Destination Wedding Planning and Costs

Posted by C&G on Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Show Date: Wednesday, April 20, 2011

On the 20th of April, our show will be live at one of the premier food & wine destinations in the US, where we will be setting up a destination wedding on the 7th! Many couples tend to believe that a destination wedding can be a huge money saver; is this really the case? Tune in and find out! We will follow up our wedding budget conversation to examine the cost and scope of planning for destination weddings. How you can save and what you need to know before you commit to taking your wedding on the road.

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Destination Wedding Planning and Costs


Good morning, it is April 20, 2011 and we are broadcasting live from New York City. This is Jeannie Uyanik with C&G Weddings doing our weekly radio show. We’re really excited to be back, we launched our show last Friday talking about budgets and today we’re going to talk about destination weddings. In New York it’s raining and miserable, so it’s a perfect day for a conversation like this, regardless of where your destination wedding may actually be. And that’s what we’re going to talk about—what actually constitutes a destination wedding. We’re going to go through three things to help you arrive at whether or not a destination wedding is a good choice for you.

We’ll start by talking about what a destination wedding actually is, what it means. We’ll walk through how you decide if a destination wedding is right for you and then finally, we’ll tell you how to plan a good destination wedding. So that’s what we’re going to cover today. If you’d like to join us and call in and ask any questions as we go along, the call in number is 714-364-4529 and that’s in the US. If you want to follow us on Facebook, it’s and our website of course is

Destination weddings, it’s a hot topic these days. We’ve seen an uptick in the number of people who consider it. Maybe they don’t end up doing it, but we see a high number of couples, probably about 40-45% that actually consider “should we do this” and that’s a big deal. We’ll talk about why we think we’re seeing these trends and we’ll also talk about what actually happens when people get into the discussion.

What is considered a “destination wedding?”

So first let’s discuss what makes a destination wedding. In our vocabulary, a destination wedding is where more than 70% of your guest list would not be able to spend the night where they live. So it’s not just flying off to, if you’re in the US, an island, or flying somewhere in the continental US. It means you can drive to your destination wedding but it still takes 4 hours or it still takes 3 ½ and it’s a tough drive to do at night. Anywhere you are confining your guests to pretty much stay after your wedding is over or precluding them from traveling that distance there and back in one day, means it’s a destination wedding. And we get a lot of blank stares when people say “well I’m not having a destination wedding, everyone’s going to drive”. Well if they’re driving 4 ½ hours the likelihood is high that they’re not going to want to drive back 4 ½ hours. So, make sure that when you talk about destination weddings you really know what that means, and it’s more for your guests.

In many cases, we’ll have a couple who are planning a wedding from a city in which they don’t live but the bride or the groom will be from there and the preponderance of guests are also from that city. We do not consider that a destination wedding. We consider destination weddings from the perspective of our guest list. And one of the reasons that destination weddings are so amazing and wonderful and why this description and this understanding of what a destination wedding is so important, is because you are putting your guests in a place where they’ve just come to see you get married, they’ve just come to celebrate your wedding. They haven’t been at soccer two hours before your ceremony starts, they don’t have to rush back to relieve a babysitter at home, they’re there for you. That’s it. So when we look at the definition of a destination wedding, you’ll realize from the way I’m talking about it, that there’s a great emphasis on your guest list. You’re asking your guests to travel just for you, and there is a difference between having a wedding where someone can get dressed at 4:00 and start their preparations for your wedding in the afternoon and still get to your wedding by 6:00 and be home by 11 or 12, versus departure on a Friday afternoon, they’re there for the whole day Saturday, and they leave sometime Sunday. It’s a real commitment. And a lot of times we’ll see people come in later for destination weddings, we’ll see destination weddings not on a Saturday, all of those things aside, the idea is you are asking your guests to make a commitment of their time beyond just your actual ceremony and reception.

