If You Build It, They Will Come — Or How to Get Your Guests to Travel to Your Destination Wedding

Hola to everybody reading my destination wedding blog! Today we’re talking about how to get your wedding guests to actually attend your destination wedding.

Once upon a time, destination weddings were something that people did for second marriages, or shotgun weddings. Nice, normal couples didn’t run away to Caribbean islands and expect all of their friends and family to incur the expense of following them down there on their crazy adventure. Times have changed. Destination weddings have grown into their own industry. All the big resorts are offering packages, and brides-to-be all over the world are TIVOing “Married Away” and “Whose Wedding Is It Anyway?” in hopes of getting ideas for their own weddings.

How to decide if you’re a good candidate for a destination wedding is a topic for a future blog. Today, let’s assume you’ve decided to have a destination wedding in the Caribbean. For my purposes, let’s pretend you’ve decided to get married on one of the smaller, less-commercialized islands.

The best way to make sure that the people you invite actually attend your wedding is to make everything as easy as possible for them. As a planner, I create individualized informational packets for each of my couples that include all the information their guests will need to book discounted travel and accommodations information. I provide several options for getting from San Juan over to Vieques, all of them costing different amounts and taking different amounts of travel time. I provide several different hotel options at a variety of price points. I reserve blocks of rental cars at the best price I can get. I put all that information together in a packet, along with a very preliminary itinerary or schedule of events for the wedding weekend. My wedding couples send this information to their guests along with their save-the-date cards, or invitations, as far in advance of their weddings as possible. All of the reserved rooms and cars are only blocked for a short period of time, and that forces people to make up their minds about whether or not to attend. The island vendors aren’t willing to hold reservation blocks for long because both cars and accommodations are in short supply most of the time, so the deadlines are necessary, not just for show.

Okay, you’re already thinking “I have a wedding website — that’s enough information for my guests.” Wrong-O. Wedding websites are all very well and good, but not everybody bothers to check them out. People still expect to receive information about accommodations in the mail. Especially your guests over the age of 35. A lot of people won’t look up your wedding website until they’re looking to find out where you’re registered. I know. It’s hard to believe. As a bride, you’re surfing every wedding website you find interesting in your searches. Reality check: Only brides-to-be do that. The rest of the world is still keeping your wedding in perspective. I don’t mean that unkindly. It’s the truth.

You need to provide clear and concise travel and accommodations information for every aspect of your wedding weekend in a paper form to your guests. If you’re opposed to mailing your invitations eight to 12 months before your wedding (perfectly acceptable for a destination wedding), send a save-the-date card and either include the travel packet, or send it in a separate envelope less than a week later.

If you have a relatively small wedding party (40 or less), you might consider coordinating all the hotel and car rental reservations yourself, or hire a wedding planner to do it for you. If you’re taking over an entire property for your event, you have the luxury of choosing who goes in which room. And it’s a great way to make sure your bridal suite doesn’t abut anybody’s room who might put a damper on your wedding night activities. It also makes dealing with family controversy a little easier. If you’re coordinating where people stay, you can put your divorced parents in different hotels, and your grandparents in yet another. You can also put the distant relatives you don’t like — and had to invite on threat of death from your mother — in a different hotel from where the wedding party is staying.

There are some potential hazards to getting involved in your guests’ actual reservation process. If you provide several options, and they choose one and aren’t happy once they get there, it was their own mistake. If you force them to stay at a particular hotel and they’re not happy, they may take it out on you. You would hope that your friends would keep it to themselves if they’re less than pleased with any aspect of your wedding weekend, but the truth of the matter is that they feel like they have the right to complain if you’re inviting them and then forcing them to stay at a particular hotel on their own tabs. If you’re a millionaire and you can afford to pay for your guests rooms, then you can slap anybody who whines. But if you’re asking your closest friends and family to shell out their own hard-earned dollars to stay in the hotel you’ve chosen, you’d better be darned sure you’ve picked the best possible option on the island.

Again, this is where a wedding planner can come in handy. Never, ever rely on the website pictures of your venue when you’re booking. If you don’t have a wedding planner to vet each venue for you, you need to spend the money to go down to your island on a planning trip. You need to lay your own eyes on the accommodations and you need to taste what you’re serving at the reception. Those things are part of a wedding planner’s job in the destination wedding business.

If you don’t have a wedding planner, don’t leave everything up to chance. Spend the money and go see for yourself what you’re going to be subjecting your guests to. Remember, just because a hotel was written up in a magazine several years ago doesn’t mean it’s still as nice today as it was then. Ownership changes. Chefs change. Maintenance and upkeep are expensive and constant in the Caribbean. It only takes a few months of neglect for a previously beautiful property to become a real hole.

One last note, more people than ever are accepting invitations to destination weddings. It used to be that you could count on about half of your invitees accepting the invitation to a Caribbean wedding. Nowadays, the acceptances run more like 75 percent. Sometimes more. Do not invite 100 people to your wedding if you can only afford to have 50 guests actually come, or you may find yourself in serious budgetary hot water. It’s pretty safe to budget for 75 percent of your guest list.

A famous man once said something like “If you build it, they will come.” That’s the moral of our lesson today. Make your destination wedding easy for your guests to attend and your family and friends will go the extra mile to celebrate your wedding with you, no matter where you choose to get married!

Next time we’ll chat about how to get your flowers preserved at a destination wedding. Until then, Happy Wedding Planning!

Sandy

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