The Modern Definition of a Destination Wedding
There has arguably never been a better time to host a destination wedding than right now—everyone’s got the travel bug and is ready to party. But what is a destination wedding? By standard definition, a destination wedding is a ceremony and reception that’s held someplace other than where the bride and groom live, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s in some far-flung locale.
“I believe COVID—and the subsequent lack of availability with vendors—has helped couples realize that they can get married wherever and whenever they want,” says wedding planner Kia Marie of Chicago-based Kia Marie Events. Roxanne Bellamy, a Washington, D.C.-based wedding planner, agrees: “Destination wedding planning has definitely surged this year, and I expect that surge to continue. Many of our couples haven’t had the opportunity to see family and loved ones in a couple years due to the pandemic. As a result, they are planning heartfelt destination weddings that not only serve as a celebration of their union, but also as a reunion of sorts.”
The numbers prove it, too. According to EMBARK Beyond founder Jack Ezon, destination weddings are up 250 percent from 2019. Luxury travel advisor Laura Worth predicts the surge will only continue. “It goes without saying that people have felt cooped up for the last two years, and they either want destination because it is exotic and an excuse to travel, or because they did small or local or backyard weddings and want to ‘make up for it,'” she says. “‘Revenge travel’ is what I have been jokingly calling the surge in leisure bookings—and this most definitely applies to events and weddings.”
Meet the Expert
- Kia Marie is the owner and creative director at Kia Marie Events. She plans luxe weddings in her hometown Chicago and across the country and globe.
- Roxanne Bellamy is the creative director of Roxanne Bellamy & Co., a Miami- and D.C.-based events firm that specializes in destination wedding planning. She was born in Jamaica, raised in Florida, and now resides in Washington, D.C.
- Jack Ezon is the founder of EMBARK Beyond, a travel advisory that creates thoughtfully designed experiences, including for destination weddings and group travel.
- Renée Strauss is the CEO of Wedaways, a luxury travel agency that specializes in property buyouts, room blocks, and honeymoons for the clients of wedding planners.
Despite the fact that everyone wants to get away, there is still uncertainty in travel, and the ever-changing restrictions and rules associated with it can make planning a getaway tricky. To accommodate, many couples are keeping their weddings stateside, but heading cross-country for that destination feel.
We turned to a few top wedding planners and travel experts to get a sense of what a destination wedding looks like today, plus tips for planning one (including ways to make it easier on the budget). And if you’re thinking about hosting a destination wedding—either domestic or international—we’re sharing a few newly popular venues and locales.
What Is a Destination Wedding?
In the past, a destination wedding almost exclusively meant a celebration that was taking place on a sandy beach or at an exotic resort. That’s no longer the case: The new definition is much broader, and a lot of it has to do with safety. “The world is in high demand, especially where there is a sense of safety in travel,” says Wedaways CEO Renée Strauss. “All over the U.S., the Caribbean, Mexico, and Europe—specifically Italy, France, Greece, Spain, and Switzerland, in that order.” In short, a destination wedding can now encapsulate any event taking place outside a couple’s hometown.
And with that updated definition in mind, there are a few trends in the destination wedding space couples should be aware of. Here, we share the ones to put on your radar.
“We’ve definitely experienced an uptick in domestic destinations, which we love just as much as those abroad,” says Bellamy. “Many of our clients are considering their families when making the decision to remain local; some have relatives with preexisting conditions and they don’t want to compromise their health by heading out of the country, for example.”
“Cities are in,” Ezon affirms. “Before 2019, destination resorts made up about 80 percent of our destination celebrations. This year, almost 40 percent of the destination events we are doing are in cities like Paris, London, Milan, Rome, and New York.”
Finding an available Saturday at your dream destination in the next couple years may feel like finding a needle in a haystack, but there’s good news: More and more couples are booking weekday weddings, and destination weddings are the perfect excuse to take a couple extra days off work to celebrate your nuptials.
What to Know If You’re Planning a Destination Wedding
In 2022 and 2023, wedding planning looks a little different—especially when it comes to destination events. Here are a few need-to-know details.
Costs Are Up, Flexibility Is Down
It makes sense: There’s tons of pent-up demand surrounding the return of weddings, and it’s driving the price and availability of vendors. Resorts and other destination venues may be less flexible in their offerings for the next year or two, so be mindful and patient when it comes to negotiating and asking for what you want.
Plan Far in Advance
“Couples should take advantage of as much time as possible when it comes to planning a destination wedding,” Bellamy says. “In my experience, 12 to 18 months is a good amount of time. This way, couples get to fully plan their celebration and allow their guests ample time to prepare.” She suggests opting for “pre-save-the-dates” to get an earlier and more accurate count of anticipated guest participation.