Deciding if a destination wedding is right for you

1. It’s not necessarily cheaper

How do you decide if a destination wedding is right for you? There are a couple of popular misconceptions I want to clear up first. We hear these all the time, and I think this also goes back to why we’ve seen an uptick in the number of couples that throw destination weddings out there as an option, even though they don’t necessarily take it. One: the misconception that it’s a lot cheaper than a wedding in your backyard, and I don’t mean that literally, that’s next week’s topic. There’s this idea that if you pickup and get married somewhere else far, far away, it’ll cost less. The services will cost less, fewer people will come, you don’t have to invite as many people, and everything will just be less. That is absolutely not the case 90% of the time. I’m not saying it should cost more, but you have to be very careful when you choose a destination for yourselves, that it’s not because you are under the impression that there’s an automatic 40% discount. Generally, when you look at a destination wedding, you have to value in that you’re not going to be there, which means most couples, about 90% of the time, will spend more on a venue. The venue, which you might remember from last week’s talk, is the bulk of the cost of your budget. You’ll spend more on a venue because the couple is not there as often as they might be if they were getting married in a place that they could visit often and/or have more site inspections of, more conversations, more in-person meetings. So what we find is if someone might book a 3 star property that’s very close to them that they can see and touch and feel, in a destination wedding situation, they’ll book a 4 or 5 star property. And yes, sometimes costs are less for those properties when they’re farther out of the way, but at the end of the day they want the peace of mind of knowing that there’s higher quality, service, performance, than they might have needed from a venue closer to home. So this idea that weddings cost less farther away—not true.

2. There isn’t always much difference in guest attendance

There’s also this idea that you’re going to have fewer people that you either need to invite or want to invite. Now, there is a difference, and we will get into talking about guest lists relative to destination weddings, between the numbers of people who attend destination weddings and those who actually attend weddings within an hour of their own homes, but that aside, we don’t usually see a huge difference in a guest list between a destination wedding and a wedding close to home. And when I say close to home for the purposes of this discussion, we’ll assume anything within an hour, hour and a half radius, from the majority of guests’ homes, majority being about 70% of your guest list. So there’s this idea that “well, if I get married far away it’s going to cost less because I’m going to still invite 100 people, but only 30 will come”. That is not true. Over the 12 years that I have been planning weddings, I have never seen attrition drop below 20 percent. So, let’s start there.

Generally, for a guest list, you will see about 20-30 percent attrition. When it is a wedding that’s smaller and close to home we see that attrition mark at 20 percent almost on the dot. When it’s a destination wedding, if you invite 100 people, we’re sure that you’ll have attrition of 30 percent, absolutely, given, guaranteed. What’s surprising is the attrition isn’t 60 percent, which a lot of people expect. These days travel is easier, it’s more cost-effective, it’s fun. People will get on a plane for a wedding. Don’t be surprised if you have a 100-person guest list and all of a sudden 60 people want to come to your wedding; if you’ve budgeted for 40 people, you’ve got a problem. You also have a problem in terms of your accommodations and other things that you might have set aside thinking no one’s ever going to come. People come. And on the flip side of that, a lot of people assume “well if I invite 100 people, 80 are going to come”. That’s not going to happen either, so it’s important to be reasonable in your expectations. A fair expectation for a destination wedding is that if you have 100 people on your guest list, we expect and anticipate that about 60-63, 4, 5, will come. I’m so specific about that because I am so sure. Attrition is always, certainly 30 percent and usually somewhere between 30 and 40 percent, closer to the 35 percent mark. Keep that in mind. When you do a wedding at home, close to the area where you’re getting married and everyone lives, we usually expect to see attrition of at least 20 percent, usually not more than 30 percent. So use those numbers as a guide, and a good guide, because, again, refreshing our talk last week on budgets, a material change in guest count has a material change in budget and it also affects the numbers that you guarantee. So when you decide if you’re going to do a destination wedding, be very careful with your guest list. Look at your guest list and see exactly, would there really be a difference between whom you would invite if it were in Antigua versus Boston? San Francisco versus Arizona? We can’t answer that for you, but what we found, more often than not is, the difference is small and so the anticipation that something’s going to cost less and that fewer people will attend are misconceptions. You have to think logically when you’re thinking about the options of a destination wedding.

