We recently consulted with three of Travel Agent magazine’s newest 30Under30 travel advisors to find out what the pulse of the honeymoon market is for 2021 and beyond. Emma Major of Major Traveler, an affiliate of Travel Edge; Desiree Overhage, of Inner Circle Travel, an affiliate of Protravel International and Sunny Rovitz, director of travel & lifestyle at Magma Global joined us for a virtual meetup.
Following is a condensed version of our discussion.
Ruthanne Terrero: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and where you’re located?
Desiree Overhage, Inner Circle Travel: I’m the co-founder of Inner Circle Travel, a full-service luxury travel agency based in San Francisco, affiliated with Protravel. I’ve been in the travel business for over 10 years, but was previously working on the luxury hotel side of the business and recently made the jump over to the agency side about two years ago.
Sunny Rovitz, Magma Global: I work at Magma Global, a full-service travel and concierge company based in New York. We have about 10 employees and this summer will be my fourth year with the company. At Magma, I am the director of travel and lifestyle, and we work on equal parts group, corporate, and leisure travel.
Emma Major, Major Traveler: I am Emma Major, now Schroeder, I just got married in November, and I am affiliated with Epperly Travel. I own and operate Major Traveler. We now have a team of four independent contractors and we focus on complete leisure and luxury travel. We do a lot of honeymoons, but a lot of big bucket list vacations as well.
Ruthanne Terrero: So, if this were a year ago, the conversation would be much different, but we’re looking at 2021, which is a year that does have a lot of hope in front of us. How are destination weddings and honeymoon vacations shaping up for 2021? What’s that looking like at this moment?
Desiree Overhage, Inner Circle Travel: That’s a good question. So, of course at this moment, safety and health are still on the forefront of people’s mind, especially when it comes to destination weddings and honeymoons, but they are still happening domestically, and of course, on a much more intimate and smaller scale. Couples do want some assurance to understand that they will be able to celebrate those important life events with their family and friends. At this moment when it comes to international destinations, we are still seeing some caution and hesitation when it comes to putting down deposits.
Ruthanne Terrero: I think people thought by now they might be able to start planning a little bit better, but the year is starting just a little fuzzier than we thought. And where, in terms of domestic travel are you seeing bookings?
Desiree Overhage, Inner Circle Travel: At this moment I’m working on a couple where the bride is from San Francisco, but lives on the East Coast, and so she is looking to create San Francisco as a destination for her friends and family who will be visiting from the East Coast.
Sunny Rovitz, Magma Global: I think the consensus so far for 2021 is that people are definitely itching to travel and they’re eager to plan these destination honeymoons and weddings, so what we’ve seen, like Desiree, is a lot more of a domestic shift. So we’ve had West Coast clients travel to Sedona, we’ve had East Coast-based clients travel to Utah to hold a beautiful intimate ceremony at Amangiri.
We are also seeing that people are looking forward, optimistically, domestically, so we have clients planning weddings in Florida. We’re also seeing that people are encouraging their guests to feel comfortable. So for example, I have a New York City-based client who’s hosting a wedding in Brooklyn and they’re really encouraging their guests to make a weekend out of it and stay over from Friday to Sunday. I think that’s a really interesting spin on creating that destination feeling where your guests can all be in one place, and didn’t have to take a plane, train, or car to travel there.
Ruthanne Terrero: Do you see them looking at international travel yet? Or is it too soon?
Sunny Rovitz, Magma Global: I think people are definitely looking ahead to 2022. There was this shift of people who had weddings booked for 2020 who had to reschedule them for 2021, so the people who had not yet booked their weddings are really looking forward to 2022 optimistically. And I think it will be really fun for the guests, especially after this period of time where people are just dying to get out there and travel.
Emma Major, Major Traveler: We don’t do a ton of destination weddings, but honeymoons are the bulk of our business, and it’s interesting. I’m in Atlanta, so I’m on the East Coast, which is very well located for the Caribbean and, so, we actually have seen a major shift into the Caribbean. We are seeing a lot into Mexico and the Dominican Republic and Jamaica and especially St. Lucia because they really help clients understand what to expect.
We’ve also seen a shift into this whole mini-moon concept, which was definitely in place in the last couple years, but now it’s really a firm trend and clients are saying, “Let’s drive somewhere, and then this summer, when we have the time off of work or things are a little bit less crazy, then we’ll take a more international destination for a honeymoon.”
Ruthanne Terrero: Are honeymooners still looking for those Instagrammable moments? Are they looking to really showcase where they are on social media or is that shifting?