Expect More “Yes” RSVPs
Bellamy notes that her clients are seeing up to 90 percent of invited guests attend their destination event. “This is often shocking for couples because they think fewer guests will RSVP yes,” she explains. “Not the case! Everyone was cooped up for almost two years, so everyone is looking for an excuse to travel and celebrate!” So, plan your guest list accordingly.
Since so many guests may be turning your wedding into a much-needed vacation, it’s nice to negotiate wedding block rates at several hotel options in the area, and see if the hotels are willing to extend the rate for a few extra nights, rather than just the wedding night. “Let them know you will promote their property to all these wedding guests in exchange for a better rate or additional value,” Ezon recommends. He adds that couples may also be able to work out group flight options to ensure guests don’t get stuck with a huge ticket cost.
Consider a Buyout
It’s the latest trend to guarantee resorts have the space and availability for your wedding. “A full resort takeover guarantees couples can do what they want, when they want, and the way they want it,” says Ezon, who adds more than 80 percent of the celebrations EMBARK Beyond works on are buyouts. “Clients literally look for locales based on what is small enough—or big enough—for a full takeover.” Many locales across Mexico and Central America are full of small boutique hotels perfect for a buyout.
If you’re not doing a full buyout, be sure to check the hotel’s availability on the days surrounding your wedding, not just the wedding night. Weddings are happening every day of the week, so make sure an event block from the day prior won’t prevent guests from making it in for the welcome party.
Tips for Budgeting
Is this starting to sound a bit expensive? We hear you. Here are a few tips to help keep costs down and stay within your set budget.
Consider a Weekday
More and more weddings are happening on days other than Saturday, and—at least for the time being—those days are both more readily available and more affordable. While it may not be totally convenient for a hometown wedding, weekday weddings make complete sense for destinations. Most guests will be taking time off for travel anyway, and this gives everyone more time together as they can extend their trip through the weekend.
Booking off-season will help save some dough, but it has other advantages, too. Research the months most popular for your desired destination and pick a different time of year (just avoid rainy season, if there is one!). The weather may be slightly more mild, the location won’t be as crowded, and, most importantly, the venue may offer cheaper off-season rates.
Look for Built-In Backdrops
A ceremony set against the mountains requires very little floral for maximum impact; a reception on the beach has its own ocean soundtrack and needs minimal décor. Focus on the vibe you’re looking for, and select a destination that encapsulates that all on its own.
Top Destinations for 2022 and 2023
“The overall makeup of destination weddings has definitely shifted domestically,” says Emily Forrest, director of communications at Zola. “And, the most popular destination for international weddings has shifted, too. In 2019 the top wedding spots outside of the USA were the Caribbean and Mexico, but through a 2022 guest survey we found that the top location to travel out of the country for a wedding this year is Italy.”
Here, a few spots that have begun to gain popularity for destination weddings, both domestic and abroad. Look out for them to trend in the next year.
There’s no doubt about it: Napa Valley is heating up as a destination wedding location, and that’s thanks to the fact that luxe new properties, like Auberge Stanly Ranch, Montage Healdsburg, and the Four Seasons Napa Valley, have all made their debut. Scenic views and great wine—what more does a wedding need?
“Since I was raised in Florida, I will always recommend it as a domestic destination,” says Bellamy. “Tropical weather, amazing nightlife, exceptional food, warm water. I mean, come on!” The further south you venture, the more tropical the vibe; Miami is also having a major moment.
Western United States
Utah’s Amangiri resort is an ultra-luxe option (it’s new Camp Sarika is ideal for intimate wedding buyouts), but there are countless companies popping up out west that specialize in bringing weddings to life just about anywhere. Cactus Collective Weddings makes destination wedding dreams come true in parks and canyons around San Diego, Las Vegas, and Black Hills. Cloth & Flame helps create weddings wherever you want them, erecting tents and bringing electricity to the middle of the desert, for instance.
Marie’s top pick, Greencrest Manor, evokes French Chateau vibes in Battle Creek, Michigan. Illinois’ new Camp Aramoni is glamping at its finest, with a historic brickyard reimagined into an event space. The Fields is a nostalgic venue set deep in nature. These and a host of others are perfect mini getaways for domestic weddings that feel like vacation.
The top international destination spot right now, Italy has countless gorgeous locales with a variety of vibes. Lake Como is extra hot, says Ezon; he’s especially excited about the brand-new Passalacqua.
Due to its proximity and ease of travel, Mexico will likely always hold a high place on the list of desired destinations for North American travelers. Newly hot areas like Cabo San Lucas on the West coast and Tulum on the East coast are full of small hotels and venues perfect for booking a buyout.