The Reality of Destination Weddings

Adam and Rebekah, who bought her dress at Encore Bridal in Ft. Collins, Colo., for the couple’s wedding in Crested Butte. Colo.  Photo Credit: Encore Bridal, Fort Collins, Colo.
Adam and Rebekah, who bought her dress at Encore Bridal in Ft. Collins, Colo., for the couple’s wedding in Crested Butte. Colo. Photo Credit: Encore Bridal, Fort Collins, Colo.
Adam and Rebekah, who bought her dress at Encore Bridal in Ft. Collins, Colo., for the couple’s wedding in Crested Butte. Colo.  Photo Credit: Encore Bridal, Fort Collins, Colo.
Adam and Rebekah, who bought her dress at Encore Bridal in Ft. Collins, Colo., for the couple’s wedding in Crested Butte. Colo. Photo Credit: Encore Bridal, Fort Collins, Colo.

As a glorious tropical sun sets on an aquamarine sea, the joyful couple strolls across sparkling white sands to exchange their vows. . .
    Wait! Let’s rewind.
    The scenario has changed a bit since the term “destination wedding” was coined back in the 1970s. Couples do still pack a bag and fly off to exotic locales to tie the knot, with or without friends and family in tow. But more destination weddings now happen sans a passport. And that is not the only thing that has changed.

Many Destination Weddings
Occur Closer to Home
    Along with flying off to islands in the Pacific, Atlantic and Caribbean, many couples today are choosing destinations closer to home. One significant trend brings city dwellers to more bucolic wedding settings, from such well-known options as the Napa Valley to regional options in the mountains and near lakes and rivers. Today, it’s a destination wedding if there’s travel required for a majority of the guests and wedding party and there’s a theme that’s special to the couple.
    Not all destination weddings take place on a beach or mountaintop, or even near sand, water, grass or snow. They may be in dedicated event-staging areas of large resorts and be as formal as any church or wedding center ceremony and reception.
    Not all destination brides shop last minute, either. In fact they may begin shopping a year or more ahead of their wedding day, retailers report. Some destination brides spend as much, if not more, for their bridal ensemble and attendants’ attire as the bride who is marrying close to home.
    Some bridal retailers are finding themselves the local shop in a burgeoning regional destination wedding industry. Can’t afford to bring all of your loved ones to the vineyards and wineries of Napa Valley from the Midwest? Never fear! There’s a growing wine and craft beer culture in the agricultural area near the southeastern tip of Lake Michigan, for example.
    “About ten years ago, we were looking at destination meaning beach, ocean, Hawaii, the Caribbean, Mexico, Las Vegas,” says Will Sanders, co-owner of Wedding Belles Bridal Salon in Stevensville, Mich. “Especially the past two years, we’ve seen more migration toward inland lakes, barns, countryside, estates, rustic areas, woods and forests.”
    Sanders continues, “Couples from the city wanted to get away from high-rise buildings and have their weddings in a more rural setting away from big building and highways. Within an hour of us we probably have 40 legitimate barns that are set up just for huge wedding events. There are a lot of vineyards, wineries and brew pubs.”
    One of the factors to note is that traditional big church weddings are diminishing in many areas, Sanders says.
    “We’re seeing more couples marrying not at a church or chapel but at the site of their reception,” he says. “People are bucking tradition, going out and doing what makes sense to them. The wedding is going to be memorable whether they stick with tradition or have a theme that’s special to that couple.”
    The perspective can be altered if you are the destination, Sanders says.
    “It makes more sense to most brides to purchase their wedding gown from a shop where they live rather than at the destination, because the gown may take several fittings for alterations,” he says. “Although some brides do make several trips to the destination to work with vendors, a lot happens over the net or smartphone with various vendors or via a planner.”
    Wedding Belles has a page for destination weddings on its website that talks about the rationale for bridal shopping close to the wedding locale. The Michigan shop has also done increasing business in the men’s formalwear niche as well. The plus for males in the wedding party: they don’t have to carry their rental tuxes back home after the wedding. Wedding Belles has even instituted a post-wedding pickup service with area hotels and inns.
    “We don’t do as many gown sales as we’d like with destination brides, but that business is growing,” Sanders says. “What we can do is last-call emergency alterations for brides. We are one of the few bridal salons that offer on-site alterations, so we have the resources to work with these brides if they have fit issues when they arrive in the area for the wedding.”
    He continues, “It kind of levels the playing field. We aren’t getting many more wedding gown sales from local destination weddings, but when they leave the area for a wedding at another destination, they do like to shop with us. It’s usually an informal wedding dress – not a $1,500 to $2,500 traditional dress but a $300 to $700 informal. It can still be altered but will have more of a special occasion look to it.”
    Mountain locales are Encore Bridal’s most popular setting for destination weddings, in particular Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park, which are both close by, says Jessica Broston, owner of Encore Bridal in Ft. Collins, Colo.
    “I actually got married myself up in Estes Park,” she says. “Both my husband and myself are from out of state and we wanted to share the beauty of Colorado with friends and family.”
    Because they do so many destination weddings Encore Bridal carries a selection of gowns for this niche.
    “We have a section in our store where we are geared more toward the destination bride: easy to pack, flowy dresses in lightweight fabrics with little to no train,” she says.  
    Cathy A. Montante, owner of Collezione Fortuna Fashion Boutique and Bridals in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif., says she saw more destination weddings planned in 2015, as well as for the 2016 wedding season.
    “We also live in a beautiful area - Monterey, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Big Sur - one of the biggest destination locations for weddings and elopements,” she says. “Our resorts and beaches are beautiful and breathtaking.” 
    That said, Montante has also noticed many couples looking to marry in Wine Country, Lake Tahoe, Hawaii, the Dominican Republic, Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Rico, and the Newport Beach area in Southern California.
    According to Montante, couples who plan a destination area wedding in Carmel often keep it small and intimate with immediate family present. They’ll rent a vacation home overlooking the ocean views where they can stay for the duration of time to plan the wedding, and will have their family stay there as well. The wedding is performed there, and when they are ready to leave for their honeymoon, it’s like a mini getaway for the family while having a wedding at the same time.
    “I am sure they will follow the same practice far away, but most couples appear to be leaning toward selecting a destination wedding location where they can enjoy as a couple, get married, and when they return, they will have a small reception for friends and family,” she says. “They find this easier to plan, and cost effective.”

