NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Why wait for the honeymoon? Engaged couples are turning bachelor and bachelorette parties into multi-day events and flying off to Las Vegas, Mexico and the Bahamas to celebrate before they tie the knot.
"I think for most girls it's a spa weekend," said Michelle Rago, a destination wedding and event planner in New York City, who has organized many a getaway for the nearly-wed.
"Usually it's within three hours traveling time, so on the Eastern seaboard they're going to the Bahamas or South Beach, Florida. Vegas is really popular," she added.
Vegas is king, according to John T. Peters of Tripology, the travel referral website. He said 56 percent of what he calls "bach/hen" requests are for Las Vegas, with Florida second. The average bill is a hefty $1,250 per person and travel agents say most people pay their own way.
So-called hen parties and stag nights are part of a swelling round of pre-marriage festivities that are boosting the travel industry.
"Girls are having as many parties as they can possibly have," said Rago.
And whether you're going to the desert or a dude ranch, hoteliers and venues have been smart about positioning themselves to accommodate the nearly-wed.
"I think that the industry has come a long way in servicing the wedding business," said Rago.
Alex Trettin, of Travel Leaders in Tacoma, Washington, specializes in wedding travel. He said the pre-nuptial getaway is about 20 percent of that business.
"We've created a number of programs for brides- and grooms- to-be. Most popular are Vegas and short cruises," he said. "Even with the economy in a slowdown, more and more people are using this as an opportunity to get together with friends."
Kim Gray, a travel agent with Travel Leaders in North Olmsted, Ohio, has booked three and four night bachelor/bachelorette getaways in Las Vegas, Tampa, Florida and Cancun, Mexico.
"Trips typically include entire bridal parties, as well as friends and family of bride and groom," she explained.
Although the sexes may travel together, once they arrive they go their separate ways.
"The new trend is that the couples combine the bachelor/bachelorette getaway," Gray said. "The guys and girls travel together, but then the girls go to the spa, pool or beach, while guys golfing, four-wheeling or hiking."
And while the mother and mother-in-law of the bride generally accompany the bachelorettes, the fathers, perhaps wary of the all-male carousing that has been a staple of the stag party, often take a pass.
"The fathers rarely go on the bachelor trips," said Mike Weingart of Travel Leaders in Houston, Texas.
Rago thinks the popularity of pre-wedding trips owes a lot to the information age.
"Young people have a lot more information. It's a more educated consumer with a clearer point of view. With the internet they're a lot more savvy," she explained.
And yet these parties are about something old as well as something new.
"The destination experience is parallel to how weddings started out: as weeklong affairs," she said. "People are taking a greater interest in entertaining, which is lovely."
Reporting by Dorene Internicola; Editing by Patricia Reaney