A wedding or honeymoon overseas is often the most luxurious holiday a couple will have in their lifetime, and tapping into this market can be lucrative.
WTM Buyers’ Club members and exhibitors with an interest in this theme will have a special area during this year’s Speed Networking sessions on Tuesday morning of the show.
One WTM London exhibitor, Aruba, is among destinations to proactively court this sector. “We’ve got a niche department at head office and wedding and honeymoons is part of that. It looks at the investment map and return on investment, like a business, and how we can improve the offering and the markets we should be aiming at,” explains Joanna Walding, marketing and country manager for Aruba Tourism Authority in the UK.
The island has a dedicated online blog-style forum, Beach Brides, with real wedding case studies and useful information such as which beaches have webcams set in the trees and where the island’s free Wi-Fi spots are. “There’s a list of independent wedding planners besides the ones in resort who can arrange things like a wedding breakfast in the national park,” adds Walding.
Aruba also has its own honeymoon gift list, which couples can use to request cash towards a host of experiences from trusted island suppliers – from a snorkel tour to a meal at a particular restaurant.
The US, Latin America and Europe are the Dutch island’s key source markets and it has just hosted the world’s largest vow renewal celebration for the second year running as part of a US promotion. It’s also targeting more scheduled airlift from Europe where, though the Netherlands sends the most arrivals, Italy leads the way for romance, with US-Aruba twin-centre honeymoons popular.
While destination weddings were once seen as a form of elopement, now they’re often large affairs. In the Greek islands, Aldemar Resorts says its average wedding party over the past couple of years has been 20 to 30, with most couples paying extra to have the only ceremony on the day. AM Resorts in the Caribbean and Mexico, incorporating romance brands Dreams and Secrets, is increasingly hosting more than 200 guests for weddings and has couples requesting fireworks, fire dances and arrival by helicopter.
Cultural factors and burgeoning source markets are also coming into play. Some from the Middle East and Israel are choosing to marry in nearby Cyprus in order to have a secular ceremony not possible at home. Operator Planet Weddings reports hosting nuptials on the island for Lebanese couples.
Planet has also arranged several Greece and Cyprus weddings for Indians, whose traditionally lavish celebrations mean hundreds of guests. In Mexico, AM Resorts has introduced multi-day Indian weddings to cater for this growing source market. The festivities include the groom’s Baraat wedding procession and the pre-nuptial Sangeet and Mehndi receptions.
Destinations can also tap into the tradition for couples from the growing Chinese market to have pre-wedding photos taken in landmark destinations abroad. The backdrops of Paris, Santorini and London have been in favour in recent years.
The legalisation of same-sex marriage in more destinations, recently Australia and Malta, has also widened the market.
The wedding of the year – between Britain’s Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle, has yet to produce a trendsetting honeymoon destination, with unconfirmed reports that they’ve already secretly got away. However, there are plenty of other factors, including increased connectivity, new product and market trends, helping destinations to attract couples’ attention.
Malta’s capital Valletta, a long-time favourite with filmmakers due to its well-preserved ancient streets, has been in the spotlight as European Capital of Culture this year.
In addition, last September same-sex marriage became legal in the destination – which already regularly tops LGBT-friendly polls – so bringing a new wedding market to the island and its laid-back sister, Gozo.
A rash of romantic boutique hotels has opened in Valletta in the past couple of years in 16th-century palazzos. Among them is the Palazzo Consiglia, a converted townhouse near the waterfront with a rooftop pool and underground spa; the five-suite Palazzo Prince d’Orange; and The Saint John, which has its own gastropub.
Meanwhile, the island’s grande dame, the Phoenicia Hotel, reopened last year following major refurbishment and is offering a Day to Remember wedding package in its grounds.
The romantic favourite, where honeymooners have included Britain’s Prince William and Kate Middleton, gained new Europe connections this year with a British Airways flight from London and an Edelweiss Air service from Switzerland. Desroches Island also saw the opening of the Seychelles’ second Four Seasons property this spring with 71 bungalows, villas and suites and an organic spa.
Some of the islands hardest hit by hurricanes Irma and Maria are welcoming honeymooners once more.
The new nine-suite, butler-service Quintessence on Anguilla opened as planned in January. On the same island, Belmond Cap Juluca will relaunch in November having brought forward redesign plans as a result of hurricane damage. Belmond La Samanna on St Martin should reopen in December.
Beloved of brides and grooms seeking exclusivity, Richard Branson’s private Necker Island in the BVIs will be welcoming guests back to its Great House from October with its other accommodation due to reopen in 2019.
A short-haul favourite from Australia, Bali has taken years to regain its popularity among European honeymooners having lost important flight connections, but became the third most popular honeymoon destination last year for luxury Swiss/UK operator Kuoni.
It also has some exciting new products – next year Rosewood will open the World Grand Bali, featuring suites with plunge pools as part of the Pecatu Indah Resort development. The Mulia Bali at Nusa Dua has a new Royal Balinese Wedding package, with traditional blessing, dancing and feasting, while honeymooners can opt for its new Baliscovery Experience combining a sunrise hike to Mount Batur, a blessing from a traditional healer and a lengthy spa session.
An hour’s flight from Bali, Ayana Komodo Resort, Waecicu Beach will open this September on the less developed island of Flores, close to Komodo National Park. Ceremony venues at the wedding-focused resort will include a traditional phinisi sailing ship offshore.
Also in phinisi style, super-yacht Prana is being launched in Indonesia by the Atzaro Group, whose Ibiza hotels are a favourite with Hollywood A-listers. It has nine suites and will visit national parks.
US national parks
The buzz around the centenary of US national parks last year is helping entice new international visitors. The destination is already popular for touring honeymooners. Vegas, of course, has a plethora of wedding options – from novelty drive-thru and Elvis ceremonies to showy hotel affairs. The city is popularly combined with a road trip to national parks in neighbouring states, including the Grand Canyon in Arizona, Monument Valley on the Arizona-Utah border, Yosemite in California and Bryce Canyon in Utah.
Weddings in Italy
UK operators report a boom in weddings in Italy as awareness grows of some of the attractive heritage buildings where couples can tie the knot. The elegant town halls of Amalfi, Ravello and Venice – where George Clooney had his civil ceremony – and the medieval St Francis cloister in Sorrento are among favourites.
Twin and multi-centres
With today’s younger generation being well travelled, honeymoons are getting more adventurous, with newlyweds seeking more twin or multi-centre itineraries.
Popular wedding destination Sri Lanka is not only great for a touring honeymoon but also easily combined with the Maldives. Flight connections make the Middle East plus Asia or the Indian Ocean a viable contrasting option. Mauritius and the Seychelles also combine well with an African safari.
Among new Middle East honeymoon options is the Jumeirah at Saadiyat Island resort in Abu Dhabi, due to open this November, with villas and panoramic suites among its 293 rooms. A grand Moroccan-style hammam will include a VIP couple’s suite with private entrance. The much-anticipated Louvre Abu Dhabi opened nearby late last year.
In the Maldives, 37-villa Mirihi Island this year introduced themed honeymoon options incorporating private cruises, beach cinema, daily spa treatments, fishing and cooking experiences and private whale shark safari. Huvafen Fushi is reopening this autumn following a year’s refurbishment, with a new PlayPen grand beach pavilion and Japanese restaurant with sake sommeliers.
On Mauritius, the renovated Heritage Le Chateau, a Michelin–starred restaurant, has launched a luxurious presidential suite. Victoria Beachcomber Resort & Spa has added an adult-only wing with the island’s first swim-up suites and Four Seasons is set to open a new beach club.