This is the second in a three-part series on selling destination weddings.
Once fairly simple, today’s destination weddings are elaborate affairs that can turn happy couples and guests into repeat clients for travel agents.
Destination weddings also are being marketed by a growing number of resorts, cruise lines and destinations – a trend that is expanding revenue opportunities for agents and choices for their clients.
A far cry from 30 years ago
“Personalization and absolute flexibility is what couples want now; no cookie-cutter weddings,” said Gary Sadler, senior vice president of sales for Miami-based Unique Vacations, worldwide representative for Sandals Resorts.
Founded as couples-only resorts, Sandals pioneered destination weddings, but has evolved its approach over the years, Sadler said.
“If we offered weddings the way we did 30 years ago, we’d be out of business,” he said. “When I started working at Sandals Ocho Rios in 1990, the bride and groom would get flowers, champagne and have their own homemade videos. That was the end of it.
“Today, Sandals’ weddings include a wedding planner, a wedding butler, a two-tiered wedding cake, a professional photographer and videographer, flowers brought in from the area, champagne and hors d’oeuvres, the resort venue itself plus other features — all of it personalized for each couple at each resort.”
Cruise lines jumping in
Cruise lines have become more aggressive in marketing on-board weddings over the past decade, according to Fiona O’Donnell, a lifestyles and leisure analyst with the Mintel Group Ltd., a London-based market research firm with offices in New York and Chicago.
Carnival hosts about 2,400 destination weddings a year; Royal Caribbean 800, and Norwegian Cruise Lines 300, O’Donnell said.
Cunard recently entered the market. The line announced it will begin offering weddings onboard its three ships in April.
Ethnic destination weddings are also increasing, a reflection of our multicultural society, according to Ed Cotton, COO of DestinationWeddings.com.
These events include “intriguing” ceremonies and events that many resorts are now able to stage, he said.
Fewer couples are starting their honeymoons immediately after the wedding, Cotton added. “They want to stay and enjoy the party.”
Who is the destination wedding client? Just about everyone, according to research.
A Mintel Group survey reports the 25 to 44 age group as most likely to have had a destination wedding.
The future looks particularly promising, according to another Mintel survey, which found that many 18- to 34-year-olds expect to want a destination wedding when their time comes to marry.
Older couples too
Agents have sales opportunities at the other end of the generational spectrum as well. Destination weddings are ideal for second marriages, according to O’Donnell.
“The 50 and older age group has a higher divorce rate,” she said. “Many won’t remain single and on the second time around they’re not comfortable making a big production of their wedding.”
More growth factors
“The market will only increase as couples look for more cost-effective weddings, a way to avoid the hassles of a traditional wedding, ‘safer waters’ away from feuding families, the ability to have a wedding and honeymoon in a great location and a wedding that’s small and intimate,” said Johnson.
Also fueling the trend is the fact that people have become more accustomed to long-haul travel, said O’Donnell of Mintel.
“Twenty years ago people didn’t stray more than a few miles from home. We’re more mobile now, and families are spread out. If you have to travel to a wedding anyway, why go to Paducah, Ky.; why not go to the Bahamas?”
Next time: Travel agents share their advice for selling to and servicing the destination weddings market.
Please see Part One: Destination Weddings: A Profitable Match for Agents, March 19, 2012