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Fri 10 Jul 2009 04:00 AM

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Selling the bliss factor...

Despite the downturn, honeymoon spend is holding steady, and the range of resorts and hotels chasing this business means clients are spoiled for choice.

Selling the bliss factor...
One of the rooms in the Four Seasons George V in Paris.
Selling the bliss factor...
Spectacular views for a romantic honeymoon suite on the hillside.
Selling the bliss factor...
For those looking for something different, Banyan Tree is the ticket.
Selling the bliss factor...
Banyan Tree Lijiang wedding in Yunnan.
Selling the bliss factor...
The pool at Anantara Golden Triangle.

Despite the downturn, honeymoon spend is holding steady, and the range of resorts and hotels chasing this business means clients are spoiled for choice.

While a wedding might qualify as the most important day of any couple's life together, the choice of honeymoon destination ranks equally heavily ... and it's one occasion when, generally, cost is not an issue.

Even in these straitened times, an exotic break is a must and hotels have responded with creative packages to woo those happy loving couples.

However, agents hoping to tap in to the honeymoon market should talk tough, according to BIT general manager, Paul Clabburn.

"To get the best deal, especially for an overseas wedding or honeymoon, you really need to be a tough negotiator who knows how to get the very best price ... resorts are always going to keep their prices up, knowing what the event is and also because such events are generally booked well in advance," he said.

Emirates Holidays' SVP John Felix cautioned about focusing too much on price: "Agents should try to probe and listen to what clients say (about their requirements)," he said. "Hotels might be pleased to get this type of forward booking, and chances are that a deal will be available - and both agents and clients should not be diverted by price with any reduction or special perks a bonus."

For Dnata Holidays, product development manager Tim White advised agents to talk clients in to booking their honeymoons well in advance, despite this year's last minute bargains: "It is hard to predict what offers will be available next summer - given the once-in-a-lifetime nature of a honeymoon, we would advise booking in case a preferred choice becomes unavailable."

But, while bargains might be the order of the day, for the honeymoon couple, White said budgets seem to have remained unchanged in 2009: "Many customers are now finding that their budget can buy more than it would have done this time last year and many couples are using these savings to purchase a room upgrade or a longer stay."

From The Travel Collection, managing director Jacqueline Campbell also stressed the value for money aspect of honeymoon travel: "Clients are looking for a destination that gives more for their money - they have the budget but want added value such as extra nights or free spas, etc.

"As honeymooners often opt for something more expensive than their normal holiday, they want destinations that are exotic, and for the western expat this often means luxury combined with soft adventure in a destination such as Vietnam or South Africa," she said.

Definitely at the top of the polls is the Indian Ocean - the picture perfect reputation of the Maldives, Seychelles and Mauritius is popular with both expat and Arab couples, while Thailand and Malaysia always score well for romantic getaways and Bali is making inroads as a ‘new' destination and even Pacific destinations such as Fiji and Tahiti are on the up.

"Bali is blossoming," said Campbell. "It can be combined with Singapore or KL and it is both exotic and good value - spas are ubiquitous and this is a big thing on a honeymoon."

Clabburn said the Bahrain market was typical in preferences for Mauritius and Seychelles, Bali and South East Asia and increasingly Australia, while Dnata Holidays also cited Bali as a ‘hot' destination as well as other Asian city and beach combos for the Arab market, and the traditional circle trips in the Alpine regions of Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

"For expats, we see a similar pattern but with an increasing number enquiring about full wedding packages on tropical beaches, while safari and beach honeymoons are expected to be popular, combining Kenya or Tanzania with Zanzibar, and classic honeymoon destinations such as Mauritius and the Maldives are always requested, especially given the great value-for-money offers we have available at the moment," said White.

At Emirates Holidays, Felix noted the trend away from the ‘romantic' image of Europe as the must-do honeymoon destination for Arabs: "The Lebanese for example tend to follow Western trends and are heading for island destinations," he said. "Tastes are changing, but the Arab market does opt for longer honeymoons and this gives them the opportunity to cover multiple destinations."

