Weddings seem to be contagious around the TravelAge
West office. Along with some other recent nuptials, Assistant
Editor Jamie Wetherbe got engaged in July, and Associate Editor
Janeen Christoff did the same just two months later.
So when it came time to decide who would write a cover story on
destination weddings, they were the obvious choice. Even though
they are having very different weddings Janeen will say “I do” on a
beach in Southern California, while Jamie will wed at her mother’s
home in New Mexico they have one thing in common. They have no idea
how to plan a wedding.
To take the stress and guesswork out of planning, more and more
couples are opting for ceremonies away from home. Experts say that
now one in 10 weddings are destination weddings a 200 percent
increase from a decade ago.
As couples get married older, some wish to forgo a formal church
affair and have someone else do most of the planning. Still for
others, it’s a matter of money. Thanks to smaller guest lists and
all-inclusive resorts, couples spend an average of 41 percent less
on destination weddings than those who wed at home, according to a
recent CNN report.
As destination weddings become more mainstream, guest lists are
growing beyond close friends and family. This is good news for
travel agents. Commissions for most destination weddings typically
range between $4,000 and $10,000, according to The Travel Institute
which offers a specialist course in honeymoons and destination
weddings. Agents planning an event for more than 100 guests at a
luxury resort can see commissions of $20,000 or more.
Couples are also constantly seeking out new locales, but agents
need to keep in mind that often where couples say they want to wed
and where they actually get married are very different places. For
example, Tahiti ranks high among destination wedding hot spots, but
the island’s legal requirements (including residency and celibacy
certificates) and remote location, make it an impractical
Although some places still remain out of reach for many couples,
Hawaii, Mexico and the Caribbean remain staples on wish lists and
are where more couples actually wed. We’ve combined trends and
package options in each of these locations for clients looking for
wedded bliss away from home.
Agents shouldn’t ask why clients are considering Hawaii for
their nuptials. Instead, the question is “why not?” The 50th state
not only provides sublime locations and year-round warm weather, it
lays claim to a long list of experienced wedding coordinators with
savvy tips for tying the knot in Hawaii.
When choosing which island to get married on, couples need to think
carefully about what else they want to do while in Hawaii, said
Susan O’Donnell, whose Aloha Wedding Planners sells wedding
services on Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the Big Island.
“It’s important for the bride and groom to consider their
guests’ needs, too,” she said. “Will guests be visiting for the
first time? What will they do to occupy their time here?”
Oahu-based Penny Johnson, of Hawaii Weddings.
net, thinks Oahu is the best island for a wedding, especially if
it’s the couple’s first trip to Hawaii.
“Oahu has everything they need, from rural settings to big-city
excitement,” she said. “With the right planner, couples on Oahu can
spend as little or as much money as they want on the wedding of
Clients who decide to wed on Maui must consider the layout of
the island, said Lori Scott of Tropical Maui Weddings.
“Traffic between Maui’s south and west sides can be very slow,
and in emergency situations it can be closed for hours,” Scott
said. “For the couple and their guests, agents should find
accommodations on the same side of the island as the wedding
In addition, Maui devotees need to remember that they aren’t
alone, said Debi Winckler of Pacific Island Weddings.
“Clients wanting a quiet beach setting should get married no
later than 8 a.m. for a wedding with perfect lighting and the beach
to themselves,” she said. “Since Hawaii is three to six hours
behind the mainland, most couples are getting up early anyway.”
Speaking of beaches, don’t forget to use plenty of sunscreen,
advised Enchanted Weddings owner Lisa Bollhorst.
“I’ve seen too many brides in tears over sunburns and strap
lines,” she said.
Haunani Rossi of Kauai Aloha Weddings encouraged working with an
island-based wedding planner who really knows the lay of the
“Find a reputable island-based company, perhaps a member of the
Better Business Bureau of Hawaii,” she said. “Look for a wedding
coordination company that has been in business for at least five
years or more, and see if they are members of any professional
On any island, don’t choose a planner who simply offers you
package A, B or C, without any flexibility, advised Debbie Cravatta
of Paradise Weddings on the Big Island.
