A walk down the isle

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Sunshine, cost and keeping the guest list down are why more couples are marrying abroad. Jeremy Gates reports.

As many as 20 per cent of UK couples are opting to tie the knot overseas, according to research, with the unpredictable British weather and money being key driving forces.

Ionian Weddings (www.ionianweddings.co.uk), a specialist operator fixing weddings for couples across the Greek Islands, Cyprus, Malta and Italy, found that the market has seen a 27 per cent increase since 2005.

“With weddings abroad costing around a quarter of the price of UK weddings and almost guaranteeing sunshine, tying the knot in another country becomes ever more popular,” says the company’s director Andreas Palikira.

Other factors cited included wanting to keep guest numbers down.

“Our couples, many already having small children, simply don’t want big traditional UK weddings and love the idea of escaping with a few family and friends for a simple wedding in the sun,” says Palikira.

“Many couples like the chance to be on holiday with a select group of family and friends. Around half our clients organise activities such as a pre-wedding dinner or a boat trip with others keeping it informal but still spend quality time with guests.”

Cost is another big draw. In the UK, the average cost of a wedding is now £20,000-plus. However, a civil ceremony with a reception for 20 people at a beachfront taverna in Rhodes starts from about £2,500, including official paperwork, photography, flowers and a hairdresser and transportation for the bride.

At the luxury end, about £20,000 secures a private beach plus champagne, snacks and a dinner for 100 people, from Ionian Weddings.

Short- and long-haul destinations are joining the weddings abroad boom.

Malta specialist Belleair Holidays (www.belleair.co.uk) offers bronze, silver and gold packages starting from £399, with civil ceremonies either at the registry in Valletta or a hotel, or Catholic ceremonies at churches across Malta and neighbouring Gozo, and transportation from a vintage open top Rolls- Royce to traditional Maltese bus.

Belleair Holidays sales manager Emma Yorke says: “Three hours from Britain, Malta and Gozo are ideal places to celebrate a wedding.

“Everyone speaks English so there are no language barriers. The legal side of getting married is similar to the UK and wedding co-ordinators in the UK and Malta ‘hold your hand’ on the big day.”

The Caribbean has seen business rise sharply year-on-year at all resorts in the Elite Island Resort group, including Galley Bay, The Verandah Resort & Spa and St James’s Club, Antigua and Palm Island in the Grenadines.

New resorts in the group, including St James’s Club Morgan Bay in Saint Lucia offer more options for couples keen to tie the knot. Booking through operator Kuoni (www.kuoni.co.uk), seven nights all-inclusive, including BA flights ex-Gatwick with transfers starts at £1,615 in September. The standard wedding package costs £718.

Paula Whitehead, European managing director for Elite Island Resorts, says: “We’ve seen more bookings for weddings, one of the few areas of the travel industry which is growing through the downturn..”