However, for some, Paris remains the ultimate honeymoon destination, according to TTC's Campbell: "It's total romance," she said. "Arabs still like the cachet of Europe and, as well as Paris, Vienna is seen as exotic and romantic, while a combination of Evian and Geneva offers the contrast of mountains and greenery."

Other trends include close-to-home options with the growth of luxury hideaways in the region: "We believe that further openings and developments in upmarket spa and lifestyle-oriented luxury resorts - such as the Evason Ma'in Hot Springs and Six Senses Spa - will be popular, enabling clients to opt for a shorter journey time."

Already, resorts such as The Chedi reports 21% of its business from the honeymoon and anniversary market, and sales and marketing director Lore Koenig said small wedding receptions could be catered for too: "The Chedi lends itself to those in search of a romantic hideaway - private bbq on a suite terrace, dinner on the beach an, spa rituals in the privacy of the suite," she said.

Other trends? Honeymoons afloat are broadening their appeal, particularly with the Arab market, according to Lakshmi Durai, executive director of Royal Caribbean in the Middle East.

"We have a lot of bookings from Kuwait, Saudi and the UAE, and they all want at least balcony cabins if not suites," she said. "The Caribbean has been popular, but swine flu has affected this to an extent, while the Mediterranean has romantic charm - and we are now getting enquiries for weddings at sea from the expat market."

Campbell also said older clients were looking at small wedding parties aboard luxury lines such as Silversea.

"It is a honeymoon holiday that can be very flexible with the couple paying for a special dinner or tailor-made tours ashore, but also allowing time for intimate private dining."

One further tip is for Turkey - scene of several popular soap operas, it is becoming fashionable among Arab couples wanting to exchange vows in the destination shown on screen. Back to nature

For something completely different...not only the honeymoon but also a marriage ceremony can be arranged in many destinations. At the Anantara Resort & Spa Golden Triangle, a sunset exchange of vows comes complete with an elephant which will enhance those wedding photos. The US $2500 package includes all the trimmings from wedding garland and bouquet to wedding cake, champagne, bedroom decoration, two-night stay in a suite, free breakfast, candle-lit dinner and airport transfers, as well as Thai welcome, a free massage, monks' ceremony, elephant riding for the bride and groom and a bonding ceremony.

Alternatively, at its Si Kao resort south of Krabi in Thailand offers an underwater blessing ceremony (the happy couple plus a dive master, with just the fish for an audience), followed by champagne breakfast, free massage plus flowers, gift and upgrade to a suite, at a cost of around THB100,000 (approximately $2900). www.anantara.com

For all seasons

Luxury hotels have an advantage in their capabilities to host unforgettable weddings and honeymoons, and one favourite is the Four Seasons George V in Paris, offering up the essence of romance.

As well as luxurious accommodation, its honeymoon package valid through to the end of the year offers free in-room champagne and flowers, a 100 spa voucher, American breakfast and Bulgari bath products, while other activities that can be arranged by the hotel include private stretch limo city tours, night cruises, sightseeing with chauffeur, privately escorted tour of the Louvre after hours and shopping off the beaten track. www.fourseasons.com

Honeymoon by design

Design Hotels delights in presenting the unexpected, and its recent promotion offered up several offbeat options for those seeking the unusual - including a romantic lovers' hideaway in Morocco and a resort on the shores of Antalya whose striking design by Eren Talu includes all-white architecture and furnishings, two-metre disco balls in the atrium lobby, lava lamps and goldfish bowls, plus a honeymoon package offering VIP airport transfers with bubbly and strawberries, bathrobes with the couple initials on, in-room breakfast, free couples' massage and Sushi or Italian meals, and a free CD to bring back romantic memories. www.designhotels.com

Spliced at sea

For a unique location, more couples are turning to weddings and honeymoons at sea - according to P&O Cruises, the numbers marrying at sea have risen more than 30 per cent during the past two years, with combined wedding and honeymoon packages for a couple costing from as little as £2000 ($3550) - while most lines will also offer discounts for accompanying wedding party guests.

