Destination weddings can be a wonderfully romantic way to celebrate love. They allow couples and their guests to enjoy a dedicated chunk of time together in a setting that encourages intimacy and exploration. Plus, throwing a destination wedding is a convenient way to bundle a wedding with a honeymoon.
But like everything else in our lives right now, planning a destination wedding will be costlier and more complicated than it was in pre-pandemic times.
Much of the difficulty has to do with the backlog of weddings that were postponed in 2020 and 2021. Market research firm The Wedding Report predicts that 2.5 million weddings will happen in the United States in 2022, which is the most since 1984. Nearly 20% of those are rescheduled events, representatives for the online wedding gift registry Zola told the Wall Street Journal.
If you're planning a destination wedding, I suggest you read this piece in tandem with an earlier one we published about the basics of putting such a celebration together.
Destinations and Timing
A destination wedding is defined as one that takes place anywhere except for the hometown of the couple. But in this era, that doesn't necessarily mean it's all that far from home.
According to bridal website The Knot, only 19% of ceremonies in 2021 were destination weddings, and only 9% of those took place outside the United States.
Amélie Brouhard, a marketing vice president for the all-inclusive resort company Club Med, said the company's most popular wedding venue for Americans is Sandpiper, the chain's only U.S.-based resort.
Wedding planner Tara Guérard has seen the same pivot towards U.S.-based weddings. "Mostly no one wants to put their guests in the situation where they could go somewhere and get stuck," she said.
The new domestic focus has given wedding venues in some parts of the United States all the bookings they can handle. California and Florida together account for 23% of all domestic weddings planned in the United States, according to The Knot. You should probably add Hawaii to that list: Representatives at Marriott told the Wall Street Journal that wedding bookings for the company's properties in the Aloha State were up 300% in a year.
Guérard is also seeing a lot of action in Charleston and the rest of South Carolina, with the most popular venues already booked through the spring of 2023.
Her advice? "Look out of season, if you can" she said. "That means winter or summer for a wedding in the South, and maybe spring for the Hamptons [in New York]. If you don't mind marrying in the off-season, you'll still be able to find a good venue."
Of international destinations, Mexico and the Caribbean are most popular for Americans right now, according to The Knot. The resorts chain Sandals reported a 60% increase in Caribbean wedding bookings compared to 2019.
"Folks were really trapped at home for a long time, and they want to come to a place they envision as paradise—you know, white powdery sands, blue, blue water. That’s what people want to escape to right now," said Marsha-Ann Donaldson Brown, Sandals' "Director of Romance."
Brown also attributes Sandals' popularity to its outdoor spaces and consistently pleasant weather. "I believe now, more than ever, [couples are choosing to marry here because] we have so many outside options. People are gravitating to having weddings and receptions outdoors right now."
Perhaps because the chain can accommodate so many weddings at the same time, Brown says it still has spaces available for 2022, but the supply of time slots is dwindling.
For Club Med, Brouhard said: "The booking pattern is similar to pre-pandemic. The typical booking window is 9 to 12 months for a wedding with less than 50 guests, and 12 to 18 months for a larger celebration."
If you can't find availability in the Caribbean or Mexico on the weekend of your choice, this might be the year to look farther afield. Many of the resorts of Belize and Costa Rica have the same atmosphere and wedding expertise as ones in the Caribbean have, but with lower demand. Neither country is any harder to reach than the major islands of the Caribbean. Even more far-flung options like Fiji or Tahiti might also have more availability than usual this year.
Party Size, Type, and Duration
"People really want experiences and entertainment this year," Brown said. "They’re not just coming to the resort. If they’re coming to Jamaica, they want to see Jamaica. They want to go rafting, they want to do a roots tour, they want a fire dance as part of the celebration. [Our couples value] having a flavor of authenticity from the destination."
To experience more, she said, many wedding parties are booking stays of 4 to 7 days as opposed to the 2- to 3-day stays that were the norm before 2020.
And it's not just Sandals that's seeing extended wedding parties. Hyatt executive Asad Ahmed told the Wall Street Journal that wedding parties are "turning the events into small vacations." Many are able to stay longer, he noted, because of the ability that many guests now have to work remotely.
Interestingly, Brown said that couples are also now more likely to hire videographers and photographers to cover the entire trip and not just the ceremony, as they would have done pre-pandemic. "It's a lot about Instagram," she said. "And I think a lot of people learned during the pandemic how important our memories are, so they want to make sure to make them and save them."
That being said, the average number of attendees has shrunk from pre-pandemic times. "Guest counts have to be smaller because locations may be short-staffed," Guérard said.
Brown attributes smaller wedding sizes to ongoing hesitancy about travel: "Pre-pandemic, we had party sizes of 120 and 130 guests all the time. But the number involved in large party sizes has shrunk a bit. Sixty people is more normal right now, though later this year, we’re seeing weddings with 80 to 90 guests."
Every industry expert that I spoke with agreed that costs will be higher in 2022 than they were pre-pandemic. "Inflation and supply chain issues are making a big difference," Guérard said.
"Carpeting is 20% pricier and getting the right wine is an issue. If I want to serve Veuve Clicquot, that's going to come at a bigger premium than before. You can’t get new tents, the rental companies can’t get new chairs, and they can’t get china because it's sitting out [on container ships] in the ocean," she said.
In all, Guérard is seeing a 20% increase in the price of weddings, with flowers going up as much as 40% to 50% because of airlift shortages and other transportation issues. Brown says her staff has been steering couples away from expensive imported blooms and toward bouquets and decorations that are grown locally.
At Sandals, it should be noted, a basic wedding package is available for free when rooms are booked, but many of the perks cost extra. Still, Brown said that her staff strives to work with budgetary constraints and tastes. "Our free wedding consultation service is one of our greatest values, because we can advise people about ways they can save money and still have the wedding they want," she said.
Corollary costs such as airfare and car rentals are also rising. According to travel research site Hopper, airfare will increase in price 7% each month in the first half of 2022, and car rental costs are expected to stay high for the foreseeable future.
So if couples and their guests want to save money, it will be important to be strategic about expenses.
That might mean avoiding car rentals by taking bids from local taxi and coach companies to transport the wedding party over the course of their stay.
Couples must also not be shy about bargaining for a lower price on blocks of hotel rooms.
Choosing an off-season or midweek wedding (instead of a peak season or weekend date), will also lower overall costs, as will going with local specialties for food, drink, and decorations (like flowers).
Ditching wedding favors can be a big money-saver for the couple, and a no-gifts policy can help the guests who already have to spend a lot just to travel to attend the wedding.
Despite all of these issues, weddings remain one of the most joyous of life's milestones.
"There’s no question about it: Love stands the test of time," Brown said. "So many of the couples we're seeing truly got to appreciate one another over the course of the pandemic. It's making 2022 weddings just incredibly special."