Destination Weddings Are More Popular Than Ever—Here’s Why, According to Planners and Travel Experts

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While it’s usually true that there’s no place like home, that’s not necessarily the case for the rising numbers of brides and grooms who opt to hold their wedding celebrations in decidedly far-from-home destinations. According to Research and Markets’ 2023 Destination Wedding Global Market Report, the destination wedding industry brought in $7 billion more in 2023 than it did in 2022, growing from $21.32 billion last year to $28.31 billion this year; the report forecasts that by 2027, the industry will be worth more than $78 billion. 

For Kelly McWilliams, an event planner based in southwest Florida, the rise was quick and noticeable. “While the number of weddings on the horizon has seemed to go down, I am finding an increase in the number of destination clients,” she says. “This was a very sudden rise—based on our leads, it jumped up 30 percent in 2022.”

MEET THE EXPERT

  • Kelly McWilliams is an event planner based in southwest Florida; she has traveled all over the world (including Turkey, Greece, France, Italy, Mexico, and more) to execute couples’ events.
  • Lynn Easton is the founder and luxury destination wedding company Easton Events; she has been designing and planning far-flung celebrations since 1998.
  • Terika L. Haynes is the founder of luxury travel consultancy Dynamite Travel, which has been in business for over 15 years.

As destination weddings come back in a big way, the trend is bolstered by a variety of factors that make it appealing to more couples than ever. They’re willing to think big, plan big, and spend big to create a lifelong memory for their guests—and themselves. 

The Growing Appeal of Destination Weddings

While the allure of saying “I do” somewhere other than a couple’s hometown isn’t new, changes to the financial, social, and cultural landscape have made this option attractive to a broader swath of couples. “It’s much more ubiquitous than it’s ever been before,” says Lynn Easton of the luxury destination wedding company Easton Events. “Families that wouldn’t have considered it for sure 10 years ago, or even five years ago, are definitely considering it now.”

Built-In Cost Control

While a destination wedding typically includes more budget categories than a local event—including site visits, vendor travel, guest transportation, and additional lodgings—they also often come with a smaller guest list, making the overall cost potentially lower. “I think a great portion of couples are trying to navigate the higher cost of weddings post-pandemic, since inflation came into play,” says McWilliams. “Destination weddings traditionally do mean smaller guests counts, which inevitably means that a wedding budget and spending plan can go farther.”

Terika L. Haynes, founder of luxury travel consultancy Dynamite Travel, agrees. “As we are seeing significant price increases, inflation, and supply chain challenges, I think some couples are finding it easier and less expensive to have a destination wedding now more than ever before,” she says.

The Return to Global Travel

Though the pandemic inspired plenty of couples to plan intimate micro weddings in unique locations that wouldn’t have worked for a larger group, the easing of social distancing and travel restrictions means even more brides and grooms (and guests) are ready to hit the road. “Some couples may be opting to have a destination wedding to give themselves and their guests that long-awaited vacation that is past due,” says Haynes.

Cultural Shifts

A change in cultural attitudes over the last few years also has couples reimagining their wedding vision, says Haynes. “There has been a mindset shift that is placing more emphasis on experiences,” she says. “Couples may opt to have a destination wedding to prioritize a beautiful destination, its culture, and a new experience over a more traditional wedding.”

The rise in the average marrying age is another shift, says Easton. In 2021, the average bride was 28.6 years old and the average groom was 30.4—a substantial rise from a century before, when women were 21.2 and men were 24.6 on their wedding days. “If the average bride is 28, then a lot of them are 32, which means they’ve been in a lot of weddings and they’ve seen a lot of weddings,” she says. These couples are looking for one-of-a-kind ways to celebrate their marriage (and are more likely to have the funds to make it happen). 

aerial shot of a bride and groom walking along ocean shoreline
PHOTO BY ERICH MCVEY

The Modern Destination Wedding: How It’s Evolved

Couples planning destination weddings now are creating highly-curated experiences in once-in-a-lifetime locations for their friends and family.

A Focus on the Experience

While the destination weddings of a decade ago might have included a small day-after brunch and—as a splurge—a welcome party after the rehearsal dinner, couples now take every opportunity to help their guests make the most of their precious PTO with multi-day celebrations. “There has been a stronger focus on experiences and once in a lifetime experiences,” says Haynes. “Customers are choosing more non-traditional domestic venues (think ranch or vineyard) as well as lesser-known international destinations.”