“Work with someone who goes the extra mile to customize the
wedding, someone who’s eager to listen to each couple’s needs,” she
said. “Independent wedding planners thrive on making the client
happy, and we never want anything to go wrong.”
Next to Hawaii, the Caribbean is one of the most popular places
for couples to wed away from home. The most frequented destinations
are Jamaica, U.S. Virgin Islands, the Bahamas and St. Lucia, but
the tropical setting on any of the islands make the Caribbean an
idyllic setting. Additionally, the abundance of all-inclusive
resorts adds to the ease in which couples can share their vows.
While all-inclusives make wedding planning easy for couples,
they also mean large commissions for agents. One large destination
wedding at an all-inclusive resort, with clients’ guests booking
multiple-night stays, can earn agents thousands of dollars in
commissions. In addition, many resorts offer commissionable add-ons
An important thing to consider when booking an all-inclusive
resort for a Caribbean wedding is whether or not families or just
couples will be among the guests. Resorts like Sandals offer
beautiful settings for weddings throughout the region, but they are
couples-only resorts. Similarly, Couples Resorts is designated
Beaches Resorts, Sandals’ family brand, offer accommodation for
the whole family as do Club Med properties, Occidental Hotels and
Resorts’ Allegro, Grand and Royal Resorts and Wyndham Hotels and
Resorts all-inclusive Caribbean properties.
Many of these resorts entice couples with wedding incentives
that not only make their destination weddings easier but also
include deluxe accommodations, wedding planners, flowers, cakes or
even free weddings.
At AMResorts’ Dreams, Secrets and Sunscape brands in the
Dominican Republic, free weddings in the resorts’ gazebos come with
booking a seven-night stay. The Secrets Wedding in Paradise package
includes wedding coordinator, wedding gazebo, dressing assistant,
room for the groom the night before the wedding, cake, bouquet and
more. Other packages are also available, and all packages are
commissionable to agents.
Sandals Resorts appeal to a wide variety of brides- and
grooms-to-be with their WeddingMoon packages. The recent launch of
the Preston Bailey packages makes a fancy Caribbean wedding even
more accessible, offers more choice to the couple and, with a
Sandals wedding planner, the couple can expect everything to be
organized on their big day.
Currently, there are four packages available and while the
offerings may change in order to keep them fresh, according to Tony
Cortivas, vice president of advertising for Sandals, the Preston
Bailey WeddingMoon is a long-term Sandals offering.
“With Preston, now we have a fantastic message,” he said.
Sandals is also trying to arm agents with the tools to sell
these packages, said Cortivas. Agents should watch for new ad
campaigns as well as a Sandals workshop with information about how
the packages work and how agents can maximize commissions.
“The travel agent is going to be integral in this process,”
Commission for Sandals’ packages is a standard 10 percent but
varies depending on what is sold with the package. They can also be
sold a la carte or mixed and matched to clients’ wishes. Additional
add-ons like cakes designed by Sylvia Weinstock or gowns designed
by Dessy Creations are also available and commissionable. Package
prices start at $1,700 for the Floral Elegance Collection.
Other resorts have followed the lead of all-inclusives and offer
perks like wedding planners to draw business. The Half Moon Bay
Resort in Jamaica offers three wedding packages and 12 percent
commission to agents.
Mexico is another popular choice for destination weddings
because while exotic, Mexico is also easy to access via plane or
cruise ship. With a number of resorts and beaches, couples have a
choice of many places to say their “I dos.” However, those who
prefer to wed at a specific date or time such as sunset should book
their nuptials as soon as possible, said Cozumel wedding planner
Stephanie Skiba de Garcia.
Additionally, Mexico’s marriage requirements aren’t that
different from what’s needed in the U.S., and many resorts will
take care of all necessary paperwork. Since the dollar stretches
further, a wedding in Mexico can also be easier on the pocketbook,
and several resorts offer free weddings with a minimum stay.