3. Do you have time to plan one?

The third thing that you need to consider, if you really want to move forward on a destination wedding, is do you have the time to plan a destination wedding? Already weddings can be an enormous strain of emotion, resources, time, finances, what have you. A destination wedding adds to that because you usually have to travel to get to the place where you go and see vendors and you see people. If you’re already swamped at work, if you have a number of familial obligations or professional obligations, then you have to value that into the discussion of, should we even do this; do we even consider picking a destination that requires us to get on a plane and fly 3-4 hours every time we need to nail something down, whether it’s a vendor, whether it’s a venue, whether it’s looking at this or that. So, these are all things to consider. The good news about destination weddings is that we really do live in an electronic age. Skype, email, all of these things, we’ve seen, have made planning destination weddings so much easier than it’s ever been before. And so we encourage them, but we encourage productive and smart thinking about them. Don’t walk into it thinking it’s going to be easier, it’s going to be cheaper, it’s going to be less of a hassle. That’s not the reason to do a destination wedding. The reason to do a destination wedding is you really want that intimacy of getting everyone who you love and care about, to just be with you for a weekend or a 24-hour period, whatever that time frame is. In some case, we’re seeing destinations last longer and longer, 4 or 5 days rather than just a weekend. As I said earlier, we’re seeing destination weddings take place on days that aren’t a Saturday, a Friday, or a Sunday, lending the wedding week, or days, to a more natural flow of a little vacation for everyone you love and care about.

So when you sit down to think about destination weddings, remember that they are more work than regular weddings, but there’s a greater reward. Everyone who comes to a destination wedding tends to be, as we’ve seen or heard from our couples who do them, really invested in the wedding, and really invested in the couple, and that’s different. It’s not a bad thing when you have a 400-person wedding and everyone’s sort of come 20 minutes, but it probably means that all 400 people aren’t as close to you as perhaps those who’ve traveled 4 or 5 hours on a plane, a flight, a drive, whatever it is, to come and see you get married, and who spend many days with you. So destination weddings are more work, but we do see a much greater sense of camaraderie and community that comes out of a destination wedding. We see closer ties with family and friends, and we also tend to see more participation in the wedding itself.

Planning a destination wedding

Let’s talk about how you actually plan this. So all of my warnings have been heeded, you’ve made a good choice, you’ve decided you want a destination wedding, and again, wherever that is, whether it’s a 4 or 5 hour drive, whether it’s a plane ride, whether it’s across borders and oceans, you’ve decided to have a destination wedding. And I speak with a little personal experience. Over a decade ago, I had a destination wedding. I decided that I wanted to get married in Turkey. As a wedding planner, of course I thought I should do something pretty cool, and even with my experience, and granted it wasn’t decades plus experience, but even with everything that I knew I should do, it was hard. It was a challenge, and it definitely still afforded me a few surprises right at the end, which I’ll share with you to give you a heads up on things to think about. But at the end of the day, I’m not just talking about destination weddings from the perspective of a wedding planner, I did this myself and it is amazing. So once you decide to plan a destination wedding, there are a few things you need to really start with.

1. Venue

Obviously, number one, as with any wedding, is the venue. Where are you going to be getting married? Is it a place that you’re going to be housing all of your guests, in addition to hosting the reception, or is it the place where you’ll perhaps offer a rehearsal dinner or a brunch, but the reception itself is what we call not “on property”? If that’s the case, then you really need to give thought to how far it is, if it’s not on property you would need to provide transportation. 99.9 percent of the time with destination weddings you have to be willing and able to provide transportation. This is a big deal. This is one of those other things that can tick those costs up very fast, if you invited everybody to come to a place with which they’re probably not familiar, you need to be prepared to make them feel comfortable. You need to be prepared to make sure they’re well taken care of, and that they can get to and from your location easily. This is why, more often than not, we’ll see many people choose a reception venue that can also have the rehearsal dinner, the brunch, and obviously guest accommodations and/or provide for additional guest accommodations close by.

So, the first thing is the venue. How do you go about that? It’s pretty simple; it’s like any good research project. The first thing you do is you have to take a trip to the area. We highly discourage the idea that you’ve picked a location and now you’re going to research venues online. That is dangerous, it’s frustrating, and can be a huge waste of time. If you think there’s a venue, a location that you like, if you think there’s a city or town that you like—we do a lot of weddings on islands, in the Caribbean, in and around the continental US, and we’ve had wonderful success there—but generally, couples that choose a location have some familiarity with the area or the region. If you don’t, make a point of getting that familiarity. Take a trip, make sure that you get to see and touch everything. If you can go there before you start your research, your research is going to be that much better. If you are vacationing somewhere together and that’s the place you want to go back to and then you start your research, great. You have a sense for the people, the community, the weather, everything before you even embark on “oh this place looks great online”.