Desiree Overhage, Inner Circle Travel: I do see a shift already and I do think that it is increasingly about those unique experiences. The focus has shifted more towards meaning and impact and away from materialistic things. So, of course, there’s still space for the finer things in life, but I think the new Instagrammable moment is definitely a moment that is captured with loved ones rather than a couple showcasing how they’re flying around the world in their private jet. It’s really more about meaningful connections and capturing that. I can see this already on a couple of Instagrammer or influencer blogs, the entire feed has shifted more towards family and connections with loved ones.
Ruthanne Terrero: It’s been such a learning curve in the past year, hasn’t it? Just learning to appreciate everyone, appreciating that time together.
Emma Major, Major Traveler: We’re seeing a major trend towards privacy and intimacy. I’m seeing clients really desiring something more boutique and on a smaller scale. Clients are wanting that private plunge pool or private pool, their own private villa, rather than a hotel room on a hallway. And if there’s a preferred club or an upgraded club floor, they’re asking for that.
I think the trend after this year that we’re going to see is people really craving that privacy and that intimacy with the people they love, rather than sharing it at a big resort and being around a lot of people, just given the whole pandemic, which has shifted our social desires.
Ruthanne Terrero: And do you see that they’ll be willing to spend more for that privacy and to upgrade themselves?
Emma Major, Major Traveler: Clients are willing to spend more if it’s on that perfect thing. Maybe they’re not going to spend more on flights or on certain destinations, but I definitely hear clients saying, “If we can spend $500 more and be in a preferred club or $1,000 to have our own pool, that’s a worthy expense.” So there are definitely little things that create privacy at a resort that clients are really willing to splurge on.
Ruthanne Terrero: Have any of you been traveling since the pandemic? I know some advisors have been going down to Mexico, Caribbean, have any of you kind of hit the road at all?
Desiree Overhage, Inner Circle Travel: Yes, I’ve actually been traveling quite a bit more than I would’ve expected during the pandemic. I’m a German passport holder and I did go back to Germany to visit my family; that was last year in summer. At that time, the situation in terms of the pandemic was still much more under control in Europe, so we decided to take a trip to Greece. I also visited Mexico and Costa Rica.
Ruthanne Terrero: Did you feel comfortable while you were traveling that COVID protocols were being practiced?
Desiree Overhage, Inner Circle Travel: In Greece and Germany, I felt very comfortable. Mexico also. I went to Los Cabos and the hotels really did a fantastic job in adhering to the health and safety protocols. I felt very safe from the beginning to the end of my trip. I did travel to Costa Rica during peak season, to be very frank, my only concern was at the airport because it was peak travel season and it was much more crowded than you would’ve expected. So, that was really the only part. But once I arrived at the destination it felt very safe.
Emma Major, Major Traveler: I went to Costa Rico right after it had opened and the same with Mexico, and so I got a different vibe. They were still kind of working things out and getting things in place, and so they seemed a little bit empty. I wish that I had visited a little bit later after they had worked through their protocols. But every time I return from an international destination, I always say that I felt safer there than I do here. The protocols are in place. Before you get into the airport in Costa Rica, you have to wash your hands at the sinks that they have set up there. So it just feels overall safer.
Ruthanne Terrero: It’s those little touches. Sunny, how about you? Do you see that clients are seeking more privacy and looking to upgrade themselves in terms of spending more?
Sunny Rovitz, Magma Global: For sure. For our clientele at Magma Global, villas and private homes were always on the radar, but that’s increasing, obviously. There’s no price for safety and people are willing to spend a little bit extra to have that peace of mind that they are the only ones using the pool and the common facilities. I think that these villas and home rentals have also given people an opportunity to say, “I want to go on a trip with my closest friends and we could stay at this villa in Turks and Caicos, and it will just be us uninterrupted for the week, where we can feel safe. We won’t have to walk around with our masks on, and we know that we took the proper precautions to come here.”
That’s definitely been picking up for most of our clients. Even at hotels, if they don’t offer a villa, they’re looking at the private cottages and free-standing accommodations.
Then there’s the other half that just feel that if they wear their mask, they’re happy to travel. So it’s interesting to see who really errs on the side of caution and who’s just eager to get out there and take all the precautions necessary. That’s been interesting, for sure.
Ruthanne Terrero: “Travel pods” is one of the key phrases for 2021. Are you seeing pod travel, with like-minded adults and families traveling together?