Beginning in January, the boutique luxury property El Dorado
Seaside Suites a will offer the Sweet Weddings package. Couples
receive a free wedding when they book an oceanfront Jacuzzi Junior
Suite for seven nights or more, along with five additional
guestrooms. Rates at the adult-only resort run between $270 and
$400 per night, double.
Dreams Resorts & Spas offers free weddings at its
all-inclusive resorts in Puerto Vallarta, Los Cabos and Cancun if
couples book a Junior Suite Oceanview category for seven-nights or
more. The Dreams in Paradise package includes the services of a
judge and wedding coordinator; use of the beachside wedding gazebo;
bouquet and boutonniere; wedding cake and a bottle of sparkling
wine; discounted spa treatments; and, based on availability, a
separate guestroom for the groom the night before the wedding and
late checkout for the newlyweds.
Villa Premiere Hotel & Spa in Puerto Vallarta is offering a
free wedding package for couples who book a Honeymoon Suite for a
minimum of seven nights. Through Dec. 24, couples receive the
services of a minister and wedding coordinator; bouquet and
boutonniere; wedding cake; spa discounts; and based on
availability, a separate guestroom for the groom the night before
the wedding and late check out for the newlyweds. Rates start from
$230 per night, double.
Although honeymoon destinations may change in popularity over
the years, the popularity of destination weddings and vow-renewal
ceremonies beyond one’s own backyard is on the rise. Combining a
wedding with a dream honeymoon can make lasting memories for
clients and give agents a creative and lucrative way to serve the
Question and Answer With Preston Bailey
Preston Bailey is an internationally celebrated event designer
and wedding planner as well as author of “Design for Entertaining
and Fantasy Weddings.” He has planned events for Donald and Melania
Trump, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, Matt Lauer, Donna
Karen and Oprah Winfrey. This year he has partnered with Sandals
Resorts to create four wedding packages for Sandals’ WeddingMoon
How did you get started with Sandals?
I was giving a speech once and there were some executives there
from Sandals. They came up with the idea, and I was really excited
about it. My market is a very high-end market, and it was
interesting to create full packages that I felt had some kind of a
style to them. Also most of the Sandals resorts are in Jamaica, and
my grandparents are from there so there is a certain heritage to it
Were you considering doing packages with other
No, just Sandals. I visited quite a few of their resorts, and I
think that they are really beautiful and the quality of what they
offer is really very special. As it is, they do about 10,000
weddings there a year, so they do have that market there already
and it’s exciting to take that market and upgrade it to make it
something really special.
How did you come up with the four packages that are
I tried to think of the brides that I normally work with and the
different type of brides and different sensitivities. I also try to
keep in mind that most of the people getting married in the islands
are getting married at the beach or in a wonderful garden setting.
I try to bring in a little bit of the whimsy like in the Crystal
Collection, where I did a tree with crystals, almost like a
ballroom on a beach. Each one of them I did with some point of
reference for a bride or a room or a concept that I’ve worked with
and made it work outdoors and beach-like.
When did you start doing the WeddingMoon packages and
which one was first?
The first wedding was in September in St. Lucia. It was the
high-end Crystal Collection.
How are all the different Sandals resorts able to give
the Preston Bailey touch?
Every destination has a wedding planner. There is a very
specific catalog that has images from each package for couples to
choose from. It is possible to combine one element with another and
all the elements work well together.
What is your favorite package?
I fluctuate between the Water Lily and the Crystal Collection. I
love the Water Lily because of the wonderful colors. The hot pink
on the beach is really vibrant and incredible. And the Crystal
Collection I love because of the crystal tree and the orchids and
the movement that it has. I think that is very cool.
Why do you think destination weddings are
I think one of the greatest reasons is that it really avoids a
lot of stress. It is smaller and more intimate which is appealing
for a lot of people.
A Day in the Life of a Wedding Planner
Stephanie Skiba de Garcia started Cozumel Wedding Planner in
2001, and since that time, she’s seen her Mexico-based business
grow. Communicating mainly via e-mail, Garcia says that while a
destination wedding is usually less stressful on the bride and
groom, planning a wedding for couples in another country can be
difficult or even last minute. Here, she gives an account of what
it’s really like to be a destination wedding planner.
