Targeting honeymooners: Stretching Valentine’s Day year round

As this week is somewhat special given its proximity to Valentine’s Day and all things romantic, I’m taking a break from my weekly Monday posts highlighting achievements in hotel excellence. Instead, I’m focusing on honeymoons and their timelessness as a staple of the industry.

To kick things off, ask yourself: Does your hotel accommodate weddings? Rhetorical, I know. If yes, I’ll bet that management keeps a record of how many weddings held at your property in the past 12 months, and I’ll double down that management has a calculated goal for how many weddings are expected in the upcoming years. The fact is that weddings are big business and are given their just dues in the corporate limelight. 

But as the shorter sibling to this gigantic revenue maker, honeymoons are often overlooked as a niche market for hotels to target. Do you keep track of how many honeymoons were held on property in the past 12 months? More importantly, do you have a specific strategy in place to attract honeymooners in the near future?  Collaborating with Kristin Stark, the owner of Honeymoon Wishes, I’d like to explore this issue and hopefully draw upon some useful pointers for hotels looking to expand their weddings and honeymoon travel business.

By gross estimate, the worldwide valuation of weddings is somewhere in the ballpark of US$50 billion, but honeymoons are not far off with a market cap of US$12 billion. Honeymoons also follow weddings in terms of seasonality with peaks from June to September and nadirs in January and February (ostensibly reversed for those living south of the equator). By Kristin’s accounts (and listed alphabetically), the most popular destinations for U.S. lovebirds are the Bahamas, Fiji, Florida, Hawaii, Italy, Jamaica, Mexico, St. Lucia and Tahiti, while for those from the United Kingdom, the top choices are Cypress, India, the Maldives, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey and the United States. With only these two nations as examples, hopefully you can fathom the notion that honeymoons are an enormous venture, and they’re everywhere. 

So why do we not stock a dedicated Honeymoons Department much like we do for weddings? Well, for starters, most hotels don’t know if guests are honeymooners until after they arrive, whereas weddings are prepared in tandem with hotel staff for months if not years prior. Secondly, weddings require a much more substantial alignment of resources, as they often entail providing hundreds of guests with F&B and accommodations for a very limited time. 

Many hotels still do not track honeymooners, however, even when such couples identify themselves on arrival. It seems to me as though a lot of us are missing out on a great opportunity. So, prior to launching into marketing strategies, let’s consider the average mindset within this billion-dollar demographic.

Honeymooners typically book four to six months in advance for an average stay of seven nights. Not surprisingly, more than 80% of these people use the Internet for research and planning. In terms of selection patterns, the vast majority of couples choose their destinations prior to the individual hotel or resort. 

The rationale for picking one specific place or another varies, but there is nonetheless one overarching constant. Honeymooners want a no-stress, romantic spot in the sun. And as a close second linked to this desire, the more accessible the locale and the more carefree the experience offered, the more likely a hotel is to attract honeymooners. This is why all-inclusive resorts, couples-only properties and cruises are so popular. A honeymoon can often be the newlyweds’ first extended vacation together, so any convenience factor that reduces decision-making and heightens romance is a definite plus. 

Quite ironically, off-site adventures like hiking and scuba diving do not rank as high on honeymooning to-do lists after arrival, even though such attractions play a major role when picking this region or that. Couples want to have options, but more often than not, they’ll spend their vacation time poolside or on the beach, drink in hand. This serves to emphasize the important of good on-site attractions such as themed restaurants, specialty spa services and live music.

So, in terms of attracting honeymooners, let’s start with what’s most accessible — that is, after they drop their bags and let your staff in on the significance of the occasion. Everyone remembers their honeymoon, and what sets this vacation apart is that it’s a topic of discussion for many years to come. Anything you can do to make a couple’s experience all the more exceptional will contribute to the positive word of mouth thereafter. 

Knowing that the most common welcome gifts are a bottle of Champagne and couples massages, an easy way to set yourself apart is to go above and beyond with your initial greetings and everything past that. Instead of welcoming newlyweds with just liquor and a coupon, how about adding chocolate, flowers or a honeymooners’ special for when they visit the restaurant? What types of entertainment to do you have on site, and can they be enhanced to offer a more unique flavor? Do managers come out to personally congratulate newlyweds? Do you offer a car service to pick guests up directly from the airport? There are scores of little touches you can add without running in the red or being too intrusive.

The real marketing, though, has to happen before guests arrive, and it has to start with your website. Create a dedicated page to elaborate on your property’s benefits and packages written from a couples-only perspective. In addition, use your site to connect your property to the region’s most exciting and romantic attractions.

If you are planning to launch a honeymoon-specific package, focus your advertising on unique offerings for couples as well as anything inclusive you will provide to make the experience as carefree as possible. Hone your advertising efforts through media channels that cater to honeymoons and weddings, but also reach out to travel agents, gift registry programs, wedding planners and other established networks. 

Knowing that honeymoons are not some spur-of-the-moment summer escape, planning today will see benefits for the next fiscal year, but only if you start now. We’ve heard of weddings scaled back due to financial pressures, but this is far less applicable to newlywed jaunts because the couples only have to provide for themselves. Dare I say it’s as if they’re recession-proof! So, make it easy, make it romantic and above all, make it an experience of a lifetime. Then, find a suitable way to reach honeymooners, and you’ll undoubtedly be in good shape.

P.S. Strawberries are the number one ‘love fruit’ because they come in the shape of hearts and are pure red in color. They are loaded with vitamin C and antioxidants, making them healthy for the heart as well. Just an FYI to get your fill of romantic fruit this week and every other week of the year!