Sunny Rovitz, Magma Global: I’ve seen groups of friends or people hosting 50th birthday parties, things like that. I think that a lot of family and friends are now willing to quarantine together if there’s this great trip at the end of it. They can quarantine beforehand and then take the proper testing to get into the destination and they’ll all be there together. I think that’s well worth it, especially with a majority of the people working from home and also having the ability to work remotely. That’s given people who didn’t necessarily have the opportunity to take off a week at a time from work to actually get out there and make somewhere their home for that week or even longer.
Ruthanne Terrero: Anyone else seeing the travel pod concept pop up?
Emma Major, Major Traveler: I haven’t necessarily seen it in the travel sphere. I’ve definitely seen it at home in terms of who you invite into your house, who you hang out with. I don’t necessarily know if people are qualifying it as travel pods, but I think people are traveling with who they feel comfortable with. It will be a very interesting shift, to see people mingling with strangers because we haven’t done that for a year.
Sunny Rovitz, Magma Global: I should probably add that I don’t think my clients realize what they’re doing is considered a travel pod. I think they’re traveling with their friends and family. We maybe haven’t used that word, but I think in a sense this type of group travel is becoming more of a hot ticket item.
Ruthanne Terrero: Definitely. Well, let’s take a quick look back, pre-pandemic, in terms of where your clients were going.
Sunny Rovitz, Magma Global: I think that a ton of people, at least our clients, are still traveling to Mexico. St. Barth’s recently shut down for tourism, but we were still having a ton of travel into St. Barth’s, which we did pre-pandemic. It was really the places that were allowing people to come safely that clients were still going to. Turks and Caicos was on that list. We definitely saw a decrease in travel to the Bahamas because the Baha Mar complex was closed, and now that that’s reopening slowly, I’ve gotten several requests for it, which I find to be interesting. And I think that that will definitely pick up.
There are places that have always been popular, such as Miami. People always went there and they’re still continuing to go there because it’s open.
Emma Major, Major Traveler: The Caribbean’s always popular because it’s easy and those clients who want to relax want to go there. I think we’ve kind of lost is all those clients who were dreaming about Greece and Bali. Bora Bora and the Maldives. Japan was a big honeymoon destination. Italy was popular for honeymooners. Those are areas that we’ve really had a tough time losing in the pandemic.
I get a lot of requests where clients say, “We’ve been dreaming about going to Greece forever and ever and ever on our honeymoon, and now we can’t. What’s similar?” They want that to be recreated, so you have to break it all down and say, “Okay, why did you want to go to Greece? What are the key experiences that we can pull into a different itinerary, perhaps in the U.S.?”
There are some very big destinations that I think people will be very excited to see open back up.
Ruthanne Terrero: I remember speaking to an advisor months ago and he was doing just that, asking clients about, “Well, if you loved going, I’ll just say Italy, what was it that you liked, and what can we replicate in a place that you can go to in the U.S.A.? What can we create in terms of itinerary for you right here?”
Can each of you give me your forecast for when you think your clients will be back on the road almost 100 percent?
Emma Major, Major Traveler: I am very hopeful for Q3 and Q4 of this year. We’ve got a lot of people booked. I think Q3 and Q4 will be when that comfort level really sets in about people feeling like they can go. If I’m being really realistic, I don’t think it will be until January of 2022 for things to really open up and for clients to go, no questions asked.
Desiree Overhage, Inner Circle Travel: I’m also very optimistic about the second half of the year. Of course, it really depends on the entry restrictions of the countries. So once those are lifted. There’s so much interest for international travel. I mean, we’ve just been watching Netflix for the past 18 months and being exposed to Asian street food tours or European periodic love stories like “Bridgerton” or “Emily in Paris.” I think we’ve been really craving those travel experiences and once those borders open up and we are able to travel again, that people will indeed travel.
Sunny Rovitz, Magma Global: I completely agree. We’ve seen that, unfortunately, the virus is going to dictate travel and people will not. So once the virus enables people to go to certain destinations, they will go. I promise you once people see that they can go to Japan, those requests will come rolling in. The same for Bali, the Maldives again, and places like that. The second there’s the green light we’ll get those requests. Obviously everyone has a different level of comfort, but I think people are ready to go as soon as they’re able to. I’m optimistic.
Ruthanne Terrero: There is a lot to look forward to. It seems it is taking a little longer than we thought.
I want to thank each of you for joining me today on our roundtable, and congratulations again for being named to Travel Agent magazine’s newest class of 30Under30.