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Honeymoons: original but not that much

For fifteen years or so, the actors in tourism have multiplied the offers on the honeymoon market.While the myth of islands with sandy white beaches still ranks at the top of the list, new clientele are appearing and they are looking for authentic honeymoons in less explored lands, particularly in Africa, South America and in Australia.“All-inclusive” packages tend to be becoming widespread

Last year in France alone, 260,000 marriages were celebrated. This figure is down since the heights reached in 2000, with nearly 300,000 French couples making their vows. And yet, the honeymoon market continues to be going strong. For about fifteen years, all the major generalist tour-operators have gradually entered this segment alongside specialised agencies. Moreover, while honeymoons tend to be gaining ground on wedding lists, wedding anniversaries are another opportunity for reinforcing bonds while travelling. The profile of married couples has evolved and the average age is down: 28 years for the bride and 30 for the groom. This is a global trend that is being observed on Western continents, where lifestyles are higher.Today, all service providers agree that the market has not stopped changing and that its maturity makes it necessary to seek out other, increasingly original, activities. The originality of these activities is now the primary means of differentiation for actors on this niche.The contents of wedding lists is changing and largely giving way to travel. “With weddings occurring later and later, couples often already live together and thus have what they need for their homes., making honeymoons the ideal gift. 80% of couples include them on their list,” explains Gaëlle Remy-Neris, director of the Salon du Mariage at the Carrousel du Louvre in Paris. In France, the average budget for a honeymoon is on the rise, ringing up at 4,440 euros in 2005.From Kuoni to Donatello as well as Asia, nearly all up-market tour-operators have created honeymoon brochures, and distribution networks such as Afat Voyages and Selectour have kept in step so they don’t miss out.What are newlyweds’ favourite destinations? The ranking hasn’t changed much in ten years. “Mauritius, Seychelles, Polynesia all come in at the top. It is often the first long-distance trip the couple has taken and the archetype of long walks hand-in-hand on the shores of lagoons and soft sandy beaches holds strong,” declares Christine Louyot, manager at Lafayette Mariages, the department at Galeries Lafayette that handles 18,000 wedding lists each year. Because in order to consecrate their union, couples want an exceptional trip and to do things that they wouldn’t pay for by themselves. “Those who are accustomed to travel will seek out luxury conditions while those who travel less want to go to faraway ,mythical destinations,” adds Gaëlle Remy-Neris. In order to emphasise romance, there is nothing like idyllic landscapes, and islands come naturally at the top of the dream list of newlyweds. “They make very classic requests. They go on the trip their parents were unable to take,” remarks Lucie Maschino, founder of Ile-resa.com, an online travel agency specialising in islands that makes 50% of its turnover on the honeymoon market.Thus, it is no small chance that Mauritius based a good share of its marketing on honeymoons. And its success remains unchanged over the years. Yet, in the past four or five years, other destinations have been emerging. At Lafayette Mariages, Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Brazil, Canada have all entered the catalogue: “Some couples are looking for new countries that have lots of wide open spaces, that evoke purity, something untouched,” observes Christine Louyot.Another new arrival on this niche in search of powerful images: South Africa. “This country has a strong appeal. Watching a sunset in the middle of the Savannah evokes powerful romanticism,” notes Patrick Génie, Sales director for France at Sun International, leading hotel chain in southern Africa from South Africa to Zambia to Swaziland. Couples staying at his properties take safaris in 4WDs or on elephant, or fly in a ULM over Victoria Falls between Zambia and Zimbabwe. “For these clients, sharing outstanding activities is as important as the landscapes,” the manager continues.Evelyne Lazier sees a lot of newlyweds, all avid for discovery. The director of the agency Légendes Australiennes serves increasing numbers of couples. “In the last three years, demand has been increasing. Today, honeymoons represent 30% of our business versus 10% in the past.” What is the profile of these adventurous couples? Newlyweds aged 25 to 32, from upper management levels, looking more for authenticity than for blue lagoons. “It is anti-Seychelles. While maintaining the notion of surprise, they tend toward cultural discovery and luxury activities. In the past year, we have been receiving requests for trips involving hiking where couples are less concerned about luxury properties, and are looking for an exceptional experience, far away from clichés,” comments Evelyne Lazier. The budgets for these stays range from 6,000 euros to 10,000 euros per couple for three to four weeks, versus an average of ten days for trips to the islands. Camping in the midst of the dust of the Australian bush and a “4WD” exploration of the Red Centre and multi-activity sports trips are highest in demand. “This clientele wants to do things, to actively discover a country.” At Légendes Australiennes, the demand for luxury properties is minimal.Is this new typology of newlyweds fundamentally upsetting the honeymoon market? “Of course not!” according to Evelyne Lazier who sees no sunset on the horizon for the Seychelles model. “On the contrary, these two types of honeymoon coexist.” And to capture this active clientele, the