emphasise wedding venues where the ceremony can be watched via an internet connection, so the older relatives could gather in a local UK pub to watch the proceedings.”
Meanwhile, with a reduced team, Kuoni has temporarily paused new weddings to concentrate on a wave of honeymoon bookings and has noted couples using lockdown to plan these much further in advance.
Upgrades and add-ons
There are clearer indications when it comes to couples splashing the cash.
“Now that many have had an extra year to save towards their dream honeymoon we have seen lots of requests for different add-ons,” says Debbie Goffin, Director of Sales and Marketing for Premier Holidays.
“These include upgrading from four-star hotels and resorts to more luxurious accommodation – including on exclusive islands – and room upgrades, in particular to villa-style accommodation.”
Kirker’s Marketing Manager, Patrick Millar agrees: “We’ve noticed that many clients who have been forced to postpone celebrations by a year are looking to treat themselves in style when they finally travel, which means spending more and staying longer. The average duration of stay is up by a third and the average spend is up by 40% year-on-year.”
However he warns the knock-on effect of postponements and longer stays is that popular luxury hotels in romance hotspots like Tuscany, Sicily, the South of France and Venice are already full for peak dates.
Kuoni says the “saving and upgrading” trend has caused its average honeymoon booking to jump by over £500 to £8,247 for 2021. Postponements have also led to a two-figure rise in “double honeymoons”, with couples taking a short break in Italy, Greece, Spain, the UK or Ireland, after their, often downsized, UK wedding and saving for a big long-haul trip when restrictions have eased.
Planet hasn’t noticed such recent shifts in spending but says couples now often draw out the celebrations with their guests with activities such as pizza parties the day before the wedding, wine tastings, cooking and cocktail-making classes and, more extravagantly, post-nuptial sailing trips.
Robert explains: “There has been a trend in the past six years or so to extend the wedding to three days of celebrations. Indian families do this as a matter of course but many more couples are picking up on this.”
For families kept apart by the pandemic, shifting a wedding overseas can offer a greater opportunity to reconnect.
“The added advantage of a wedding abroad is that most of the family and friends attending will stay for a minimum of three and four days, which offers all those invited a way to get to know each other,” says Robert.
For those saving for extra flourishes, last minute details work fine. She adds: “We work with local suppliers and that means we can add anything, even up to 24 hours before they say ‘I do’ – and agents can make some healthy commission on the extras booked through us too.”
Other romance trends
Premier has been seeing greater interest in health and wellness for honeymoons, particularly all-inclusive spa treatments.
“Clients wish to feel that they’re contributing to the area they’re visiting in a positive manner, even more so after recent events,” says Goffin.
Spa retreats, private pool villas and African tented camps are also trending for Kuoni.
The Maldives, Sri Lanka and Mauritius still top its best-selling honeymoon destinations, though, thanks to a boom in “bucket list” trips, safaris in Kenya and Tanzania have jumped from eighth to fourth place.
New product reflects couples’ desire for something extra special to make up for the privations of lockdown.
Kirker ran a complimentary wine pairing promotion to welcome clients back to the Orient Express, which took a year off in 2020.
The train will visit a host of new cities, with these special departures including Amsterdam, Brussels, Geneva, Florence and Rome sure to sell out well in advance.
“Clients want to add on those ‘once in a lifetime’ unique experiences.... the more Instagram-able the better!” says Goffin.
With this in mind, Premier has added transparent, igloo-style Jungle Bubbles at Anantara Golden Triangle Resort in Northern Thailand and the Stargazer Camp at Bellevue Forest Reserve, South Africa, which features alfresco four-poster beds.
Planet has added grand new venues in the Italian Lakes and The SoCo Hotel Barbados’s new wedding packages include a honeymoon room upgrade, flower arrangements and photography.
Offering special upgrades and add-ons should help agents land more romance bookings.
For clients whose 2020 UK wedding was a scaled down affair an overseas vow renewal may be an attractive idea. And, for those yet to marry, painting an overseas wedding as an opportunity to reconnect with family and friends might clinch a switch from a ceremony at home.
Remember though that couples need to get their venues and dates locked in now if they are to beat the post-pandemic rush.