Surprisingly enough, destination weddings can very well be one of the most economical ways to get married, even with a fairly good-sized guest list. And, according to DestinationWeddings.com—a long-time tour operator specializing in destination weddings that has completed more than 100,000 destination weddings over the years—it’s a wedding ritual that’s becoming more and more popular.
“Right now, we’re doing more than 1,200 destination weddings per year,” explains Quentin Carmichael, III, DestinationWeddings.com’s marketing and sales manager. “We don’t do anything in the continental U.S.—we focus primarily on the Caribbean, Mexico, Hawaii and a little bit of Latin America, specifically Belize and Costa Rica.”
According to the company, however, it’s imperative to plan a destination wedding not only with the expertise, but also the negotiating power of a travel professional to get affordable air and hotel rates. The company says that for most of the couples they’ve worked with over the years, making sure their wedding guests are properly taken care of and finding suitable accommodations for them, has been just as important as taking care of their own plans. Unfortunately, when guests are left to “fend for themselves,” it is difficult to make sure guests get plans that are convenient, affordable, and close to “where the action is.” Even worse, the company points out, without the expertise of a travel professional with an appropriate level of buying power on their side— DestinationWeddings.com has booked over $500 million in travel—couples and their guests are often talked into accepting “group rates” when the individual rates would have been better, or stuck with individual rates when group rates may have been available.
And, according to Carmichael, “The average wedding party number is actually rising. Right now, I’d say it’s in the mid-20s. Now obviously that number can get skewed—it can go from two, the bride and groom and obviously you can’t get any less than that—or like my wedding, we had 55. But we’ve done them for 200 before, but I’d say the overall average or the most we usually see is in the mid-20s, and you’re talking about your closest friends and families.”
Still, while destination weddings are still considered unique, curiously enough, they do tend to follow the typical wedding demographics. “People are getting married older nowadays, so that kind of plays into it a little bit,” Carmichael says. “But there’s a primary market and a secondary market for destination weddings. The primary market is pretty centered—it’s right with your normal traditional wedding demographic, you’re talking about engaged couples anywhere from the 20s to the early-30s. So it’s not that they’re any older than those in traditional weddings. But what we’ve found, too, is that younger people in this economy are thinking more and more, ‘Do I really need to spend $30,000 or $40,000 on my wedding and have kind of a cookie-cutter experience, or do I want to save $20,000 and do a really unique event with 30 or 40 of my closest friends and family. So, it works both ways. That’s the standard market.”
The secondary market, however, Carmichael says, “…consists of either older couples that are in first time marriages, or remarried people where one or both of them have been married before. They’re far more likely to have a destination wedding because they’ve probably already done the grandiose traditional wedding with hundreds of people and now, they’re looking for something a little more intimate.”
The most popular destination? “It’s Mexico, hands down. We do over 50 percent of our weddings in Mexico,” specifically he adds, “…Cancun and the Riviera Maya, you just can’t beat it. It’s amazing, I’ve been in the business for awhile now and the Riviera Maya really put itself on the map probably 10 or so years ago, but it’s gaining in popularity now where very few other destinations can really match the amount of unbelievable, over-the-top all-inclusives. Plus, you’ve got all the other stuff—the great ruins, and adventure, eco and green tours—I mean there are all kinds of great stuff you can do there.”
But, there are other things to consider, too. Destination weddings are unique in that they’re part vacation and part wedding so you can’t really look at it just as a honeymoon because the couple might like one thing but you’ve got to factor in the guests. “So, just because I like a really hot party place such as Jamaica, my aunt so and so may not like it as much. It’s tough, it’s a balancing act—you want to take the considerations of the couple into it, but you also have to think about the guests. And, it’s usually the guests’ budgets that drive the entire process.”