Planning a destination wedding? Here’s what you need to know

Tropical locations continue to be top spots for destinations weddings. The most popular destination? Mexico. Getty Images

More and more couples – especially young couples – continue to trade in the traditional home-based wedding ceremony for destination “I dos.”

In fact, wedding expert Danielle Andrews estimates that as many as one-in-five Canadian couples (of all ages) are choosing to have their nuptials abroad. Narrowing it down further, however, that number climbs as high as 40 per cent for millennial couples.

READ MORE: Where Canadians are travelling this summer, and how to get there for cheap, according to Kayak

“[Destination weddings] are pretty popular right now, especially with millennials,” Andrews, president of the Wedding Planners Institute of Canada Inc., says. “I think millennials are looking for more interesting locations and something that’s more unique to them for their weddings… And it’s more about having experiences for them – not about adding bling to their lives, but adding more experience to their lives, so they’re taking that to their weddings as well.”
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But while destination weddings may seem like an attractive alternative for many young couples, planning one can be a different story. Where do you start? When is the best time to book it? What kind of money will you be spending?

Global News spoke with Andrews who helps answer some of those tough questions.

The lowdown

Typically, a destination wedding isn’t a one-day affair, but rather a days-long celebration.

While the wedding itself is only a one-day event, Andrews says couples should account for the days their guests arrive, leave and relax in between.

According to the Destination Weddings Travel Group 2016 Trend Report, the average number of nights guests tend to book are four, while the couple often stays an average seven.

“There has to be some sort of a welcome event on the first day when everyone arrives,” Andrews says. “You might have the wedding on another day, but then you should have some sort of closing event. But if you have plan it to be longer than four days, then you should plan some sort of excursion in there as well with your guests. So really there are four events happening for your wedding and not just the one.”

Destination weddings also tend to be more intimate affairs.

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The average number of guests attending destination weddings tends to be around 28, the report states.

This, Andrews says, makes it easier for the couple to really enjoy the company of all their guests as opposed to big at-home weddings which tend to occupy the bride and groom.

Timing is everything

According to Andrews, the peak time for destination weddings is between the months of November and May – with peak time being in May – which avoids the hurricane season and usually means couples will have the best weather.

But booking the wedding should be done at least a year in advance – so now is the time book if you plan on having a destination by early next year.

This doesn’t only allow you the time you need to plan and secure a location, but it’s also a courtesy to your guests.

“Depending on where you decide to go, guests might have to secure visas to attend the wedding,” Andrews explains. “It’s also giving your guests enough notice so they can book time off work and save the money they’ll need to attend the wedding.”

Making the wedding happen

Planning your wedding when you’re hundreds – if not, thousands of kilometres away is no easy task. However, there are a few ways couples can go about planning.

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First, they can book through a resort.

Some resorts offer packages – some being more generous than others in terms of what they offer.

It can be a one-stop shop, if you find a place you like and hit the jackpot.

Another option is to go through a home-based wedding coordinator, which Andrews says can help take the pressure off of planning from so far away.

“The difference of having a wedding coordinator near you and resorts is that wedding coordinators are handling everything for you that has to do with the wedding (like travel planning as well, for example) whereas if you’re working with someone through a resort they’re only handling what’ll be happening on the resort,” she says. “What you want to make sure is that your wedding planner is experienced in destination weddings. Often, experienced coordinators will have someone on the ground who is a local planner at the destination as well working in conjunction.”

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Whatever avenue you decide to go, it’s important that the couple actually visit the destination they have in mind before booking because “pictures on the internet can be deceiving,” Andrews warns.

Andrews also suggests scouting out locations that aren’t resorts or typical wedding venues. Is there a waterfall that takes your breath away? A cave with beautiful features? What about atop a hill or cliff looking out over the ocean? Don’t be afraid to get creative, Andrews says.

The money you’ll spend

According to the wedding destinations report, the average cost of an at-home wedding has increased more than US$5,500. over the past five years. Overall, couples in 2015 spent an average of $32,000 on their weddings – which is also on par with what the annual Newlywed Report says.

The average spending for destination weddings on the other hand has remained under $10,000 for over 10 years.

The average cost of accommodations is around $2,000 with flight costs averaging just over $1,127. The wedding packages themselves hover around the $1,600 mark, the 2016 Destinations Wedding report says.

READ MORE: Gift registry? Wedding bands? Here are the ‘traditions’ the wedding industry helped invent

“Destination weddings can definitely be cheaper,” Andrews says. “Everything is usually less expensive in these destinations – the food, the alcohol, etc. And because you’re more likely to have less people attending.”

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But be careful when booking hotel rooms, Andrew cautions.

Often times couples will book a block of rooms for their guests and think it’s the rate they’ve been quoted online. However, those rates usually only apply only a handful of rooms, so couples and their guests are sometimes surprised by the price they’re charged at the end.

To avoid this, it’s best to talk with the hotel itself before booking. That way you are quoted a more accurate price and – who knows – they may have other deals.

Trending destinations

Tropical destinations still reign supreme for weddings abroad.

So where are couples choosing to say “I do?” Here are the top six locations according to the 2016 destinations wedding report:

  1. Mexico – May being the most popular
  2. Dominican Republic – June being the most popular
  3. Jamaica – June being the most popular
  4. Costa Rica – January being the most popular
  5. Aruba – September and November being the most popular months
  6. St. Lucia – May being the most popular month

And with Andrews’ experience, the Bahamas is another location marrying couples flock to.

The report also predicts that Canada, Italy and Iceland are increasing in popularity.

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However, when a couple is deciding on a location, they should choose one that reflects their style, Andrews says.

“Some couples really want the remote location and a bit adventurous, then there are other couples who want the beach scene and resort style,” Andrews says. “So there isn’t a place I wouldn’t recommend because it’s all based on the couple and what they want.”

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