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Destination Unknown

Destination weddings will be a popular choice for couples in 2021 and beyond.

2020 was the year of the backyard wedding, and 2021 is shaping up to possibly be the year of the destination wedding, as unbelievable as that may sound given that we’re still in the middle of a pandemic.

“I do think there is something special about destination weddings,” says Jamie Chang,owner of San Francisco’s Mango Muse Events. “Right now, everyone is so pent up, they are desperate to do something special. I think people are going to go nuts this year.” 

In a normal year, up to 25% of couples getting married choose a destination wedding, and for U.S. couples, around 40% of destination weddings take place internationally, according to a study by Research and Markets. But, as you can imagine, it’s been a rough road for destination weddings over the past year.  

“Destination weddings in particular took a huge hit because it’s a combination of travel and parties, and that combo is the worst possible combo for COVID,” Chang says. “Until recently, it’s been just kind of sleeping, kind
of hibernating.” 

In January, a survey conducted by Florida Panhandle stated that over 50% of people would not fly for a wedding under any circumstances.

But that was then. “Destination weddings are coming back in full force,” Chang says. 

Why a destination wedding? 

Destination weddings are anticipated to continue an upward trajectory in popularity for many reasons. Not only are they often considered less expensive than traditional weddings; they can also help cure the increased cases of cabin fever for couples and guests who may also be facing Paid Time Off caps. Additionally, couples are looking elsewhere for their nuptials as they continue to find that their local wedding venues are closed, have limited weekend availability due to increased competition among postponed weddings, or they can’t accommodate their desired guest counts due to state capacity restrictions.

Even though some couples are taking the plunge this summer, many are aiming for Q3-2021 and beyond. 

Working with couples to execute a wedding close to home during the past year has been challenging in and of itself. Adding a destination into the mix offers challenges and considerations even more numerous.

“Couples are being a little more intentional about how they plan their destination weddings,” Chang says. 

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Don’t miss Deborah Elias' session, “Planning a Destination Wedding A to Z” on Wednesday, July 21 at 2:30 p.m. where she will outline the important steps to planning a destination wedding. There is also a full lineup of additional wedding-focused sessions, on both The Special Event and Catersource sides, and the All Access pass will get you into all of them. Learn more

When working with couples, Chang says planners are seeing two extremes: those who are focused on comfort, and those who are focused on the party. 

“On one side you have the couples who want to have all of the COVID things: comfy seating, lots of space, different options for post dinner activities—easy to come to and easy to be a part of,” she says. “But you also have those going in the opposite direction: this is their chance to kind of go nuts.” 

Location, location, location

One of the first pieces that couples must decide on when planning their destination wedding is obviously the location, which has become even more important as planners and couples evaluate locales based on local COVID-19 guidelines, federal flight restrictions, and venue availability. 

Screen Shot 2021-06-09 at 3.02.08 PM.pngFor example, several destination wedding spots are considered low-risk, and in some cases no-risk, in relation to COVID-19. Other destinations don’t have the same mask or capacity mandates. 

“The location is for sure part of that decision-making process,” Chang says. “It’s a little bit a function of choosing a place whose rules are something you feel comfortable with. You can look at someplace like Hawaii where you can feel safe, or a place like Idaho where they don’t require masks. It just depends on the couple.” 

Flights are also a major consideration, such as whether negative COVID-19 tests are required to board, and also the duration of flights.

“They want to make it a little easier for their guests to come,” Chang says. 

In terms of venues, many couples are sticking with outdoor locations, such as beaches, mountain ranges, and even wine country. 

“They want places that are naturally outdoor locations verses cities,” Chang says. “Places where it’s easy to spread out and easy to be outdoors.”

Jen Avey, VP of Marketing for Destination Weddings Travel Group says she’s seen a lot of couples opt for the larger resorts as well because of the convenience. 

“Couples and their guests are now free to travel to their dream celebrations, and resort venues have protocols in place to ensure all travelers remain safe while enjoying their vacations,” she says. 

Regardless of location, destination wedding couples, like most of today’s couples, must be flexible as restrictions continue to change.

“Destination wedding couples are notoriously known for being laid-back,” Avey says, “but now, the ‘bridechilla’ mindset takes on a whole new meaning, with travel requirements and guest comfort levels changing at any point in time.” 

Who to invite 

When opting for a destination wedding, many couples are drawn to the idea of being able to spend additional time with guests beyond the ceremony and reception. Maybe there’s welcome drinks or a brunch the day after the wedding. Destination weddings offer the opportunity to create memories with those in attendance, and this has become even more important following a year of separation. 

“It’s always the idea of being able to spend more than just a wedding day with the ones they love, they want to experience a place and share that place and this time with people for more than five hours,” Chang says. “They still want that now, maybe more than ever, because they haven’t seen these people for a year, maybe longer. This is the opportunity to be together in a way that they’ve been denied.” 

When talking about guests who are invited to a destination wedding in the world of COVID-19, Chang says they typically fall into two camps: those who are still a little hesitant to travel, and those who are ready to party. 

“People are still very scared and will still be very scared for a long time, but you also have those guests who are like ‘I'm all in and I’m ready for anything,’” she says. “They've been cooped up for so long, and the idea of going to a real wedding, dancing, eating, seeing people, and traveling on top of that, it’s almost too hard to pass up–if they can do it, they’re jumping with both feet in.” 

In a regular year, destination weddings typically have a guest list of around 50 to 100, and Chang says she sees this remaining the norm long term, but in the short term that number could potentially increase. 

"In the past, some guests may have thought it was selfish to have a destination wedding,” Chang says, “but now the lack of travel and the lack of gathering has changed the guest perspective a little bit because there’s a lot of allure there.” 

Avey thinks it is too difficult to anticipate how guests will feel and act as destination weddings revive. 

“At this stage in the pandemic, choosing to travel is such a personal decision, so the guest mindset really wavers from timid to excited,” she says. 

What to consider

Planning a destination wedding in the world of COVID-19 brings with it a lot of extra considerations. While couples must consider conventional wedding planning details like group flight bookings, hotel block reservations, and other logistics such as wedding ring declarations at customs (if they are traveling internationally).  But on top of that, couples are having to add COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, and social distancing to the list of considerations.

This is where communication with guests becomes
so important.

“Communication between couples and guests is more important now than it ever was,” Avey says, “and it’s always been very important!”

What COVID-19 precautions are the airlines taking? What are the testing requirements for getting to their destination, as well as returning home? What transportation is there from the airport?  Is there testing on site at the hotel? What are the guest capacities?

“It’s all those kinds of bits and pieces guests want [to know] when they’re preparing to travel,” Chang says. “Being able to make the safest decisions for themselves has been helpful.” 

One thing is for certain though, destination weddings are back. 

“Weddings are so happy,” Chang says. “To be able to be a part of that again and be with couples who are excited is wonderful. I’m so excited for the happy to come.”

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