Once you get to that point where you’re ready to see places, call in advance, make sure they’re ready to see you. Get pricing in as much as you can over the phone. A lot of times with destination weddings, and again, a destination wedding doesn’t have to be outside the country, it doesn’t have to be on an island—we’ve done many in Canada, we’ve done many in Mexico. Canada is an example of a perfect location, we did a wonderful wedding in Quebec in 2004. Fantastic couple, fantastic place for a wedding. Well, we were a little surprised by the fact that in Quebec, literally no one spoke English. Not a soul. Every vendor with whom we were communicating needed to speak French. We were lucky, I happen to speak French, although I don’t know how well, but at the end of the day we were very fortunate, since the location had been chosen without full understanding that it is not a place that business will be done in English. Period, end of story. And that can be a huge hurdle, so just that familiarity of “am I getting into a place where I know I can communicate well, and in the absence of a planner, am I going to be able to make inroads in my own language, or a language in which I feel comfortable, to be able to plan everything seamlessly”. The minute you start talking about pricing and negotiating for things, not just for the venue but also with vendors, you need to be sure that you can communicate with people. And I don’t just mean the same language, I mean the same expectations. More often than not, one of the best things about island weddings is that everyone there is so relaxed—and everyone there is so relaxed. Coming from New York City, our turnaround time, with a grace period, is about 24 hours. Dealing with the islands, it can easily be 24 days sometimes, if people are away. And the same for Europe, most of Europe will shut down in August. So if we’re doing a wedding in Paris and the wedding’s in September, you’ve got to have all your ducks in order by July 15. So all of these things are things to think about. Your familiarity with the place in which you’re doing business, and your ability to really interact with these people comfortably is important.

After you’ve done your research, after you’ve been able to go down, because you have to touch, feel and see every one of the places you’re considering, a common mistake that people make is “oh I went once, we know we love the property and we’re going to just get married there”. Well that’s great but you love the property as a guest, you didn’t look at the property as a potential marriage site, and that’s a lot more involved. What do the chairs look like? How many ceremonies a day do they do? We did a great wedding in Florida not so long ago, but they were putting up a ceremony sites and tents for weddings all over the property at the same time, and that made it a real challenge. Not because the staff wasn’t wonderful and great, but because the couple in this case didn’t realize how many other events would be going on at the same time. So you really need to look at a prospective venue and place as a couple that’s going to get married there.

2. Accommodations

Once you’ve selected your venue, the next important thing obviously is accommodations. In theory, ideally, we’d love to have everyone on property, or within a very, very short drive. A lot of times we can have people walk to and from other properties, that’s great, also equally ideal. But in the worst-case scenario we’d really like to see everyone within a 10-15 minute drive. And again, the burden of providing that transportation is really left on you in a destination wedding setting. So picking your accommodations, making sure that the majority of your guests have a place to stay, making sure that you’re able to understand what those rates will be and how long you have those rates for is imperative (this is especially true with island weddings). For instance, we know that a lot of people pick prime times of year to go and get married and that means that other people think it’s a prime time of year to go on vacation. Very important, if we’re planning a wedding a year out, how long will a property extend the ability for you to lock in a rate or a block, is that even an option, what’s included—all of these things are very important.

3. Vendors

So venue first, then accommodations, and only after that do all of your vendors begin to fall into place. There’s a word, a couple of words, of caution that I really want to offer about vendors. There are so many talented people all over the world who can do amazing things—finding them when you’re not familiar with an area, on top of not being familiar with wedding planning is really a challenge. There are certain things that you need to make sure of, you need to look for, you need to think about. One of the mistakes that I made was having multiple buses pick up our American guests from the hotel where everyone was staying and I felt I was so on top of it: I had arranged the transportation, the buses arrived on time, the boat that was taking them to my wedding arrived on time, everything was perfect. It never occurred to me that the dear, sweet Turkish bus driver would get lost getting my guests to the ferry, which was taking them to the reception venue. It was a disaster. And I was lucky it was Turkey and everyone was pretty relaxed about it, but it never occurred to me to provide a map of point A to point B to the bus driver. And it was a great company, they were great vendors, but these kinds of details are important for you to be on top of like white on rice. You have to be sure that all your Ts are crossed, more so with a destination wedding than a local wedding.