Tropical storms, sunburned brides and late cruise ships are all
part of the day for a destination wedding planner. From three-day
wedding extravaganzas to intimate events, I do it all. A storm
blows in unexpectedly two hours before the beach ceremony. No
problem. Electricity goes out at the hotel. Not an issue.
Destination weddings are romantic, unique and definitely a
different realm of wedding planning.
Unlike traditional planners, we rely heavily on e-mail
communications with our clients. Their ability to trust in us can’t
be enhanced by face-to-face meetings. We woo our clients through
exceptional customer service via e-mail, even before they set foot
in Cozumel, Mexico. From bikini “I dos” to New York City glitz on
the beach, we have helped plan a variety of weddings on this cozy
A Surprise Wedding for 50
Although many of the weddings are planned months in advance, we
are never surprised when we receive last-minute wedding requests
when weather or technical problems cause cruise ships to re-route.
I think I am on the speed-dial of every cruise ship in the
For traditional planners, a wedding emergency may consist of the
groom arriving late or the bride getting a stain on her dress, but
try a cruise ship calling you a day before asking you to throw
together a wedding and reception for 50 guests including food,
flowers and music. I call my staff, and we put into action “cruise
ship emergency alert,” working together to give the couple an
amazing wedding that we hope is everything or even better than what
they would have had in the other port.
A Three-Day Wedding Extravaganza
One of my favorite weddings was a three-day wedding weekend
adventure. The couple wanted to pack their stay with fun. We
created a weekend celebration that began with an authentic Mexican
fiesta and a sunset cruise with buffet and bar along the island’s
coastline. Finally, the couple wed near an ancient Mayan ruin on a
beach. The wedding aisle was lined with sand dollars and tiki
torches, and the crashing waves on the black lava rock served as an
The Eloping Duo
Destination weddings are also perfect for couples who want to
scrap their at-home wedding plans and escape from controlling
in-laws, growing guest
lists and shrinking pocketbooks. I love planning weddings for
eloping couples because I become much more than just the wedding
planner: I am mother of the bride, bridesmaid and best man;
sometimes, if money is tight, I’m even the photographer.
Excitement and challenges are all part of the day in the life of
a wedding planner. Wedding planners are responsible for one of the
most important days in a couple’s life. I deal with emotions and
memories, so everything I do has to count. From something as silly
as substituting my husband’s pants for tuxedo pants that the groom
forgot, to as serious as calming a stressed bride because her dress
doesn’t zip, I’m on hand to “sew things” right.
Garcia is the chief coordinator and owner of Cozumel Wedding
|The Wish List|
In August 2004, The Knot.com asked couples where they wanted
to have their destination wedding versus where their nuptials
actually took place.
Below is a list of 2,082 respondents’ top 10 (out of 32
Dream Destination Wedding Location
1. Hawaii - Maui
2. Las Vegas
3. Caribbean - Jamaica
4. Europe - Italy
5. Hawaii - Kauai
6. Caribbean - Bahamas
8. Florida - Walt Disney World
9. Caribbean - Other
10. Hawaii - Oahu
Actual Destination Wedding Location
1. Las Vegas
2. Florida - Other
4. Caribbean - Jamaica
5. Hawaii - Maui
6. Caribbean - Other
7. Hawaii - Oahu
8. Florida - The Keys
9. Caribbean - The Bahamas
10. Florida- Walt Disney World
Wherever clients chose to book their destination wedding, planners
suggest couples get their paperwork out of the way as soon as
possible. Below is a list from The Travel Institute of common legal
requirements clients might need for a destination wedding. For
further information, log on to www.thehoneymoon.com and visit the
official tourism Web sites of the country where your clients want
- Waiting period (varies by country)
- Birth certificate
- Administrative and license fees
- Proof of divorce or copy of death certificate
- Tourist card or visa
- Blood test
- Authorization letters
- Certificate of Consular Inscription
(a letter obtained at the embassy or consulate)
- Proof of church membership