islands reputed for their romantic stays – where couples “gaze into one another’s eyes” - have adapted themselves. “For four years, our stays combining Mauritius and South Africa or Dubai have been a great success,” indicates Mickaël Le Luron, Marketing director for Beachcomber Hotels, which has nine properties in the Indian Ocean. Such stays combine the large spaces of the Réunion, so that Monsieur may do his trekking, and Mauritius with its spa and sunbathing for Madame. Mickaël Le Luron also observes that these young newlyweds spend more on excursions than classic clients.New products have even been appearing in the catalogues of honeymoon professionals on the relaxation and dream niche. In keeping with a general trend, the spa & well-being segment is developing. “Today, no resort can forego a spa or massage room,” adds Mickaël Le Luron. But there is one paradox: “There is a real curiosity about new massage technique such as Ayurveda, Shiatsu, as well as meditation sessions... and yet, in the end, 90% of these clients chose a classic massage. While they want to learn about practices that are “à la mode” they don’t want to enter into anything that is too unfamiliar to them.” Classicism is still going strong. At Lafayette Mariages, well-being and Thalasso stays have the wind in their sails… as do prenatal treatments. “30% of weddings are couples who already have children. We had to make our array of choices evolve with the increase in couples that already have children,” explains Christie Louyot.Hotels don’t skimp on newlyweds. To attract them, last July, the Marriott chain included honeymoons in its loyalty programme. Couples who make their vows between November 1, 2005 and March 30, 2006 will be able to benefit from rewards points if they hold their wedding reception at one of Marriott’s properties before September 30, 2006. The number of points is proportional to spending: 150,000 rewards points if the event produces a bill of 12,000 euros and up to 250,000 points for a bill of 20,000 euros. These points, rewarded upon signing the marriage licence, may be put towards a honeymoon.In the United States, the honeymoon sector has been estimated at a value of some 5.7 billion euros in business turnover, or 1.17% of the American travel market, according to a survey of the sector made by the American publisher Fairchild Bridal Group, which specialises in this segment. While the market itself appears limited, newlyweds spend more than other clients: 3,000 euros on average for their honeymoon, according to a survey by Modern Bride magazine, which would represent nearly 6% of the average American income.And special attention to details: couples have particularly high expectations because they want their trip to be exceptional and intimate. Thus, most hotels offer a bottle of champagne and a dinner for two as well as fruit baskets. At Lafayette Mariages newlyweds are picked up at the airport by limousine while at Sun International hotels, rose petals and candles add ambience to the bridal suite. “Newlyweds buy a piece of a dream and want everything to be perfect from start to finish. They are very demanding,” declare organisers in unison.New sales techniques are appearing. In addition to reduced rates for the bride, already in use for several years, the concept of the “all inclusive” holiday is becoming widespread. The American group Sandals was the first to include dinners, excursions and sports in its honeymoon packages. This trend is getting stronger. “Today, newlyweds want to be welcomed as VIPs and want no surprises once they are on their way,” declares Christine Louyot, of Lafayette Mariages, which has increased its all-inclusive offers. It has even set up a package that lets couples choose all their honeymoon activities, whose cost is known in advance. They may also benefit from a plan making it possible to “save” 10% on the total cost of the trip in the form of extras added at whim at the destination. Beachcomber, meanwhile, makes it possible to buy tickets worth 30 to 40 euros at its properties, giving unlimited access to F&B services. “It works very well, except with adventurous couples whom we provide with picnics,” confirms Mickaël Le Luron.Despite the boom of e-commerce, Internet is having difficulty making its way into the romanticism market. And yet, chains such as Sun international, Beachcomber or Sandals have listings online, both with and without special offers. But the results are not flabbergasting. “Sales are marginal because newlyweds want personalised advice when preparing a once in a lifetime trip,” asserts Mickaël Le Luron. “Only 7% of sales are made online and they are made by Scandinavian and German clientele. Internet is more of an information showcase,” resumes Lucie Maschino of Iles-resa.com. “90% of our honeymoons are organised by telephone.”As classic as it may be, the travel market is growing with weddings organised at the destination. Many service providers make this possible and less than a year ago Marriott implemented a special website. On joyweddingbymarriott.com, newlyweds may organise their wedding with the help of 2,000 counsellors. “The idea of getting married on the other side of the world interests Germans, English and Scandinavians in particular, whereas Latin populations -Spanish, Italian and French- prefer family celebrations for their weddings,” remarks Mickaël Le Luron. A new segment arises: foreign weddings organised with the whole family and friends.Finally, the market is refreshed each year with wedding anniversaries and renewals of vows to appeal to an older clientele that is less taken with the excesses of romanticism. “These clients want above all to enjoy themselves as a couple in their accommodations and through gastronomy, rather than accumulate new romantic souvenirs,” continues the Marketing Director at Beachcomber Hotels.

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