The market for overseas weddings and honeymoons represents an incredibly lucrative selling opportunity for creative agents. Karl Cushing reports.
Given our unpredictable weather and the huge cost of UK weddings it’s no surprise many of us tie the knot abroad. From shorthaul hotspots such as Italy and the Greek Islands to Australia trips that see clients get hitched atop the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Mexican marvels featuring underwater ceremonies, the options are endless.
Having a stake in a couple’s big day can be immensely satisfying and offers the chance to bag additional honeymoon commission and future repeat business if planned well. Thankfully everyone from Olympic Holidays and First Choice features in-house wedding planning capability and many boast dedicated programmes, such as Sandals’ Aisle to Isle offering.
While Mauritius tops Kuoni’s 2019 wedding destinations hotlist (kuoni.co.uk/weddings-abroad) followed by the Maldives, Italy, Saint Lucia and Antigua, an increasing number of couples are taking to the water with last year seeing Celebrity Equinox become the first vessel to carry out a legally binding same-sex wedding at sea.
Traditional sun, sea and sand resort honeymoons continue to sell strongly with Kuoni citing the Maldives, Mauritius, Bali, Sri Lanka and Thailand as its top five honeymoon destinations. Tastes are definitely developing though with more couples opting for “adventure-moons” in countries from Peru to Iceland. Shorter duration “mini-moons” also remain popular, notes Kuoni, and there is robust demand for renewal of vows trips and a rise in booking enquiries for trips to propose.
Premier Holidays is seeing longer honeymoon durations, an increase in bookings with children and “a massive increase” in Indian Ocean bookings. “The reason for this is the vast number of adult-only hotels opening in the Indian Ocean,” explains product manager Nikki Hain. “The honeymoon market is also really tapping into island-hopping in the Seychelles as it gives a real Robinson Crusoe feel.”
Easy to get around and blessed with a pleasant year-round climate, Malta ticks a lot of boxes for couples looking to get wed in the Med. It’s a great option for larger groups, with everything from accommodation to catering remarkably affordable. Airlift is another positive: Air Malta launched a thrice-weekly service from London Southend last May and Jet2holidays is to add 25 per cent more seats to Malta for winter 2019/20.
Hotels such as the five-star Phoenicia and Westin Dragonara are well versed in wedding planning, while locations such as Mdina’s walled city and Valletta’s Upper Barraka Gardens make excellent backdrops for photos. Plus, agents can request clients arrive in everything from a vintage car or Karrozzin carriage to a traditional Dghajsa boat on Valletta’s Grand Harbour.
Options in First Choice’s Wedding Brochure (firstchoice.co.uk) range from pocket-friendly all-inclusive packages at four-star Hotel Seabank, near Mellieha Bay, to fairytale ceremonies at Villa Arrigo or Naxxar’s Palazzo Parisio.
Having topped the Rainbow Europe Index for LGBT-friendly destinations three years running, Malta is a great pick for same-sex weddings and civil partnership ceremonies can take place in any of the venues featured by Planet Weddings (planetweddings.co.uk). Managing director Mathilde Robert’s top pick is the “magical” Castello Zamitello, a 17th-century castle on the outskirts of Mgarr, where a comprehensive civil partnership wedding package, based on 30 adults attending, costs from £8,300.
South Africa’s wealth of affordable luxury and world-class service has never been so accessible: British Airways (britishairways.com) is currently flying its largest ever winter programme with 38 weekly flights from London to Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, launched last October. South Africa is also new for First Class Holidays (fcholidays.com) this year.
Couply classics such as Kruger NP safaris and Garden Route self-drives backed by stays in Cape Town and the Cape Winelands practically sell themselves, while a seven-night Boutique Garden Route Self-Drive is a standout of Premier Holidays’ 2019 brochure (from £489pp; trade.premierholidays.co.uk).
Honeymoon-friendly boltholes include recently refurbished Royal Malewane where a new safari lodge, The Farmstead, opens in June (theroyalportfolio.com). Another good bet is the country’s luxurious, scenic rail services such as Rovos Rail’s Pride of Africa or Shongololo Express. For 2019 the Blue Train (bluetrain.co.za) from Cape Town to Pretoria has changed from a one-night to a two-night journey with new prices, from R18,405pp (£1,015), and more convenient evening departures.
For weddings consider private game reserve Thanda Safari (thandasafari.co.za) in Zululand. Prices for its new tailorable Zulu-themed Kanye Wedding Package start from R15,000 (£830) for up to 10 guests, with wedding locations ranging from the open bush to a scenic spot overlooking
a watering hole.
Renowned for its dreamy adult-only properties such as Anse Chastanet, Ladera and Jade Mountain with their idyllic views of the towering Pitons this lush green Caribbean island gem is a honeymoon hotspot par excellence. Operators recently adding the island include If Only, whose inaugural Caribbean programme launched last June (ifonly.net).
