There’s a new alternative to the stag or hen do: the sten – mixing the sexes for one big pre-wedding party. Abra Dunsby gets the experts’ take on the new trend
While stag and hen dos will always conjure up images of drinking games, butlers in the buff and drunken fiances tied to lampposts, there’s a new alternative emerging.
As the name suggests, the “sten do” does away with the concept of single-sex pre-wedding shindigs, instead combining the sexes for one mixed-group party.
Celebrities were the first to do away with tradition: Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes had a mixed pre-wedding party back in 2006, followed by Richard Branson’s daughter Holly Branson and her then fiance Freddie in 2011.
Now the trend is filtering down to clients, with tour operators reporting increasing numbers of enquiries for sten dos.
Red7, which offers bespoke group travel and party packages and pays agents commission for bookings, has seen a 200% increase in mixed-group travel in the past two years.
“Social groups are becoming far more mixed,” explains the company’s founder Ian Lucas. “It’s why we made a conscious decision to de-gender our stag and hen experiences and appeal to mixed and joint hens and stag parties with premium travel product.”
Nathan Cable, co-founder of Party Hard Travel, has also seen a jump in mixed-group bookings.
“Sten dos make a lot of sense for couples,” he explains. “We’ve moved on from the old idea that lads and girls have one last night of freedom and then retire from socialising.
“Modern couples have lots of joint interests and most of the time will have a shared group of friends that they socialise with regularly, so a sten do is just a way of getting all their mates together for a big party before the wedding.”
At Red7, sten dos have proven popular with the 25-35 age group. This demographic often has a mixed-sex friendship group, according to Lucas, making a sten the most appealing option.
Another factor affecting their decision is money. Hen dos and stag dos are generally getting larger in scale, and it’s very common for clients to choose to go abroad.
So by combining their friends and having one big party, they are saving money compared with more traditional couples.
“The increase in joint stag and hen mini-breaks is partly in response to a closer focus on money,” confirms Malcolm Davies, product destination manager for Funway Holidays.
“It is certainly more cost-effective. You can pool resources, and two budgets means you can create more of an event.”
For younger clients looking to go abroad, Party Hard’s Cable suggests the party classic, Ibiza.
“Flights are usually pretty cheap and easily available compared with the Greek resorts, for example,” he says.
The operator’s Ultimate Events Package for Ibiza includes access to events including the Ibiza Rocks Pool Party and entry into Amnesia nightclub, and is priced at £129pp.
“It takes the pressure off organising special activities and puts the focus back on having the best time,” adds Cable.
As well as Ibiza, Red7 says popular sten-do destinations for summer include Marbella and the Croatian island of Obonjan, which both offer sun-splashed beaches and a variety of chic, music-filled beach bars and nightclubs.
“In the UK, London, Brighton, Bournemouth, Bath, Liverpool and Manchester are all popular,” Lucas adds.
In terms of accommodation for the younger crowd, villas are an attractive option. “Clients are far more discerning these days and demand much more from their accommodation,” says Lucas.
“They want great party villas with pools, party houses with fabulous eat-in kitchens, good bedrooms and en suites. The days of slumming it in a hostel with bunk beds are over.”
For clients wanting their own space, agents should consider James Villas, whose large-group villas come with their own kitchen and, unlike in a hotel, big groups won’t have to battle to get sun loungers together.
If clients want a wholesome sten do, Kelly Walker, trade and partnerships manager at James Villas, suggests the Algarve. Silves is dotted with countryside retreats, where clients can enjoy activities such as biking, hiking and swimming.
Villas located closer to the lively town of Albufeira allow clients to spend their evenings dining in local tavernas and days having fun splashing around at nearby waterparks.
Summer in the Algarve is full of unusual festivals, too, including the annual International Sand Sculpture Festival.
It’s not just younger clients who are opting for stens: the mixed-group party is becoming more popular with an older demographic, too, particularly couples who are getting married for the second time.
Rosie Stirk, groups and specialist sales manager at Super Break, explains why older clients are choosing to combine the sexes on a sten: “Tradition is less important for those on their second marriage and they don’t want to do what they did the first time around.
“Typically, these customers are older and have close friends of both sexes who they want to celebrate with; it’s more like a gathering of friends enjoying some activities.”
In terms of destinations, Stirk notes that European cities are popular for culture-seeking clients, while beach destinations are also firm sten-do favourites.
“Alongside our top-selling destinations such as Benidorm and Barcelona, Prague and Budapest are doing well,” Stirk adds.
The operator offers a Barcelona break from £222pp, including two nights’ room-only at the Senator Barcelona Hotel, with activities including a BBQ catamaran cruise and Spanish cookery class.
For discerning clients looking to go further afield, the Caribbean offers some excellent options.
Breathless Resorts and Spas, which has resorts in Jamaica, Mexico and the Dominican Republic, offers all-inclusive, adults-only, five-star accommodation. The resorts have created special Bachelor and Bachelorette packages, which can be combined for joint events.
Olivia Knight, weddings brand manager for Sandals and Beaches Resorts, says: “We are seeing a real demand for joint experiences, which appeal to both male and female wedding parties, as we are finding that both the bride and groom’s friends and family increasingly prefer to celebrate together.”
The Caribbean resorts offer a selection of pre-wedding celebrations aimed at encouraging the bride and groom’s close friends and family to mix together.
These include a catamaran cruise, a group bonfire on the beach, a private s’mores and rum bar, and a beach party with butler service or private cocktail garden party. Adrenaline-pumping pre-wedding activities include river rafting, tubing and horse riding.
Customers need to plan ahead, says Funway’s Malcolm Davies: “As it’s a group booking, there are more people to organise, plus many of the shorter trips happen over weekends in May and June – peak city-break time, when availability in hotels is tight, especially for a large group. Flights will be much cheaper if you book them well in advance.
He also suggests that fun-loving clients should book a break to coincide with a destination’s major partying event, such as Barbados’s Crop Over music festival.
Rosie Stirk at Super Break says: “Find out what the group want to do while they are away and suggest destinations that have activities for both. There are so many options for add-on activities available in the key destinations to suit different groups.
"Super Break’s dedicated groups department can tailor-make a package to the individual needs of each group with the optionsto split activities if required.”