A survey on wedding-planning website The Knot showed that nearly 25 percent of couples held a destination wedding last year. // © 2014 Shutterstock
Brides and grooms spent a record amount of money on weddings last year, according to The Knot, a popular wedding-planning website.
“Wedding budgets have been increasing steadily since the economic downturn of 2008, and in 2013, couples spent a record-high average of nearly $30,000,” says Carley Roney, co-founder of The Knot.
Similarly, destination weddings are growing in popularity. The Knot’s survey showed that nearly 25 percent of couples held a destination wedding last year, an increase of more than 20 percent since 2008.
Factor in travel costs for guests, honeymoon packages and on-site transportation, and it’s clear why specializing in romance travel can mean big business for travel agents.
The expenses — and the commissions — don’t end with the wedding. Couples typically spend one-third more on their honeymoon than they do on a regular vacation, according to Lisa Sheldon, founder of the Destination Weddings & Honeymoon Specialist Association (DWHSA).
When it comes to destination weddings, with the multiplier factor in play, agents can quickly see the numbers add up.
“Destination weddings oftentimes turn into a nice little group,” Sheldon says. “With the couple, the parents, bridal attendants, their plus-ones and a few guests, you can quickly get 30 people attending a destination wedding.”
Another reason weddings are so lucrative is because they are a year-round business. Sheldon, who is based in Wisconsin, says the majority of her local clients are looking to escape the winter weather, so travel in January, February and March is exceptionally popular. When she switched to booking weddings, however, her business spread more evenly throughout the year.
For travel agents looking to start specializing in romance travel, Sheldon suggests they attend bridal shows or mine their existing databases. Some agents are doing great things with social media as well, she says.
“One member has gotten several clients through Pinterest and Instagram,” Sheldon says.
Most of Sheldon’s destination wedding business is now driven by referrals.
“The average bridal party has about five attendants, and usually three of those bridesmaids are engaged or have the potential to become engaged,” she says.
For Patsy Martin, a luxury travel advisor with Strong Travel in Dallas, customer service is a key element when working with bridal parties. Whenever possible, Martin likes to arrange one-on-one time with her clients. She prefers to meet in person with the bride, groom and mother of the bride.
“It quickly becomes obvious that one person is driving the decision-making,” she says.
This can prove to be tricky for travel agents, who need to make sure everyone’s needs are met. Martin typically includes all three parties on every email communication.
When it comes to planning wedding travel, Martin is a big fan of using the hotel’s resources.
“The on-site wedding planner really helps make my life easier,” Martin says.
She charges clients at least $150 for her time. While she says clients do occasionally question the fee at first, they quickly realize they will save money in the long run by using a travel professional.
Agents interested in specializing in the romance niche might consider joining the DWHSA, which is just completing its second full year of business. Annual membership dues are $139.
In April, the organization will host the Romance Travel Show in Chicago, which is designed to highlight member best practices.
“We are very focused on having members provide the educational content,” Martin says. “What’s working for me might work for you.”
The association has about 700 members; nearly 550 are on the company’s private Facebook page, providing continuous networking opportunities.
“On the Facebook page, we post questions, we help each other, we cheer each other on,” Sheldon says. “And, of course, we share crazy bridezilla stories.”
ULTRA-LUXURY WEDDING PACKAGES
When Kim Kardashian and Kanye West tied the knot, they reportedly spent $2.8 million on their nuptials. Add in the honeymoon and travel expenses, and the total bill climbed to $12 million. But million-dollar weddings are not just for celebrities anymore. Travel agents working with clients who want their own celebrity-caliber weddings can draw inspiration from some of these over-the-top wedding packages.
La Valencia Hotel
For $1 million, the iconic La Valencia Hotel, located in La Jolla, Calif., can be bought out for up to 200 guests. The 112-room, oceanfront Southern California resort, which has entertained everyone from Mary Pickford to Madonna, provides a dedicated chef, housekeepers, waiters and concierge for the wedding party.
A wedding design team organized by Alchemy Fine Events offers the services of Southern California’s premier vendors, including couture bridal-gown designers, Hollywood hair and makeup artists, musicians, florists, photographers and videographers. The bride and groom will stay in the hotel villa and enjoy transportation around San Diego, plus spa services, a rehearsal dinner on a private yacht and custom menus prepared by five-star chefs. Also provided are accommodations for up to 125 guests and a bon voyage brunch.
For a cool million, the bride, groom and 100 of their friends can celebrate the big day in Italy. The Rome Cavalieri, a Waldorf Astoria property, will fly the newlyweds-to-be to Rome via private jet and then transfer them to the hotel in a chauffeur-driven vintage car. Accommodations are provided in the property’s 2,500-square-foot penthouse suite, home to four original Andy Warhol paintings. Here, the couple will sleep on monogrammed Pratesi Paradise bed linens — a fabric so fine that only 30 feet are woven by Italian linen-maker Pratesi every week.
Wedding photography takes place at some of the most famous Roman landmarks, including Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum and the Spanish Steps, and a chic cocktail reception is held on the rooftop garden overlooking the city, followed by a seven-course meal and wedding cake prepared by celebrated three Michelin-starred chef Heinz Beck. A fireworks display and balloon release from the highest terrace overlooking Rome completes the festivities.
The Langham, Huntington, Pasadena
Before creating the perfect wedding, it’s critical to design the perfect proposal. In honor of the 100th birthday of the original Huntington Hotel in Pasadena, Calif., The Langham Huntington, Pasadena launched a $100,000 way to get down on one knee. The iconic hotel is located near the Rose Bowl, a National Historic Landmark, where the groom or bride will pop the question.
Up to 40 guests can witness the moment, which is also splashed across the Rose Bowl’s video message board. The package includes a two-night stay in the 3,200-square-foot Tournament of Roses Presidential Suite, a serenade for the couple by the 40-piece Pasadena Symphony Orchestra and a custom-designed engagement ring by Single Stone.
W South Beach
In Miami, the million-dollar way to get married starts with separate accommodations — the Marvelous Suite for the groom and the Cool Corner Suite for the bride — while a dinner on a private yacht provides romantic alone time before the big day. The package also includes a designer wedding dress and veil provided by Ever After Boutique, as well as designer jewelry for the bride and a custom-fit tuxedo for the groom.
A seated dinner for 175 guests includes a custom wedding cake and a seven-piece band. After the wedding, the newlyweds are moved to the Penthouse Suite before being whisked off to Bora Bora for a six-night honeymoon at The Royal Estate at St. Regis Bora Bora.
Viceroy Hotels and Resorts has collaborated with couture women’s designer Marchesa to set the stage for its $500,000 Viceroy Destination Wedding Package. The package includes a Marchesa bridal gown, fitting and alterations by exclusive couture tailor Madame Paulette in New York and a complete 12-setting Marchesa for Lenox china set.
The bride and groom can select any Viceroy hotel or resort for their three-night destination wedding for up to 75 guests, which includes a welcome reception, rehearsal dinner, wedding ceremony and reception, as well as 60 guestrooms for the special day.
Wynn Las Vegas
For $500,000, a couple can enjoy a five-day, lavish wedding experience at Wynn Las Vegas. For their first dance, the newlyweds will enjoy custom dance moves choreographed by performers from “Le Reve – The Dream.”
Also included in the package are custom Cartier wedding bands, a private party inside XS Nightclub and a rehearsal dinner at the award-winning Bartolotta Ristorante Di Mare, complete with a champagne toast by Chef Paul Bartolotta. Couples say “I do” on the Margaux lawn overlooking the Wynn golf course, followed by a customized reception in one of the hotel’s luxurious ballrooms.