Romancing the romantics

The freeze on travel and social gatherings is thawing across the world, leading couples in love to revisit their wedding and honeymoon plans. As they do, resorts in South-east Asia that take pride in their romantic offerings are stepping up their courtship dance to influence decisions. By Karen Yue

Banyan Tree Group: reigniting romance
Despite keeping a majority of properties in operation throughout 2021, Banyan Tree Group’s hotels and resorts – which have traditionally conveyed a ‘sense of romance’ and come with wedding specialists to support customers – saw a significant decline in destination weddings due to Covid-induced travel restrictions, vast reduction in airlift capacity, and regulatory limitations on social gatherings.

Beach wedding at Angsana Laguna Phuket

In the Group’s popular resorts in Phuket and Koh Samui, where some celebrations did happen, parties were smaller in scale, with the largest wedding seeing just 70 guests; most were also hosted by local couples.

While honeymoon business in 2021 was nowhere near pre-pandemic levels, this segment of the business of romance turned out to be less impacted by the pandemic, shared Michal Zitek, area general manager for Angsana Laguna Phuket.

The Group’s properties located in the Maldives – specifically Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru, Angsana Ihuru and Angsana Velavaru – were able to enjoy healthy honeymoon travel and occupancies throughout the year.

According to Zitek, honeymoon occupancies at the Maldives properties “were only marginally down as compared to other locations”. They benefitted from the destination’s early resumption of international travel with minimal restrictions.

Honeymooners streamed into both resorts and city hotels, and most were from domestic markets. These customers’ preference for privacy and distancing from large groups and crowds was intensified during the height of the pandemic, shared Zitek, and that resulted in “an increased appetite for private dining, intimate destination dining and in-villa culinary experiences”.

To cater to these expectations, properties have rolled out innovations such as in-villa romantic afternoon tea service, celebration ‘floating breakfast’ at the villa or suite private pools, as well as private dinner arrangements on the beach, in the garden or other unique locations.

As 2022 unfolds along with further easing of international travel restrictions, Zitek expects demand for destination weddings to return.

“Where there are weddings, there are usually honeymoons. So, by virtue of the current pace, we are expecting to see an uptake of honeymoon business as the year progresses and airlift continues to (return),” he projected.

Zitek sees pent-up demand for larger destination weddings emerging from the UK, the UAE, India and Australia. Riding on Thailand’s simplified entry requirements, the Group’s properties in the Kingdom are reporting a “sizeable increase in enquiries”.

Banyan Tree Samui delivered one wedding buy-out in late-January, while properties in Phuket and Bangkok have confirmed bookings for destinations weddings beginning from 2Q2022.

“Honeymooners are known to (favour) new or emerging destinations with new brand offerings, so we anticipate this trend to (benefit) our existing portfolio and new additions to our Group,” he added.

The Group welcomed eight new openings last year, such as Banyan Tree Veya Phuket that soft-opened in December. In the next 12 months, the Group expects to open nine more across China, Indonesia, Thailand and Saudi Arabia – where a new flag will be planted in the latter country.

Looking ahead, Zitek said destination weddings and honeymoons would return with an even greater expectation for customisation – and the Group is ready for it. Customised packages and itineraries are taking over prescribed ones, and every property has an army of specialty chefs and service experts to support couples in love.

“(We’re also creating) a myriad of unique and interesting destinations for wedding groups and honeymooners to explore,” he said.

Alma, Cam Ranh: another chance at love
Sprawled across more than 30 hectares on the beachfront of scenic Cam Ranh peninsular in Vietnam, Alma was designed to be a resort big on romance and even bigger on social gatherings.

But with its opening set on December 2019, just months before the pandemic came and swept the world into a travel freeze, Alma was unable to see its forte put to good use.

Alma’s director of sales, Son Hoang Le, told TTG Asia: “We temporarily closed our resort for eight months in 2021 due to a major flare-up of Covid-19 in Vietnam. As weddings usually need a long lead-time, many of these celebrations in 2021 in Vietnam were cancelled due to the many restrictions in place to combat Covid-19.”

The closure had an impact on honeymoons too.

Alma Cam Ranh is designed for destination weddings and other social events

Despite the disruption, Alma managed to welcome some couples in search of romantic local sojourns last year. It presented the perfect opportunity for the resort to show off its romantic and recreation potential.

At the same time, Alma was able to play host to some 77 corporate retreats and events in between local infection waves, revealed Son, which further demonstrated the resort’s ability to deliver on gatherings of various sizes. These business events utilised a range of facilities, such as the Alma Convention Center, which takes in a 300-pax ballroom that can be partitioned into three smaller rooms, a collection of meeting rooms, a lobby bar and reception areas. Corporate groups also enjoyed Alma’s 14 F&B destinations, long stretch of beach, vast lawn areas and even the 6,000m² water park.

“The wedding segment is an important one to our resort,” Son said.
And now with Vietnam reopening her border to international travellers from March 15, Son is in a celebratory mood.

“We are very much looking forward to welcoming international guests, including those who would like to choose Alma and Cam Ranh as their idyllic wedding and honeymoon destination,” he said.

As at late-February, Alma has five weddings on the books.

“We are also planning to host a wedding fair in May this year to attract local wedding organisers and couples,” said Son.

He expects honeymoons to see a stronger and faster recovery than weddings, as they are less complicated to arrange.

To charm couples in love, Alma will dangle new wedding packages and honeymoon experiences this year and beyond, alongside health and safety assurance for all guests. On offer for 2022 is a wedding package priced from 32,410,000++ dong (US$1,418), which includes a night’s stay in the one-bedroom Ocean Front Pavilion with pool, a romantic set-up with Tiffany chairs for up to 50 attendees, floral arrangement for the wedding arch, aisle and couple, a wedding cake, champagne and more.

Accompanying family and friends enjoy 25 per cent off accommodation as part of the wedding.

Honeymooners can take up the Romantic Affair package, which comes with a night’s stay in the one-bedroom Ocean View Suite or Ocean View Pool Pavilion, surprise in-room decoration, 60-minute body massage, a romantic private dining experience, and more.

Son said weddings in the new normal could benefit from the Alma’s variety of event spaces by “mixing and matching venues simultaneously”.

“One of our favorite aspects of events planning is utilising various spaces to create a one-of-a-kind experience. For example, we’ve set up events whereby something in the ballroom is projected to other venues across our resort, including our tranquil lawn and garden areas that offer great vistas of Long Beach,” he said.

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