Newlyweds are likely to include local cultural events, sightseeing tours, outdoor activities, or wine tastings in their multi-day schedule of events. “We’re finding that destination weddings are becoming far more experiential and less about the aesthetic,” says McWilliams. “Couples are looking to spend more making sure their guests are feeling like their time was not just well spent, but outrageously better than they could have imagined.”

All of this helps create a sense of community among the guests, which makes the actual wedding feel like a truly intimate affair. “I always say, the most amazing thing about a destination wedding is that by the time you get to the day of the wedding, your guests already know each other,” says Easton. “They’ve met at the pool, or at the bar, or they fell off a paddleboard together. There’s already this lovely gathering of your guests that happens before you have the big day, and that is the most delicious part.”

Rising Guest Counts

While destination weddings still typically accommodate a smaller number of guests than an event in the couple’s hometown might, the percentage of guests RSVPing “yes” is on the rise. “Right now destination weddings have much larger guest counts than we saw pre-pandemic—over double, from 75 to 100 to 150 to 250,” says McWilliams, whose couples primarily request destinations within the United States. “With so many people being able to work remotely now, traveling for a destination wedding is not nearly the ask that it used to be.” Easton has seen the same trend among her couples, many of whom opt for father-flung locations in Europe. “After two years of not traveling, everyone is raring to go,” she says. 

Haynes expects to see the increase in guest numbers continue to rise. “It is becoming less common to see small destination weddings, and I have been receiving more requests for destination weddings of over 100 guests,” she says. “Fellowship and community have become more of a priority over materialistic items for couples; I am seeing a continued rise in couples choosing group experiences in lieu of wedding gifts or favors.”

Exceptional Locations

Choosing a destination with personal meaning to the couple—like their college chapel, the beach where they got engaged, or the town where they met as coworkers—is still a common factor when it comes to narrowing down a wedding location, but increasingly, couples opt for unique venues and exclusive spots. “Every one of our brides has been to multiple destination weddings, so we’re really continuing to look for things that are really interesting: Are we going to Costa Rica? What are we doing that hasn’t been done before?” says Easton. “It was always Italy—then France, now it’s Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, and Greece. The envelope keeps getting pushed.”

While many of Haynes’s clients still request “idyllic” beach locations, she’s also worked with couples who have different visions: “I am seeing a rise in historical areas—think UNESCO sites. Portugal is on the rise, and due to a shift in minimalistic and sustainable wedding designs, I think we will also see a rise in destination weddings for areas in Asia such as Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam,” she says. “Couples are branching out more from all-inclusive resorts and opting for small boutique resorts, luxury villas, and smaller venues for more of an intimate wedding experience. I have even received an increase of requests for private island options for destination weddings.”

What to Know If You’re Considering a Destination Wedding

Experts don’t expect the destination wedding trend to slow; instead, they anticipate longer-duration events, even bigger guest lists, and more extraordinary venues. “While three-to-four-night destination weddings used to be more of the norm, I think we will start to see more week-long destination wedding celebrations,” says Haynes. With the cruise industry rebounding, she also expects more couples to choose ocean-going cruises, yachts, or expedition vessels for their destination wedding.

Easton expects Europe to remain a hotspot, in part because “the parties are so much longer,” she says. Many U.S. locations have noise ordinances that force couples to switch venues if they want to host a late-night celebration. “A 6 a.m. party is not an insane ask in Europe,” she says. Switching continents also helps couples cut ties to some of the American routines they may not feel connected to. “People don’t feel that they have to be bound by all the traditions quite as much,” she says. “We see a lot of middle-of-the-week weddings, and the concept of all-day parties”—where a morning ceremony is followed by an evening reception—“is very big.”

Haynes expects a rising  number of couples to prioritize sustainable décor, and to support the communities in their destinations by hiring local planners, photographers, makeup artists, bands, and other vendors. (This also helps trim the environmental impact of a destination wedding, since you aren’t expecting your entire planning and vendor team to fly in.) “I predict that this trend will continue or increase as more individuals begin to prioritize reducing their carbon footprint,” she says.

Source : Brides