Focus on hotels: the happiness of destination weddings : Travel Weekly

When it came to pulling off the perfect wedding, Kerri Brewster faced a little more pressure than most brides.
Indeed, in addition to owning Arizona-based Escapes Unlimited and Sunlover Travel, Brewster specializes in destination weddings.

“Everyone knew I was in this world of destination weddings, so I felt very responsible when it came to making sure our guests had a great time,” Brewster said. “And I knew everyone I knew in the industry would be looking at my pictures and thinking, ‘What did she do?'”

Brewster and her husband ended up getting married last February on the Sandals South Shore in Jamaica, and it was no simple affair. The guest list, initially estimated at 20-30 guests, ended at around 50. The celebration included a pre-wedding welcome party with a private sunset catamaran cruise, and cocktail hour, guests were treated to a performance by Junkanoo. Dinner was accompanied by a fire dancing demonstration.

Kerri Brewster, owner of Escapes Unlimited and Sunlover Travel, kisses her husband at their wedding on the Sandals South Coast in Jamaica earlier this year. Photo credit: Courtesy of Kerri Brewster

Brewster’s elaborate event, however, is far from an outlier these days.

As the world emerges from a long period of social distancing, lockdowns and quarantines, destination wedding demand has returned with a vengeance, with couples and their guests spending more than ever.

“I have more weddings planned for 2022 than in 2018 or 2019,” Brewster said. “A lot of the couples I had used to get the cheapest package, and they basically had a destination wedding because of the cost savings. But now they have bigger receptions, they spend more on decor, they fly their own photographers and videographers, instead of maybe $3,000 or $4,000, they’re now spending over $10,000.

Guest lists are also growing. Prior to the pandemic, guests at destination weddings in Brewster typically numbered between 30 and 50 people. This year, that average has jumped to between 100 and 150 guests, and many attendees are now choosing to add nights and extend their stay beyond the wedding festivities.

“Instead of three nights, guests now stay seven nights and make it a vacation,” Brewster said.

A leader in all-inclusive destination weddings, Sandals Resorts has certainly benefited from this year’s wedding boom. According to Marsha-Ann Donaldson-Brown, director of weddings and romance at Sandals, the first half of 2022 is on track to be a banner year for the company when it comes to weddings.

“Travel is back and stronger than ever,” she said. “Weddings are also making a pronounced comeback at our Caribbean resorts, as we currently anticipate 30% more weddings for 2022 than 2021.”

Donaldson-Brown also said Sandals couples were spending around 25% more on average per guest than in 2019, as they were increasingly willing to invest more in photography, entertainment and food and drink.

The Californian Hotel has several

The Californian Hotel has several “sequel weddings” on the books for couples who have already married. Photo credit: Courtesy of Californian Hotel

New opportunities

The pandemic has also spawned new types of marriages. With many couples forced to downsize their weddings earlier in the pandemic, “back-to-back weddings” are creating an opportunity for guest retention at some properties, including Hotel Californian, a 121-room member property of Preferred Hotels. & Resorts in Santa Barbara, CA.

Samantha Brooks, the hotel’s catering sales manager, estimates that around 15-20 weddings on the hotel’s books for 2022 are these “second celebrations” for couples who have already legally married or planned a wedding. smaller in the last two years.

“There are couples who already had an intimate dinner party with us last year and are now looking to have bigger rooftop parties this year,” Brooks said.

Pani puri shots, a dish created by chef Sanjay Rawat.  The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel has launched an Indian Wedding Culinary Program to meet the growing demand for Indian weddings.

Pani puri shots, a dish created by chef Sanjay Rawat. The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel has launched an Indian Wedding Culinary Program to meet the growing demand for Indian weddings. Photo credit: Courtesy of The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel

At the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel in Dana Point, Calif., a spike in wedding bookings began in late 2021 and has continued this year.

“We actually had more weddings at the end of 2021 than we have had at any other time in our 37 years,” said Karen Chastain, the hotel’s general manager. “And that trend continues.”

Indian weddings, which account for about 30-40% of the property’s total wedding activity, have returned at a particularly rapid pace. But with Indian wedding caterers in the area increasingly unable to keep up with demand, the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel recently launched an in-house culinary program dedicated to Indian weddings, led by chef Sanjay Rawat, originally from New Delhi. .

“As more and more weddings started happening in late 2021, it became much more difficult to find an outside caterer to handle Indian cuisine,” Chastain said. “So, with Indian weddings becoming such an important segment for us, we saw a wonderful opportunity to bring in an incredible chef and allow more couples to have a seamless Ritz-Carlton experience.”

Across weddings from all cultural backgrounds, Chastain has noticed another trend: couples are more flexible on dates, a trend born out of necessity as the calendar for 2022 as well as 2023 has quickly started to fill up.
“We’ve had more weddings over the week, and Friday night can be a popular option,” Chastain added.

The pandemic also appears to have resulted in couples booking destination weddings at short notice, even as the Covid landscape becomes a bit more predictable.

An outdoor wedding setup at the Fairmont El San Juan hotel in Puerto Rico.

An outdoor wedding setup at the Fairmont El San Juan hotel in Puerto Rico. Photo credit: Courtesy of Fairmont El San Juan Hotel

At the Fairmont El San Juan hotel in Puerto Rico, for example, a couple recently began planning their 150-guest wedding for May just two months in advance, according to the hotel’s director of social events and catering. establishment, Vilmarie Alameda.

In fact, the average wedding planning time at the Fairmont El San Juan has gone from a year to a year and a half before the pandemic to just three to six months in advance today.

“Our couples are also planning more events for their weddings,” Alameda said. “Some add a welcome cocktail or farewell brunch or book our cabana facilities [to host] a day at the beach or at the pool.”

For guests, more events can mean more quality time with those they may not have seen since the pandemic began.

“People haven’t seen certain family members and friends for two years, so they’re like, ‘Yeah, sign us up [for the wedding]we look forward to seeing you,” said Jennifer Doncecz, president of Pennsylvania-based VIP Vacations. .”

Escapes Unlimited’s Brewster experienced similar enthusiasm among guests.

“A lot of my clients are shocked at how many guests actually show up to their destination weddings,” Brewster said. “Before, something like 70% of the people you invited showed up. Now it’s 80% to 85%. People are just ready to travel and party.”

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