Will destination weddings survive the COVID-19 pandemic?

Mar 4, 2021

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A destination wedding can be the most romantic vacation of a lifetime, but it can be stressful to organize – especially if you’re trying to plan one during a global pandemic.

Even pulling off a wedding close to home during the coronavirus crisis has proved quite challenging. But planning nuptials farther from home will take far more finesse during and after the pandemic. 

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Couples still have to consider conventional wedding planning details like group flight bookings, hotel block reservations and several other logistics such as wedding ring declarations at customs and legal marriage requirements.

But arranging a destination wedding certainly looks different during a pandemic — and many of these changes could continue long after the worst of the pandemic is behind us.

Couples may have to add coronavirus testing, contract tracing and social distancing to the list of considerations, too. 

Harlan deBell and Kara Bebell, travel advisors from The Travel Siblings, said that domestic weddings have been on the rise as the pandemic has changed many couples’ expectations of what they wanted their wedding experience to be. They also see an uptick in outdoor weddings too, due at least in part to indoor restrictions on guests in some places.

And because of these restrictions, couples have also started limiting who gets an invite at all. For example, dreaming of a wedding in the Hamptons? You’re limited in how many people you can invite.

New York State guidelines say that indoor weddings are capped at 50% capacity as set by the occupancy certificate, with a maximum of 50 people. Outdoor weddings are also capped at a maximum of 50 people, as long as all attendees can stay 6 feet apart. And unfortunately, you won’t be able to dine indoors as long as that restriction is in place in the state. 

“Couples now have to think about micro weddings of 25 to 50 guests total, which mostly comprises the most important relatives and friends,” they said.

Experts also point to young couples picking more “neutral” locations outside of their hometowns.

“Some couples are seeking a wedding location they can return to again and again as a place they can relive their wedding memories to celebrate future anniversaries together,” said Michelle Baumann, a public relations manager at Walt Disney World.

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Image by JovanaT/Getty Images

Couples will likely be able to pull off a destination wedding in the U.S., Mexico or the Caribbean. But they might not have much luck in other countries.

New cases in the U.S. are starting to decline, even as deaths have topped over 500,000. Still, if couples planning a wedding — particularly abroad — should be mindful of changing entry requirements. We saw this last month when France’s overseas territories, which include French Polynesia, Guadeloupe and Martinique, closed for tourism

“International destination weddings are on a very different trajectory than domestic travel destinations or weddings,” said Katie James Watkinson, who helps wedding venues and hotels and is the founder of MegaWatt Events.

“It really comes down to testing and vaccination availability and [the] entry and egress into … other countries, which, right now, is pretty much on lockdown. So if you’re thinking about having a destination wedding in Portofino, that’s not happening.” 

And couples who manage to pull off an international wedding will still need negative COVID-19 tests before coming back to the U.S. and a seven-day quarantine. 

We’ve been keeping a list of COVID-19 facilities in the United States and several on the list offer group COVID-19 testing. And hotels and resorts have also shifted to offering coronavirus testing, such as the Atlantis in the Bahamas, Andaz resorts in Mexico and Costa Rica and Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal. Experts also recommend booking travel insurance in case someone from the party does, indeed, test positive.

Related: Forget free breakfast: The hottest hotel amenity is a nasal swab

Some travel planners have also seen hotels offer perks normally reserved for the married couple to all travelers in the group.

“This includes resort credits, private transfers and complimentary excursion experiences in the destination,” said Caroline Belgrave, the business development and education manager at Nexion Travel Group. “Destination management companies and hotels are going the extra mile to bring romance group business back.”

At Sandals Resorts, a picture-perfect wedding also includes complimentary on-site COVID-19 testing at every resort. And the company is also rethinking what a traditional destination looks like, according to Marsha-Ann Donaldson-Brown, the director of romance.

“I’ve been able to work with so many couples over the past year to identify real solutions that still allowed them to say ‘I Do,’ she said.

“These solutions include everything from elopement ceremonies, the trending micro or mini weddings, and even two wedding celebrations involving a smaller, intimate ceremony now and a larger one down the line when the time is right for each couple.”

(Photo by Sweet Icecream Photography via Unsplash)

Hotels have also pivoted to accommodate virtual guests as well. Some resorts now offer streaming assistance or virtual options for guests that can’t attend in person. And some hotels offer packages for virtual guests, like cupcakes and party favors. 

“For couples getting married now, it’s a major stress-reliever when we tell them that we offer complimentary ceremony live streaming services, so friends and family can tune-in from home,” Donaldson-Brown said.

Couples planning their dream wedding will likely see — quite literally — a mad dash down the aisle. Watkinson said couples who had to cancel their wedding in 2020 or early 2021 are beginning to reschedule their dates.

“I believe the appeal for destination weddings may even grow in the coming years as many couples are looking forward to traveling again and spending meaningful time with their closest family and friends,” said Baumann.

But Watkinson still doesn’t really see an uptick happening before the summer of 2021.

“Weddings are still happening,” she said. “By May of this year, things will definitely start really picking up.”

Related: Maximizing points and miles when planning your wedding and honeymoon

Bottom line

People are slowly becoming more comfortable traveling, especially as more people get vaccinated against the novel coronavirus. That means that couples with postponed weddings are starting to think about when they can walk down the aisle. As the pandemic continues, flexibility will be key to having a successful wedding in the U.S. or abroad. 

It’s still too early to tell the long-term effects the pandemic has had on the destination wedding industry, but it’s safe to say some of the features introduced, such as micro weddings and pre-wedding testing will remain even after the pandemic is over.

Featured photo by Reinhard Krull / EyeEm /Getty

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