A basic Wedding at Sea package starts from £725 ($1197) plus £249 ($411) for licence fees, and includes the venue, ceremony conducted by the captain, VIP treatment, floral arrangements and music, champagne, on-board wedding co-ordinator and invitations, tailor-made services such as cake, photography, champagne breakfast in bed, reception dinner and spa treatments. On P&O, dining options are a celebrity experience with restaurants by both Gary Rhodes and Marco Pierre White. www.pocruises.co.uk/weddings

Something for the boys

With its properties in the most romantic of Italian cities, Baglioni Hotels has put together a tour option for honeymooners covering a minimum of three hotels and six nights within a 14-day period - complimentary extras include champagne and strawberries, private transfers on the first night, breakfast, waive of room service fee and 10% discounts on food.

Properties available include the Luna Baglioni Hotel Venice where gondola tours, candlelight dinners and free casino entrance are on the menu; Due Torri Hotel Baglioni in Verona, with suite accommodation, scented candles, in-room breakfast and private Romeo & Juliet tour visiting the famous sites mentioned in the play, and the Grand Hotel Baglioni Bologna, home of Ferrari where honeymooners can take to the streets in the latest models as well as visit the Ferrari Gallery. www.baglionihotels.com

Island magic

The Maldives continue to woo Gulf travellers, particularly for a romantic honeymoon, and many offer wedding or blessing ceremonies - the Japanese in particularly love the idea of a ceremony in full gown and tails in paradise - and typical is the Huvafen Fushi Underwater Amore for $2,600 that includes a massage, flowers, champagne, certificate signed by the Master of Love, two-tier wedding cake, sunset cruise, dinner, CD/DVD and two Love Sarongs as keepsakes and a full breakfast in bed.

For a taste of something different, there's a host of new Maldives resorts coming up - the Shangri-La Maldives opens this month with a 2km beach, three lagoons, 16 luxury tree-house villas with private infinity pools, a CHI spa village and a resort salon that offers wedding gowns and ceremony packages. Offers this year include romantic bath, bed decoration and gift for honeymooners as well as four-for-three, five-for-seven and 14-for-10 night packages with free half board, spa experience and nature trail and bicycle tours. www.huvafenfushi.com, www.shangri-la.com

Chinese selection

A unique wedding venue is China, where Banyan Tree is offering a traditional ceremony in a pagoda at its Lijiang property in Yunnan, set against the majestic peaks of the fabulously named Jade Dragon Snow Mountain with access to the cobbled streets, canals of Naxi architecture of the old town of Dayan. The wedding package, priced at RMB 5165 ($756) per couple per night includes breakfast, in-villa hot pot dinner with wine, three-tier wedding cake, champagne, flowers, photography, bride make-up and wedding gift - as well as a two-hour spa package and in-room sunken bath ritual with candles, oils, flowers, music and wine. www.banyantree.com

Honeymoon offers

• Maia in the Seychelles is offering complimentary half board, plus one La Prairie facial or body treatment and one Dancing Fingers massage per person for couples staying five nights or more. www.maia.com.sc

• Valid until December 31, Emirates Hotels' new Wolgan Valley resort in Australia has an opening promotion with a free night for every two nights booked - and honeymooners also qualify for a complimentary private deck dining experience; rates start from $1950 per night, all inclusive, and the resort opens in October. www.wolganvalley.com

• Rayavadee, Krabi and The Sukhothai Bangkok has introduced a five-night ‘Island Honeymoon-City Romance' package comprising two nights in a suite in the Thai capital and three nights in a deluxe pavilion at the beach resort. Extras include free transfers, breakfast, spa in Bangkok, champagne at Rayavadee as well as a floral bath arrangement, spa gift, daily afternoon tea and free non-motorised water sports. Price is THB 88,790 ($2620). www.rayavadee.com, www.thesukhothai.com

Honeymoon ... for the month after a wedding in Babylon, the bride's father would supply his new son-in-law with all the mead he could drink. As mead is honey-based, this became known as the honey month and later, the honeymoon.

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