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A destination wedding used to be a couple’s easy out. Rather than undergoing an expensive affair with aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, centerpieces and a DJ (band? DJ? band?), the pair could choose to hop on a plane and make all the stress fade away. Destination weddings were smaller, more intimate and, more importantly, far, far away, which whittled the guest list down to those who were able, and truly determined, to go — and typically cut the bill in half.
Those days are now a distant memory. Today, we live in the age of access. Travel has become an inalienable right, and while that’s certainly a good thing in terms of connecting with foreign cultures and trying new experiences, it has changed the way we travel — and the way we plan destination weddings.
From curated one-of-a-kind moments to personalized itineraries for the entire guest list to essentially a mega-vacation for more than just the bride and groom, here are some of the top trends in the way couples plan and execute destination weddings.
One Big Vacation for AllThe No. 1 trend that experts are seeing in this market is that these events have blossomed into an experience for everyone involved. Sure, the couple has their special day, but for the rest of the guest list, a destination wedding has become more of an opportunity for a personal vacation — one that becomes the couple's responsibility to help plan.
“Gone are the days of just providing food, flowers and music,” said Jove Meyer, owner and creative director of New York-based Jove Meyer Events. “Now, we create experiential moments and memories in beautiful places.”
There are twosomes who go so far as to create build-up to the wedding experience, acting almost like travel agents themselves to help sell the trip as a fun vacation for all.
“Some couples are even surprising their guests by using save the dates that simply say things like ‘Get yourself to London on X date and we will take care of the rest,’” said Ceci Johnson, founder and creative director of custom invitation designer Ceci New York.
“Another trend has been to send a save the date without a destination, and those who respond ‘yes’ get a second mailing with the details of the event along with ‘get excited’ favors, such as custom passport cases and luggage tags. Many guests have been mixing in fun save the date packages that include presents like tequila bottles with custom-designed labels, if the wedding is in Mexico, for example.”
Strength in NumbersBecause travel has become so accessible and important to a wider number of Americans in the last few years, people are more likely to jump at the chance to attend a destination wedding. In the past, destination weddings were ideal for paring down the guest list, losing attendees due to cost, lack of vacation time or general discomfort with travel. But in today’s world, companies are offering more time off, and the general willingness to travel has grown, so guest lists can often be as long as they would be at a traditional wedding.
“Couples are increasingly surprised at how many people are going to their destination weddings,” said Tami Santini, owner of Paradise Getaways in Michigan. “The bride and groom aren’t seeing as much resistance, complaints or concerns when it comes to these weddings. Group sizes are larger, and couples are not looking at this type of ceremony as a way to save money. They just want to do it and are willing to spend $30,000 to have it happen. It’s common to see 100 people at a destination wedding.
The modern consumer is not so put off by travel. Thanks to social media, the world has become a much smaller place, and travelers today realize that time is fleeting and they need to seize potential experiences when they can.
“We’re seeing a different mindset about how people view the destination wedding,” Santini said. “They are willing to invest because they see the value that they are getting themselves. We are catering to millennials, for the most part, and they have no hesitation. Getting out and seeing the world is just normal for them.”
Go Big or Go HomeHost destinations are getting bolder, as well. While traditional locales such as the Caribbean and Mexico will never go out of style, couples are also turning to more exotic spots. And even within typical wedding locations, twosomes are branching out to see how they can raise the bar.
“Couples are not afraid of long layovers or longer flights, especially if it means they can have an exclusive property or location for their wedding weekend,” said Meyer of Jove Meyer Events.
“Everyone has done the Caribbean and Mexico so many times,” said Sonal Shah, senior event consultant for New York-based Sonal J. Shah Event Consultants. “Now, Europe is where couples look for their weddings. Think Switzerland, Paris and Greece. Marrakech, Morocco, is another destination on the rise.”
Johnson of Ceci New York adds that Ireland has become another popular place for Europe-bound Americans planning destination weddings.
“Far from the issues that some major European cities have had regarding safety, Ireland is filled with epic scenery and unique venues like castles,” she said.
Once travelers reach their destination, the wedding experience becomes about incorporating the local flavor into the overall vibe. Destination weddings are first and foremost about the celebrated couple, but they also give guests an opportunity to say they have seen and done something new. Authenticity and experiences are the currency of good travel these days, and that is true of destination weddings, as well.
“Embracing the local flare is a big trend,” Meyer said. “More couples are working with local talent to bring authenticity to their destination wedding — be it through decor, favors, entertainment or attire. We are all familiar with a classic wedding, but now, guests and couples are having so much fun incorporating local touches to make it more unique and creative.”
Luxury RisingBecause this is a once-in-a-lifetime vacation for both the couple and their guests, the bride and groom are willing to spend more for one-of-a-kind luxury touches.
“Sometimes we'll see intimate weekend-long gatherings with a couple’s closest loved ones, where they treat every guest to a deeply personal and luxurious experience,” said Lisa Vorce, celebrity wedding planner and owner and creative director of Lisa Vorce Co. in Santa Ana, Calif. “This allows us to customize every detail with thoughtful attention to the couple’s tastes."
According to consultant Shah, couples are comfortable going above and beyond to truly customize their wedding experience. She has seen brides and grooms splurge on everything from private island buyouts and complete venue buyouts to chartered jets, a night on a yacht and flying in a celebrity guest.
Karisma Hotels & Resorts, for example, has catered to this growing trend with its Private Enclave Wedding Experience, which takes place at El Dorado Casitas Royale in Mexico's Riviera Maya. This package guarantees the wedding group a private casita enclave when they book a minimum of 17 casitas. Guests enjoy a private swimming pool with a swim-up bar, as well as private butler service. The package also includes a decorated Memorable Moments ceremony and a four-course private dinner reception with a private wine and cheese event, a bridal spa suite on the wedding day and a private poolside Mexican beach fiesta. The wedding couple is also upgraded to one of the Palafito Overwater Bungalows at El Dorado Maroma for the last two nights of their stay.
All for the 'Gram'The modern travel mindset is highly driven by social media, and this is no different when it comes to destination weddings. Couples want their weddings to be buzzworthy, beautifully photographed or — the highest level of brag-ability — to go viral. Facebook and Instagram feeds are loaded with images of picture-perfect weddings in exotic locales, showing that the destination weddings market is increasingly using social media to help fuel the desire for this kind of nuptial.
“Social media plays a big role in destination weddings,” said Scott Wiseman, president of Travel Impressions. “Many agents get their leads from referrals and testimonials from other brides. Social media also helps direct brides to the new hot spots.”
Wiseman says that word-of-mouth has become an even stronger power with the influence of social media.
Celebrity wedding planner Vorce agrees.
“With the prevalence of social media, travelers are also planning their trips according to the guidance of leading travel bloggers, including couples who may be planning a destination celebration,” she said. “We use Instagram for digital reconnaissance, often finding unique artisans and creative services in the most exotic places around the world."
While the bar for destination weddings constantly moves higher, the good news for agents is that, for modern couples, great travel experiences seem to be the perfect add-on to their big day.