Other Considerations For
The Destination Niche
    When it comes to destination wedding fashion, many brides are looking for a dress that’s a bit informal. However, this is not a hard-and-fast rule and, as such, it’s important to market to all tastes.
    “My displays show how my collections can both be worn as an informal destination wedding dress, and hit it with accessories for the bride to see how the dress can be worn informally and formally,” Montante says.
    As well, there should be no difference in the level of customer service you provide to a destination bride.
    “I treat the destination bride the same as one getting married in a formal setting or church wedding,” Montante says. “I like to hear more about their venue, size of their wedding party, and number of guests. Not every destination wedding will be a small wedding, but many are.”
    At Seams Couture Bridal Design in Providence, R.I., owner Harper Della-Piana says about half her clients marry out of state, some in the U.S. and others in the Caribbean or Europe. Many of her destination brides so far this year are heading to the Dominican Republic and Hawaii. 
    For that reason, “We make sure to help problem solve airplane travel with them and offer to help pack when they pick up, asking them to bring their carry-on bag so we can make that very stressful part of the trip work,” Della-Piana says. “Style wise, they still love slip dresses in crepe silk or other materials that are easily steamed when they arrive. Since they’re ordering custom, the gown is purchased well in advance.”
    Along with the bridal gown, the destination niche provides a real opportunity for add-on sales, with veils and accessories, retailers report.
    “Being based in the Midwest and in a large metropolitan market, we have a lot of clients getting married primarily in Mexico since the weather is perfect getaway material and perfect to travel during our chilly weather primarily in November through April,” says Susan Metropoulos, owner of The Left Bank Jewelry & Bridal Finery in Chicago.
    She continues, “Others travel to other neighboring states and can celebrate it as a destination but our true destination clients mainly book Mexico and the Caribbean. Big city weddings can be very expensive, so our couples tend to whittle down their guest list and opt for a smaller guest list to help their overall budget. Of course, they consider their guests’ costs, but when it’s a destination that people truly enjoy to travel to and the party gets stretched out for a few days, it’s all part of the experience.”
    The accessories-only boutique segregates wedding accessories so it’s not an overwhelming experience when clients come in and see sparkle everywhere, Metropoulos says.
    “We have a dedicated visual display area that speaks ‘beach wedding’,” she says. “It’s very uncluttered and features a large, gorgeous seashell and a collection of pieces that would be appropriate. Hair adornments are set in small glass vases filled with sand.”
    The store also features lighter and more delicate crystal earrings, freshwater pearls for a natural and organic look and the Signature Diann Valentine cuffs that are its best-sellers for destination weddings.
    “They take the place of a typical bouquet and keep your hands free,” she says. “The cuffs are embellished with Swarovski crystals and cascade down with faux orchids and dripping crystals.”

Marketing to the Destination Niche Requires a Few Tweaks
    One of the simplest ways to advertise your involvement with this niche is to include at least a mention of destination weddings in all of your marketing efforts. If there’s a specific time of year when brides have been asking for a travel-worthy gown, that’s the time to blog about how wonderful a destination wedding can be or pin great ideas for a simple but beautiful wedding ensemble on Pinterest.
    Include testimonials from destination brides along with those from brides who marry within driving distance of your shop. Encourage these brides to write and send in testimonials about their experience with you along with a photo or two. Post on the testimonial pages on your Facebook, ”Congratulations to Zach and Melinda who tied the knot in a such-and-such dress in beautiful Pick an Island.”
    Because there is such a wide range of bridal preference for “destination” weddings some shops may segregate a selection of less formal dresses as a starting point, but others simply spotlight gowns that are lightweight and flowy – and easier to transport. But don’t write off your other inventory, as some destination brides have been known to choose gowns with plenty of volume and weight and then purchase a seat on the plane for them if they are too voluminous to tuck into a carry-in bag.
    Another way to tap into this niche, whatever the scale of the wedding, is by accessorizing the bride’s ensemble. You can offer gift items or accessories that can be part of welcome gift bags for the wedding party or guests, something as simple as customized flip flips or cosmetic items that can be slipped into a travel tote.
    Is there a downside to the destination niche? Retailers note that you may have to be a little creative when working with these brides if their budget – and timeline before the wedding – is tight. Also keep in mind that their perfect dress might not be in your bridal section but rather in the maids, pageant, special occasion or informals area.
    However, while some adjustments in merchandising and thinking are required, in general working with last-minute shoppers for destination weddings should be no different than working with brides shopping a non-destination wedding. Treat them with the upmost respect, provide the superior service you’re well known for, and enjoy making their wedding dreams come true!

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