Exhibitors from the inaugural Caribbean Wedding Industry Awards & Expo tell Andrew Doherty how best to capitalise on emerging trends
This week, the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) and romance specialists Peter Shoucair and Jo-Anne Paxton hosted the inaugural Caribbean Wedding Industry Awards & Expo in Montego Bay.
More than 100 exhibitors attended the event, showcasing various wedding and honeymoon offerings across the region. Agents specialising in romance bookings were also invited, interacting with suppliers before visiting wedding hotspots across Jamaica.
Here, three exhibitors share their top tips for selling romance packages and give us the inside track on Caribbean weddings and honeymoons trends for 2019.
Planning and executing weddings has been Jo-Anne Paxton’s forte for more than 10 years. In 2012 she partnered with fellow wedding planner Peter Shoucair to create the first ever Jamaica Bridal Expo.
“After seeing the enthusiasm that UK, US, and Canadian travel agents had for Caribbean-themed weddings, we realised it was time to establish the first Caribbean Wedding Industry Awards & Expo,” Paxton explains.
Marsha-Ann Brown, director of romance at Sandals and Beaches Resorts, was one exhibitor. She offers her top tips for booking a Caribbean wedding.
“Combining a destination wedding and honeymoon together in one trip often helps to reduce the overall cost. Brides and grooms staying at a Sandals or Beaches Resort for more than six consecutive nights receive additional ‘Premium Perks’, including £394 towards a room upgrade or government fees and even a free in-resort wedding. Those bringing more guests enjoy added extras such as a spa-themed bridal party or a bonfire beach celebration.”
Matt Cooper, chief marketing officer at the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), says agents should be aware of the legal requirements regarding destination weddings in the region.
“Each island has its own list of requirements for obtaining a wedding licence and, in many instances, a minimum stay requirement. Consider enlisting the services of a local wedding planner for a more intricate knowledge of available options for venues and vendors.
“Finally, simply know your product inside out – those who have an intimate understanding of our destinations and offerings will sell more than those who don’t.”
Brown says that island-hopping is an emerging trend for the Caribbean weddings market, with many clients deciding to have the ceremony in one location and the honeymoon in another.
“Couples are also choosing to incorporate immersive experiences into their celebration too, such as hiring a steel drum band or fire dancers,” she explains.
“Another popular trend is a week-long wedding. More couples and their guests are generally extending the celebration to turn it into a holiday.”
Paxton highlights that clients are increasingly keen to incorporate nature into their wedding celebrations.
“The idea of bringing the outdoors inside with lots of greenery will replace the use of flowers in centrepieces, and the tropical forests of the Caribbean will create lasting memories.”
Robin Hawkey, founder of Virtual Honeymoon, a website that agents can use to match clients with their ideal wedding destination using VR, asserts that zen-inspired honeymoons with a focus on digital detoxing will increase in popularity.
“Couples want to connect more with nature, turn off their mobile devices and get away from the stressful world,” she says. “They want to stay in jungle cottages, treehouses overlooking water and have a farm-to-table experience.”
Regarding up-and-coming destinations, she says agents should look to St Lucia for its hideaway cottages and luxurious resorts with views of the striking Piton mountains.
“The Dominican Republic seems to have captured a big part of the honeymoon market too, with its beautiful velvet-sand beaches and lots of experiences on offer. Package prices are hard to beat and are comparable with those of destinations like Mexico.”