Despite Economy, Violence, Honeymooners Still Spending Freely

In the face of vicious drug wars or mobs of angry protestors, one group of travelers seems blissfully unaware of the danger in visiting areas where these tensions arise: newlyweds.

Honeymooners not only continue to travel to countries riddled with violence and potential threats -- some of them among the world's most popular vacation spots -- but many industry experts say honeymoons this year once again proved to be recession proof, with couples bursting budgets to splurge on dream locales.

Despite drug-related crimes in some of its major cities, Mexicos beaches attracted 15% of total honeymooners last year, outshining even Hawaii and some islands in the Caribbean, according to The Knots 2010 honeymoon statistics of 12,000 U.S. couples.

Cancun has retained the same level of popularity this summer than it did in 2010 and is currently the No. 1 rated international destination among all travelers, according to Genevieve Shaw Brown, editorial director for Travelocity. Cabo, meanwhile, is a more popular destination compared with a year ago, jumping to the 26th most desired locale this year from 30 last summer.

Overall, honeymooners arent as affected because most people arent going to go to these places that are experiencing much of the trauma, said Kristin Koch, senior editor and a honeymoon and travel expert.

While Mexico, North Africa and the Middle East have seen the brunt of negative headlines this year, the latter two tend to be unattractive locations for honeymooners. As for Mexico, Koch said resorts have done a great job of pushing wedding offerings on customers to try to make it clear to guests and potential honeymooners that it is a safe spot.

It's really important that travelers understand the vast majority of the violence in Mexico is concentrated along the border cities, in some cases thousands of miles away from the popular tourist destinations, Brown said.

Greece is slightly less popular as a tourist destination this summer compared to last, but Brown said that is likely more attributed to the year-over-year increase in airfare from the U.S. than the debt-crisis-related unrest in Athens. 

The truth is that many tourists are not aware of the debt crisis in any detail and that alone is unlikely to deter them from visiting, Brown said.

Thats not to say the honeymoon industry has escaped completely unscathed from present day troubles. In a poll taken last month by The Knot, roughly 10% of participants said they have changed their honeymoon destination because of current events. 

Recession proof?

With some 1.4 million U.S. couples going on honeymoons each year, industry experts say the multi-billion business has once again proven to be recession proof.

Newlyweds spent an average of $4,466 on post-nuptial vacations in 2010, according to The Knot, with three in five couples adding expensive extras. About one in four couples spent more than originally budgeted, while 21% spent more than $6,000.

Even as couples finance their own honeymoons, with 60% taking care of 90% or more of the bill last year, a growing minority of luxury honeymooners are willing to spend as much as $10,000 for their dream vacation.

Destination weddings, meanwhile, continue to be in high demand, as they are often a less expensive alternative to the large hometown ceremony and come coupled with a honeymoon in one neatly wrapped package, according to Dwain Wall, senior vice president of CruiseOne & Cruises Inc.

As much as the economy has impacted travel for sure and really affected everyone living here, I think when it comes to your wedding and honeymoon you really want it to be your dream come true and you dont want to skimp, Koch said. They are still going do what they wanted to do whether its a beach or a trip to Italy.

Still, some 30% of all honeymooners in 2010 stayed exclusively within the continental U.S., surpassing the Caribbean for the first time, which only grabbed 28%.

Perhaps its the eagerness to see Mickey Mouse or the desire to gamble and party that drives honeymooners to popular U.S. destinations such as Walt Disney World, Miami and Las Vegas, but its likely the more bearable tab of continental vacations that has driven couples to some of the most unsuspected places, such as the Spring Creek Ranch in Wyoming and the LauderLove program in Fort Lauderdale.

U.S. vacations cost couples an average of $2,325 last year, much lower than the $5,219 spent on average for international honeymoons. Nonetheless, only 9% of newlyweds described a continental vacation as a dream honeymoon.

In the U.S. you can get the full honeymoon treatment and not totally break the bank, Koch said.

More frugal couples choose to postpone honeymoons or take mini-vacations in the U.S. to save up for a dream destination, while many of those that are willing to spend big still hunt for deals and use frequent flier miles, according to Koch.

Its a sign of the economic times, she said.

Follow Jennifer Booton on Twitter at @Jbooton