September saw Jade Mountain (jademountain.com) launch three new wedding packages comprising everything from spa treatments to a Champagne sunset cruise. Elope to Paradise (£842), Great Escape (£2,305) and Ultimate Escape (£3,621) can each be tailored to suit clients’ requirements.
All three of Sandals’ resorts on the island can be explored on its Stay At 1, Play at 3 Programme (sellingsandals.co.uk) with guests staying more than three nights qualifying for a free wedding. Top picks for newlyweds include Halcyon Beach, whose Crystal Lagoon Walkout Swim-up Club Level Suites and Crystal Lagoon Poolside Luxury Suites opened in December. A seven-night stay in the latter costs from £1,925pp including flights with Virgin Atlantic departing Gatwick on November 4.
This year’s hot openings include the Fairmont Saint Lucia at Sunset Bay (fairmont.com), with work ongoing on a fourth Sandals property, Sandals LaSource, which will boast a rooftop infinity Skypool.
Having pioneered the one island, one resort concept the Maldives continues to blaze a honeymoon trail with its ever-expanding range of luxurious, sun-soaked retreats, including a growing band of all-inclusives. Late 2018’s standout openings include Westin Maldives Miriandhoo Resort (marriott.com) and Movenpick Resort Kuredhivaru (movenpick.com).
The 109-key, adult-only You & Me by Cocoon opens February 2019, complete with underwater restaurant, H20. Hard Rock Hotel Maldives (hardrockhotels.com) opens March, with Saii Lagoon Maldives (saiiresorts.com/maldives/lagoon), part of Hilton’s Curio Collection, opening across the lagoon in April. Further ahead the 200-villa OZO Maldives will open late 2020.
Premier Holidays’ new options include Oblu Select at Sangeli, opened last July.
A seven-night all-inclusive stay in a lagoon-facing beach villa costs from £2,199pp, including flights from London, transfers and a complimentary couples’ massage for honeymooners staying at least five nights (trade.premierholidays.co.uk).
Meanwhile, Naladhu Private Island Maldives’ new Honeymoon Dream Package, valid for stays until January 8, 2020, offers a programme of tailored experiences spanning four to seven days. Rates starts at £2,863, plus taxes, for a four-night stay (anantara.com/en/naladhu-maldives/offers).
As wedding services in the Maldives aren’t legally binding agents have long combined honeymoons there with wedding trips to Sri Lanka backed by London-Colombo-Malé-London flights on airlines such as SriLankan.
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s boutique hotel boom has raised its own fortunes as a honeymoon hotspot, focused on its southwestern and southern coastlines. Other recent openings, however, point to an increased focus on the under-discovered north, such as the North Gate in Jaffna (jetwinghotels.com/northgate), and east, such as Karpaha Sands (karpahasands.com).
The east coast climate is perfect for summer weddings, says Kuoni, which for 2019 has reintroduced The Blue Water Hotel & Spa, in Wadduwa, where a Silver wedding package costs from £617 per couple (flights and accommodation extra).
Honeymoon options worth a look include the new Wattura Resort, north of Negombo (watturaresortandspa.com), and the luxury safari camps near Yala NP such as Wild Coast Tented Lodge (resplendentceylon.com). Another nice option is the growing range of infinity pool-backed boutique properties amid the tea plantations of hill country, as featured by local operators such as Teardrop Hotels (teardrop-hotels.com), whose options include the five-bedroom Nine Skies, near Ella.
South East Asia
From Phuket and Samui to quieter options such as Koh Kood, Thailand’s islands have long lured honeymooners with their boutique properties and crystal clear waters, and beach weddings are a staple.
Venue options include the Sarojin (sarojin.com) in Khao Lak, which also launched a Jungle Waterfall Wedding package last year. Offered in Thai or Western styles it includes the services of a wedding planner and costs from THB 91,200 (£2,200), excluding flights and accommodation.
Twin centre options don’t come more romantic than the Eastern & Oriental Express (belmond.com). The iconic train spirits honeymooners from Bangkok, where this year’s exciting new properties include Rosewood Bangkok, to Kuala Lumpur or Singapore, where Raffles is set to emerge from a major refurb this year.
Alongside Malaysia’s paradise islands such as Langkawi, Tioman and the charming Perhentians sits “adventure-moon” classic Malaysian Borneo, while over in the Philippines the temporarily closed island of Boracay is back open for business and January saw the opening of Banwa Private Island off Palawan (banwaprivateisland.com).
Others getting in on the game include Cambodia. Six Senses Private Resort, opening on Koh Krabey in early 2019, features on InsideAsia Tours’ new 13-night Cambodia Under Canvas: A Luxury Adventure alongside a trio of recently opened honeymooner-friendly wilderness camps – Cardamom Tented Lodges, 4 Rivers Floating Lodge and Shinta Mani Wild (from £7,165pp, excluding flights; insideasiatours.com).