Another example is floral; everybody’s idea in every city is different about floral and décor. What works here might not work there. The way we would decorate a wedding and approach design for a wedding in California is so different than what we do here on the East Coast, or down south, or obviously in a more tropical setting. And it’s really important for you to not just talk about what you envision, but what that actually means in terms of execution. A lot of greenery comes out in tropical weddings and a lot of brides from the Northeast don’t like greenery. They like flowers, they like clean, they like modern. Very important not just to have the vision described, but the execution of that vision be as you imagine it. And it’s also important for you to realize when you’re doing a destination wedding that vendors know you’re planning from far away. We had a situation, just recently actually, where we were doing a wonderful destination wedding in Tennessee, on May 7—and we’ll be broadcasting live on May 5, from Tennessee—at Blackberry Farm, and we had actually hired, what seemed like a lovely hairstylist. We had negotiated pricing back in November of 2010, had the trial at the end of March, everything was set, pricing was in place, and we got a call last week saying that she wanted more money. Now in our case it’s great, we’re not tied into anyone and we can move really quickly, but as an independent bride or groom you might not have the kind of flexibility. It certainly could put you over the edge to have someone take advantage of the fact that you’re coming from farther away and that you may not have either the resources, the ability, or the emotional stamina, to fix it the way that you would normally, and in turn perhaps feel beholden to give that extra money or to bend to certain pressures. So do keep in mind with your vendors there has to be a very clear discussion on what’s expected, what you’re willing to do, what they have to do, and always in the back of your mind have a plan for “what happens if”. It’s not a problem, you can fix things very easily, but if you walk towards the planning for vendors who are far away, it is hard to touch and feel them, and that’s part of the process. Again, walking into it with your eyes wide open about how to move forward is important.

4. Thanking your guests

Overall, once you’ve got your venue and your vendors, and your accommodations in place, please give thought to how you can thank your guests. For a regular wedding in a place close to home these days, we don’t have to do welcome baskets. It’s always nice to do them, we do them a lot of the time, but it’s not essential. We don’t have to think of ways to say thank you in the traditional sense with a big favor, there are other things that we do nowadays; donations more as favors or thank yous, but when you’re doing a destination wedding, remember that your guests have come from so far, whether it’s a 3-hour drive or a 10-hour plane ride, so be sure to thank them for their contribution to the beginning of the rest of your life. Make sure that you’ve taken extra special time to prepare something for them, whether it’s a special letter or weekend activities. Try to have a rehearsal dinner that’s inclusive of every single one of those guests, try to have a brunch that’s inclusive of every single one of those guests. When we do weddings close to home, we tend not to include the entire guest list. A destination wedding is a time to do that; they’ve included you on their schedule and their time and you need to include them in yours. So if you’re doing a destination wedding, don’t plan a rehearsal dinner just for the bridal party, really try to plan a rehearsal dinner for everybody. Even if they can’t come to everything, at least make them feel wanted and make them feel like you’ve taken the time to plan and prepare for them more than you needed to because they’ve taken the time to be there for you more than they needed to. At the end of the day, the more time and energy you put in to planning a wonderful weekend for your guests, the more amazing it will be for all of you. And if that’s not something you think you can do, that should be part of your thought process on a destination wedding.


So, for those of you who have any follow-up questions with us about destination weddings, we’d be happy to answer them. Of course this is going to sound a little biased but I would caution that within the budget that you have for planning a destination wedding, try to allot some for a wedding planner. There are a couple of amazing wedding planners out there that do this and do it well, and I would urge you to consider the help of a professional. Destination weddings are really tough, and they’re wonderful and the reward is great, but the professional expertise and knowledge of someone who’s done a lot of them is invaluable and can actually potentially save you money and certainly time and angst. So, consider that. Once again, my website is Please follow us on Facebook.

Next week, we’ll be talking about tenting. If it’s not a destination you want, or potentially it is, and you want a tent, we’re going to walk you through all the things you need when you do a tented wedding. Whether it’s renting silverware, or marquees, or heaters, or flooring. That’ll be next week’s show and until then, thanks so much for joining us on the black and white of wedding planning. It’s been our pleasure and we look forward to next Wednesday, live, noon, a great discussion on rentals and tenting. Have a great week everybody!

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