Romance travel has never been bigger, and advisors are loving it2024-01-22
Post-pandemic romance travel is booming, and evolving, as travelers place more value on spending time together and are no longer waiting for milestone moments to get away with loved ones.
A 2023 Deloitte holiday travel study found that romance and quality time with a partner or spouse outpaced revenge travel as a travel motivator, something echoed by romance travel specialists who experienced a surge in 2023 bookings.
“Five, 10 years ago, couples would say, ‘We’re going to save up and go on a big trip for our 10-, 20-year anniversary,” said John Hawks, executive director of the Destination Weddings & Honeymoon Specialists Association. “Clients are now saying, ‘We’re not going to wait anymore,’ and they’re fitting some type of trip into their budgets. We’re seeing that especially with destination weddings.”
A Destination Wedding Global Market report found that the market grew from $21.3 billion in 2022 to $28.3 billion in 2023, and industry professionals say that growth is expected to continue this year.
Luxury vacation wholesaler Journese said bookings for destination weddings significantly increased in 2023, and that rise is continuing into 2024. These trips make up approximately 30% of the company’s total group bookings.
Romance specialist Esprit Errant Travel in Charlotte said its bookings for 2024 were 65% ahead of its sales goals for the year by the end of the fourth quarter in 2023.
Hempstead, Md.-based Dreamers Travel said this year’s romance bookings are already outpacing 2023’s.
“Destination weddings and the honeymoon market are off to a fast start in 2024,” said Mark Hennigan, owner of Dreamers Travel. “We have already booked as many honeymoons in 2024 as we did all of 2023.”
Group sizes for destination weddings have also grown, according to Esprit Errant Travel, creating opportunities for travel planners.
Prepandemic, Esprit said only 30% to 45% of invited guests attended a destination wedding; in 2023, 55% to 70% of invited guests made the trip. With more guests attending destination weddings now than in previous years, the company said there is more opportunity for the trip to turn into a vacation for all who attend, not just the bride and groom.
“The guest numbers for these celebrations grew dramatically, with many families using the destination wedding as a family reunion opportunity, as well,” said Charity Peaver, owner of Esprit. “We also saw couples who planned micro-weddings stateside have lavish, three-week European honeymoons, which proved to be a big boost to business. 2024 is shaping up to be another benchmark year.”
Challenges to meeting demand
Business may be booming in the romance travel sector, but in some cases it is coming in faster than advisors and destinations can keep up with.
Staffing levels, which largely rebounded for the travel industry last year, still present challenges for some agencies.
“We are trying to help agents figure out a way to not turn clients away,” said Destination Wedding’s Hawks. One way, he said, is via virtual assistant firms like Lucia, which focus on the travel industry.
Some resorts are still understaffed, particularly in on-site wedding coordinator roles, Hawks said, which has resulted in customer service issues at times.
High airfare costs are also still a hurdle, though one that will not necessarily deter couples from taking romantic trips, especially honeymoons.
“Honeymoon budgets were $5,000 to $7,000 on average, prepandemic,” said Dreamers’ Hennigan. “Currently, we are seeing average honeymoon budgets of $7,000 to $10,000, with some even higher as parents of the bride and groom are now gifting the honeymoon.”
Honeymoons are the most in-demand trip in the romance travel sector, according to Hawks and Hennigan, but there are other “moons” growing in popularity.
These include buddymoons that include friends; familymoons that incorporate family members; babymoons for expectant couples; and shorter honeymoon trips called minimoons, which Hawks said were popular among younger couples with busy work schedules.
Since the pandemic, Esprit said, in addition to more babymoons and couples taking group trips, it is booking longer honeymoons.
Advisors also say that more clients are now booking romantic trips to Europe, with Italy, France and Spain leading the way.
“The Amalfi Coast in Italy and island-hopping in Greece were our most requested and most booked romance travel destinations for 2024,” Peaver said. “We also see increased demand for countries where the U.S. dollar goes far.”
Hawks said that about 85% of romance trips are booked to sun-and-sand destinations such as the Caribbean and Mexico, the latter of which has seen a surge in luxury accommodations since the pandemic, which advisors say is stoking demand.
“Over 80% of our destination wedding groups stay at luxury all-inclusive resorts,” said Amy Comparato, senior brand director at Journese. “Mexico continues to be very popular, with all-inclusive luxury resorts really stepping up their game and the launch of new resorts in the area, including the new Grand Velas Boutique Los Cabos and La Casa de la Playa by Xcaret on the Riviera Maya, an adults-only, all-inclusive boutique resort.”
Courtesy of Travel Weekly