Valentine's special: Danger, elation, exhaustion. What better way to start life together ...

Honeymooners want relaxation and quiet seclusion, right? In fact, finds Aoife O'Riordain, modern requirements are very different
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The Independent Online
Powder-white beaches fringed with palm trees, and the gentle lapping of azure water. The classic honeymoon setting. Plenty of couples still want exactly that, but more and more don't.

Twin-centre honeymoons combining relaxation with activity are growing in popularity. Traditional destinations are giving way to more unusual ones, especially for those couples who are already well travelled. Others prefer a short, luxury hotel break immediately after the wedding, with a more adventurous holiday following a few months later. The honeymoon market is changing fast.

Newly-weds are still going to the Caribbean, as mainstream operators such as Virgin Holidays and British Airways Holidays confirm. Kuoni's top three honeymoon destinations for 2004 were the Maldives, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. But Trailfinders predicts something different in 2005, reckoning its two biggest honeymoon destinations will be South Africa and the Canadian Rockies. Trailfinders' Nikki Davies says: "A lot of it comes down to places people haven't been before and most couples want to discover new places together."

The tsunami has unquestionably affected bookings to the traditional honeymoon hot spots of the Indian Ocean - Thailand and Sri Lanka - but tour operators are encouraging people to return to the affected areas. Anne-Marie Hanson of Kuoni says: "Calls are down for the Maldives, Sri Lanka and Thailand. However, with the probable exception of Trincomalee in Sri Lanka, Khao Lak and Phi Phi in Thailand, we expect that business will recover fast over the next two to three months. I'd expect pre-tsunami levels to be back soon after Easter".

Closer to home, the romance of Italy endures, with Venice, Florence, Rome and the rugged Amalfi coast at the top of many lovers' wishlists. But alternatives to the traditional two-week beach holiday are emerging. Albee Yeend, African sales manager for Steppes Africa, says: "Lots of couples that come to us want to go on safari, but they also want to get out and do something, like horseriding in Botswana. At the same time, they want pampering. Spas are a recent development in many of the lodges. It used to be a safari in Africa followed by Mauritius and the Seychelles. Now people are getting more intrepid and are exploring places like Zanzibar and Mozambique."

Jayne Smith, a senior planning manager for luxury tour operator Abercrombie and Kent, says: "Many couples are already quite well-travelled and want to pick somewhere neither of them has ever been. One destination that is becoming increasingly popular is Vietnam and Cambodia. I think both these and Guatemala and Belize are going to be big in terms of honeymooners."

These trends are not just reflected in the luxury end of the market. Virgin Holidays recently introduced a programme entitled Taste of Adventure, which combines mini-adventures such as trekking or whale-watching with more traditional city-break and beach combinations. Honeymooners are already accounting for 20 per cent of sales. Similarly, Hayes and Jarvis is reporting a brisk honeymoon trade in its touring holidays.

With a brochure featuring tropical islands worthy of any Robinson Crusoe fantasy, more than 70 per cent of Turquoise Holidays sales are honeymoons. Its honeymoon planner, Katy Lamb, finds that two weeks on the beach, however idyllic, is not enough. "Sales to Tahiti and are going through the roof," she says. "It's not just about opulence and luxury any more. Couples have become much more discerning and want to see as much of where they visit as possible. They also want to stay in characterful places, not necessarily the most expensive."

Latin America is also proving an irresistible draw for newly-weds. Bespoke itineraries to Belize now account for 50 per cent of all of Trips Worldwide's honeymoon bookings. Its marketing manager, Julie Middleton, says: "Belize seems to have really captured people's imaginations. The country is small and people can experience reef and rainforest with a high standard of accommodation with lots of character and charm."

According to Ruth Skipsey of Latin America specialist Journey Latin America, "A growing number of people are willing to rough it on the Inca trail if there is a bit of luxury on the horizon."

So how much can you expect to spend for these holidays of a lifetime? Albee Yeend says: "I'm always amazed at how much people have to spend on their honeymoons," citing pounds 4,00 to pounds 5,000 per person as routine for a two-week holiday. Vikki Berg reckons it's more like pounds 5,000 per couple but says the luxurious North Island in the Seychelles could cost pounds 12,000 per week.

A growing number of tour operators including Trailfinders, Turquoise Holidays and Abercrombie and Kent, have a honeymoon list: guests give money or pay for certain elements of the trip. As Katy Lamb of Turquoise explains, "It can mean that a couple can go on a honeymoon they would not normally be able to afford, or couples being given the gift of an amazing experience like a hot-air balloon ride in Africa." The trend makes sense. Who wouldn't prefer a candle-lit dinner on a deserted beach to a set of handtowels?

GIVE ME THE FACTS

Virgin Holidays (0871-222 1203; www.virgin.com/holidays);

British Airways Holidays (0870-2344 406; www.ba.com/holidays);

Trailfinders (020-7938 3939; www.trailfinders.co.uk);

Steppes Africa (01285 650011; www.steppesafrica.co.uk); Abercrombie & Kent (0845-0700 612l www.abercrombiekent.co.uk);

Hayes and Jarvis (0870-366 1636; www.hayesandjarvis.co.uk);

Turquoise Holidays (01494 678400; www.turquoiseholidays.co.uk);

Trips Worldwide(0117-311 4400; www.tripsworldwide.co.uk);

Journey Latin America (020-8747 8315; www.journeylatinamerica.co.uk)

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