From all indications, destination weddings and romance travel will continue to be popular, however their execution will be more meticulously executed with new attention to social distancing protocol as well as new opportunities for creativity,” says Richard Moss, sr. sales manager, USA at Saint Lucia Tourism Authority.
Whether it’s Saint Lucia, Anguilla, Aruba, or Puerto Rico, these islands are working to reimagine what romance travel looks like and embracing the belief that, as Ronella Tjin Asjoe-Croes, CEO of Aruba Tourism Authority, says, “People are still looking for hope and to celebrate their love stories and special occasions.”
From all indications, destination weddings and romance travel will continue to be popular, however their execution will be more meticulously executed with new attention to social distancing protocol as well as new opportunities for creativity. We’re seeing that elopements are a significant upward trend at this point, where the extended family may not be able to travel but booking patterns suggest 2021 will be a big year for destination weddings. — Richard Moss, Senior Sales Manager, USA, Saint Lucia Tourism Authority
New Protocols in Place
Safety and health guidelines will be top of mind for many of your clients, especially if they are planning a destination wedding and are concerned for the well-being of their guests. They’ll be asking about F&B protocols and group sizes, as well as other measures the islands and hotels have taken to protect the wedding group.
In Puerto Rico, Brad Dean, CEO, Discover Puerto Rico, says, “Couples and their wedding guests can feel comfortable that Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory and abides by U.S. laws. Additionally, new hygiene measures include intricate disinfection procedures, new employee training protocols and use of personal protective equipment, innovative technology like UV light air purifying systems, contactless options, and adjusted floor plans to maintain distancing protocols, just to name a few.” He’s also seeing a shift to couples choosing more outdoor venues, “in comparison to pre-COVID-19, with some properties seeing a 90 percent increase in these requests. Wide-open spaces and outdoor venues allow for mandated social distancing.”
Blue Diamond Resorts’ corporate director of operations’ Mauricio Zarate says that the hotel group will “respect the physical distancing guidelines and ensure that all tables are at least six feet apart. For wedding receptions that take place in our restaurants, we will ensure those parties are within a safe distance from the rest of the resort-goers by holding them in one of our private rooms or on a restaurant patio. Our staff members will also be wearing the correct PPE when serving wedding guests, including masks and gloves.” He also points out that the average wedding group size for new inquiries coming in “still appears to be the same.”
Anguilla Tourist Board’s manager of corporate affairs Shellya K. Webster also points to same-sized wedding parties, noting that one of the wedding groups that rescheduled on the island “has no plans for a reduction in numbers, or face masks for either the wedding party or their guests.” And at the island’s 168-room Four Seasons property, there’s an increase in intimate Villa experiences, as well as an increased interest in Buy Out experiences. This allows for wedding groups to have a 35-acre resort all to themselves, and you can let your clients know that they can control their environment with this option.
From a destination standpoint, interest in Anguilla remains high. Most Anguilla clients have rebooked rather than cancelled; for example, a destination wedding at Long Bay Villas, originally scheduled for May 16, 2020 is now rescheduled for April 2021. In fact, with the additional lead time, and with almost everything already paid for, instead of pulling back plans, the couple is adding items—e.g., five minutes of fireworks over the beach
at Santosha instead of two minutes and adding a raw bar station.
— Shellya K. Webster, Manager, Corporate Affairs, Anguilla Tourist Board
Of course, Anguilla—which had only three confirmed COVID-19 cases (as of press time)—has established travel safety protocols that include “testing, increased sanitation and hygiene standards, and inspections at local establishments to ensure they are in compliance. These measures are for the benefit and protection of our resident population as well as all travelers on island, including those arriving for destination weddings.”
Aruba, too, is establishing stringent protocols in compliance with industry standards, including a “Best Practices” guide distributed by the Aruba Hotel & Tourism Association, as well as digital keys and digital check-in at hotels, and, as Asjoe-Croes notes, the destination’s renowned “Arikok National Park will adhere to the certification guidelines and create digital experiences, including virtual guided tours, to help reinforce social distancing. For the first time ever, the Park will also permanently ban ATVs (starting June 1) and UTVs (starting Oct. 31) from protected areas limiting how many people can access the park at a time.”
For destination wedding bookings, Aruba Tourism Authority, in partnership with participating hotels and resorts, also established the Happily Ever Guarantee Program, a flexible policy for 2021 weddings and honeymoon bookings that allows couples to book their event for 2021 knowing their special occasion can be postponed up to a year from the original date due to COVID-19 issues. “In this new world,” says Asjoe-Croes, “people will be seeking assurance that it will be safe to travel again and that their dream honeymoon or destination wedding can still happen. We just really wanted to provide that peace of mind for them by taking away the stress of postponing a wedding.”
Saint Lucia’s government has established a COVID-19 Certificate for hotels, and as Moss notes, properties on the island are “working diligently to provide memorable food and beverage experiences to wedding groups, while being particularly vigilant about new COVID-19 protocols. Hotels are developing creative solutions for serving cocktails, eliminating buffet-style stations, providing the traditional fun wedding rituals and more. While there will be adjustments made, guests and especially wedding couples will still have a spectacular experience filled with Instagrammable moments.”
Made for Romance
Cybelle Brown, managing director of Saint Lucia’s Stonefield Villa Resort, notes that in this new normal, “There will be a greater demand for large private villas so that small groups of family and friends can celebrate safely together,” with Natalia Greene, director of marketing for Coconut Bay Beach Resort & Spa and Serenity at Coconut Bay, located on Saint Lucia, adding that, “Wedding parties will be seated at smaller dining tables with social distance taken into account, and we have removed the option of reception buffets for now, everything will have to be individually plated. Our oceanfront spa is closed at least through Phase One, but our Serenity couples will be able to enjoy an in-suite treatment. The wedding groups might be smaller and more intimate, but the celebration and the backdrops will look as stunning as they have always been.”
Zarate points out that at Blue Diamond Resorts, they’ll be sure to see more “romantic beach dinners and in-suite perks,” while Dean says that for couples headed to Puerto Rico, there seems to be a “growing interest in outdoor experiences. After being home-bound due to current stay-at-home restrictions, people will be craving fresh air and spending time outdoors, and Puerto Rico provides just that—from the only rainforest in the U.S. forest system, to a dry forest, three of the world’s five bio bays, stunning waterfalls, and several cave systems.”
With its 33 uncrowded beaches, boutique brands and as a “low density, low volume destination,” Anguilla, says Webster, is ideal for wedding parties and family gatherings “of all sizes to stay safe and healthy, yet have a wonderful time.” She points to hotels such as Quintessence, Frangipani, Tranquility Beach and Long Bay Villas as ideal recommendations for romantic escapes, including destination weddings.
Anguilla Tourist Board: ivisitanguilla.com
Aruba Tourism Authority: agents.aruba.com
Blue Diamond Resorts: bluediamondresorts.com/media-room/travel-professionals
Coconut Bay Beach Resort & Spa: cbayresort.com & serenityatcoconutbay.com
Discover Puerto Rico: discoverpuertorico.com/travel-professionals
Saint Lucia Tourism Authority: stlucia.org/en/travel-trade
Stonefield Villa Resort: stonefieldresort.com