The luxury honeymoon market is set for a radical overhaul as we come out of the pandemic. More than 300,000 weddings in the UK have been postponed over the past 18 months, according to the UK Weddings Taskforce, meaning there’s a huge backlog of brides and grooms waiting to tie the knot, and also go on honeymoon.
That wait has given couples time to rethink their priorities and, in many cases, put aside more money to celebrate in style. Tour operators are creating some spectacular trips and report that many couples are feeling more adventurous than ever. Whilst some clients are sticking with tried and tested destinations – an island resort in the Maldives, a ritzy hotel in Dubai or a few days exploring the sights of Venice – others are thinking a long way outside the box. Mark Hodson, co-founder of 101 Honeymoons, finds out what’s on offer.
Honeymoon safaris are the stuff of dreams right now – small luxury camps and thrilling encounters with big game under vast African skies. Liane Goldring of specialist tour operator Mahlatini said: “We’re seeing honeymooners who downsized their actual wedding during the pandemic now looking to upsize their honeymoon. They’ve waited so long to realise their dream of an African safari and they don’t want to compromise on the experience.” Popular upgrades include private plunge pools, hot air balloon rides and treetop beds under the stars.
Goldring recommends heading to remote southern Tanzania to combine two spectacular national parks with the barefoot luxury and marine paradise of Pemba Island. If you want an unusual twist to your wildlife, you could head to Madagascar which has the greatest biodiversity of anywhere on the planet, with lemurs and chameleons among the island’s 150,000 endemic species. Rainbow Tours recommends this 12-day private tour which combines treks in Andasibe-Mantadia National Park with a stay at Anjajavy Le Lodge, a Relais & Chateaux retreat.
Hit the beach
For glamorous tropical beach honeymoons, it’s hard to beat Tahiti, at its best between May and October, ideal for the UK wedding season. The Turquoise Holiday Company recommends this 10-night island hopping itinerary which also includes a stay on Bora Bora. The company’s managing director, James Bell, says average spend on honeymoons is up 20% on pre-pandemic levels with twice as many couples now upgrading to premium airline cabins. “Honeymooners are better researched than ever and more decisive, and the longer, more exclusive, island honeymoon is very much in vogue,” he said.
In Asia, The Luxury Holiday Company has designed what it calls the Ultimate Indonesian Honeymoon, featuring the luxury resort of NIHI on Sumba Island, bookended by stays in the jungles and beaches of Bali, and including white-water rafting, cookery classes and a temple blessing ceremony.
Amrit Singh, managing director of Transindus, the Asia specialist, says honeymoon couples are increasingly driven by twin motivations: to seek ever more adventurous experiences in remote locations; and to minimise their negative impact on the planet. “As young couples look towards married life and raising children, their thoughts are turning towards sustainability and the impact of their current actions on future generations.”
She points to Bhutan, the world’s only carbon-positive country, as the perfect destination to experience pristine mountain landscapes and ancient indigenous culture while staying in luxury boutique hotels. This private tour of Bhutan includes stays in Six Senses properties and visits to Tiger’s Nest Monastery, the fortified monastic complexes at Punakha and the remote valley of Gangtey.
In South America, Dehouche is a tour operator founded by British expats that creates unique personalised journeys. It recommends the new Explora El Chaltén as a base to experience the dazzling wilderness of Patagonia. Combine it with private tango classes and wine tasting in the Argentinian capital Buenos Aires, plus a trek on the Perito Moreno glacier finished with gin and tonics served over fresh glacier ice.
Closer to home
Couples planning short-haul honeymoons are also spending more than in previous years. Patrick Miller, marketing manager at Kirker Holidays, said: “Many couples have built up savings over the last year and a half and they see any excuse to push the boat out as very welcome after the enforced austerity of lockdown.” He says destinations such as Greece, Italy and Morocco are proving popular, partly because of uncertainties over long-haul travel. Miller recommends a private tour of Morocco featuring a historic riad in Marrakech and Sir Richard Branson’s retreat in the Atlas Mountains.
In Greece, you could charter a luxury crewed yacht with Fleewinter to sail the Ionian islands. The price includes breakfast and lunch, marina fees and water sports including water skiing, wake boarding and windsurfing. Or kick back on a historic wine estate in Portugal’s Douro Valley. Sleep in a giant wine barrel (yes, really!) at Quinta de Pecha, with half-board, wine tour and tasting included.
Some couples are keen to explore the British Isles, with Scotland and Ireland – the only overseas country that currently can be visited without testing if you’re fully vaccinated – top of the list. The specialist operator McKinlay Kidd has a self-guided tour of Ireland by train, taking in Dublin, Clare, Cork and Killarney, with luxury hotel stays, and private tours by local guides. Managing director Heather McKinlay said: “For honeymoons we are now booking a lot more tailor-made experiences such as 4×4 tours, boat rides and guided hikes. Couples definitely have a keen sense of adventure to explore the outdoors and get off the beaten track.”