You’ve long pictured the photos from your dream destination wedding: white shirts and khakis. A cotton dress. Bare feet in the sand. Eyes happily squinting in the sunlight.
But between now and putting together the photo album, there’s work to be done. First, you have to plan this event remotely, in a location you have limited knowledge of and won’t be able to visit before the big day.
But don’t write off the destination event just yet—organizing a wedding can actually be fun when you have the right resources to help.
Why have a destination wedding?
There are four big pluses to a nontraditional wedding:
- They tend to be less stressful. Many hotel venues offer wedding packages, with coordinators who handle local marriage license requirements, music, cake, the officiant, linens, seating, and everything in between.
- They’re surprisingly cost-effective. Before you dismiss destination weddings as an extravagant money-pit, you might be surprised by the numbers. And those numbers look even better if you honeymoon at the same location.
- You avoid family competition. Planning a wedding on neutral ground eliminates potential conflicts about hometown venues.
- You’re on vacation time. Spend leisure time with your nearest and dearest, or opt to party on throughout the week.
More couples are choosing destination weddings than they were pre-pandemic
One in four weddings is held in another country from the couple’s home base. Although we typically think of #islandlife when we hear “destination wedding,” insiders know this option is about more than sandy beaches.
When loved ones can’t travel, connect them with your event by going to them.
Or, plan a destination wedding with no passports needed, choosing a special location within your own country.
A note about COVID
Give your guests all the upfront information they need about health and safety. (Will you offer masks? Hand sanitizer? Hold all events outdoors to stay distanced? Require testing?)
Some couples might opt for special event insurance to cover themselves and the cost of the big day should there be an unforeseen risk. In that case, be sure to specifically ask providers if their policy covers COVID, as some may not offer protection for pandemic cancellations or amendments.
It’s old hat for professional destination wedding planners
While specifics may vary across properties and locations, the general process for working with a hotel wedding venue is the same. A seasoned wedding organizer can help smoothly navigate this unfamiliar territory for the couple.
For the Roberts wedding, a wedding coordinator assigned from their Chapel of the Flowers venue took care of all the heavy lifting — coordinating limo drivers, arranging a videographer and photographer, and even making arrangements for the marriage license.
“Paying for someone to help sort the paperwork for our marriage license and then drive us to collect it was one of the best decisions we could have made,” the bride said.
A suggestion from the experts: Do your research before relying on the resort’s onsite coordinator. A venue should be able to provide a clear point of contact and confirm the level of support they’ll provide before you begin.
But whether you’re working with a professional planner or organizing a destination wedding on your own, the biggest items on your to-do list will be the same.
Wedding planning pain points
- Sourcing and organization for booking venues and guest hotel rooms. Even for professional event planners, it takes an average of 75 days to find and book the right hotel for an event. Explore online solutions that can help save time researching and submitting RFPs to your preferred options.
- Acting as a liaison, communicating with venues and vendors. It’s a lot of emails, phone calls, and waiting for approvals/decisions—a long and time-consuming process. Get help managing and comparing your RFPs to help deal with overwhelming details.
- Have your own wedding website created to provide details to the wedding party and guests and manage reservations.
Brides and mothers-of-the-bride might take on more than they can handle
What brides and mothers-of-the-bride know going into planning a wedding is … not much. Unless they have a planner or have an interest in event planning themselves, couples generally know as much about wedding planning as their parents or friends can tell them.
This means they rely on anecdotes and individual, one-off experiences instead of, say, a decade of embedded industry know-how.
Tips for self-planners
- Start planning early. Popular destination wedding spots book an average of 12-16 months in advance — and that’s only after you’ve decided which venue you like best. But picking a venue sight unseen doesn’t have to be a gamble; couples can use an online hotel marketplace to narrow their search and discover the best options in their destination.
- Consider the needs of friends and family — starting from the time they arrive. Make a list of the amenities your guests and wedding party will need and use that as a guide for your hotel shopping process.
- Finding the best deal means both the couple’s budget and the guests’ budget are taken into consideration. While it may not be possible to cater to everyone, being conscious of your guests’ limitations will help avoid complaints about expenses.
- “Time-sensitive” freakout emails will happen, and they’ll feel urgent. If your chosen destination is on the other side of the world, expect to spend time biting your nails until you hear back. Factor in the wait time across different time zones to give yourself peace of mind.
- If you’re new to the event planning game, you probably don’t have a great reference point for hotel room rates and event service costs — which means you’re probably easy to sell to. Knowing the estimated market rates for your destination can give you an edge when it comes time for negotiations.
The GroupSync Marketplace rates destinations based on your personal search criteria.
This isn’t to say it’s impossible to remotely plan a wedding without a professional by your side. But do keep these tips in mind as you embark on your (often-yearlong) endeavor.
What to know when planning a destination wedding
If you’re planning your own wedding:
- Ask questions. You don’t know the answer until you ask, so don’t be shy here: Learn what you don’t yet know. (This podcast has some points to consider when planning a destination wedding.)
- Use GroupSync to find exactly what you want from a hotel, down to specifically coveted amenities.
- Make it easy for guests to book a room. Some hotel booking solutions help event organizers create a personalized event website that keeps track of hotel room blocks, providing real-time data on which guests have booked their rooms already. If you really want to go the extra mile, you can even hire a travel agent to book flights for family and close friends.
- Create a wedding itinerary so your guests know what’s happening, and when. Options are plentiful for do-it-yourselfers, and pre-designed templates are available on Etsy.
GroupSync Housing makes it easy to manage guest room blocks.
If you’re a pro planner handling a client’s wedding:
- Invest in the right technology. Find the right venue, with the right amenities, within budget, in a remote location that you and your clients may only have a glimpse of before the big day. Easy, right? (Just in case, we’ve got a solution that simplifies the entire group booking search for you.)
- Streamline communication wherever you can. Use online room block and attendee management tools to make it easy for wedding guests to book their rooms and reduce the risk of attrition fees. Solutions like GroupSync Housing provide real-time reporting so that both planners and hoteliers can monitor pickup at a glance.
It all comes together in the end
You know that when you’re putting together your wedding album, all you’ll see are smiling faces, and any memories of stress or last-minute scramble will fade as the years pass. Until then, make your planning process as simple as possible with the right tools and support.