The first destination wedding that agent Kira Solomon planned was her own. And she's been hooked ever since.
Solomon, who runs My Paradise Planner from a home office in Spring Hill, FL, now specializes in luxury destination weddings and honeymoons, and is a multiple award winner in Sandals' agency recognition programs.
“The agency started with just me and a small desk made out of TV trays in the corner of my apartment bedroom and almost a decade later it's grown to a dozen agents strong,” said Solomon.
Trends have changed since she started the business in 2008; today, she said, the VIP treatment extends well beyond the happy couple to guests attending destination weddings; more activities are organized for the whole group, and accommodations favorites include romantic overwater bungalows.
Solomon said airport VIP services and private transfers are popular options being added on to costs. “Clients want luxury from the moment they arrive at the airport to the moment they get home. For destination weddings I've had brides and grooms pay for these services for guests in their wedding party or for all of their guests as a thank-you for attending,” she said.
Clients also are more willing to “spend extra on things the whole group can enjoy together, like a group excursion, rather than spending extra money on things like upgraded wedding flowers or decor.”
Suppliers are changing with the trends, she noted. “Most of the resorts used to be very cookie-cutter in their wedding package options. I'm loving that resorts have branched out and now have wedding packages to fit the way couples envision them. I'm seeing more options available for various religious ceremonies and same-sex marriages. It's great to see that couples no longer have to pick and choose options A through E and now have more flexibility to customize their special day as they see fit.”
When it comes to the honeymoon, a new trend is a split stay. “Couples love the idea of picking a lower-priced resort for their wedding so more family and friends can attend, and then when everyone goes home, they move to a different resort or destination to experience their honeymoon.”
Also popular are the new overwater bungalows at Sandals Resorts and Karisma Resorts, she said. “I'm finding that despite the high price tag, my clients want to experience something they can't get everywhere else in the Caribbean, without having to travel outside of the Caribbean to experience it. While I've branded myself as a Sandals specialist and focus most on all-inclusive vacations to the Caribbean and Mexico, I am still happy to assist my clients in sending them anywhere they wish to go.” The latest hot spots for honeymoons, she said, are Greece, Mexico, Thailand and Costa Rica.
For Greece, they are looking for a destination like Santorini where they can relax and immerse themselves in the beauty of the surrounding area while taking in the incredible views. For Thailand, they want to see multiple places at once; “we've booked everything from cruises to island-hopping packages for clients interested in this destination.” And Costa Rica is all about mixing luxury and adventure, “staying in a beautiful hotel with great views and amenities, but also spending a lot of time exploring.”
Solomon also said she's noticed another big change in client behavior – traveling again for the first wedding anniversary.
“I found years ago that I'd book a couple and it would be a few years (maybe even a few kids) later before they'd contact me again to take another trip. They were taking the time to get settled and build a nest egg. Now, more often than not, my honeymooners come home ready to rebook their next trip and they're going back every single year. Those clients used to be few and far between before, but now that seems to be more of the norm,” she said.
The budgets for upscale destination weddings and honeymoons also have changed, Solomon said.
“Years ago couples would come to me and say $3,500 was pushing their max budget, but I'd be able to find them something within that budget. Now their max budget is double, sometimes even triple that. As the cost of resorts and flights continues to rise, clients' budgets are rising too, and most have found that they'd rather have luxury and comfort than stick to a restrictive budget,” she said. “On average, with flights and all-inclusive resort, most of my clients spend from $5,000 to $8,000 on a honeymoon or destination wedding at an all-inclusive resort.”