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12 Destination Wedding Trends for a New Decade

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The top trends your destination wedding clients will want in 2020 and beyond.

You can’t afford to ignore the lucrative destination weddings market, which accounts for $16 billion in annual spending—a number that is expected to increase over the coming years, according to a recent Wedding Tourism Insights report by ResearchAndMarkets.com. The report also revealed that up to 25 percent of marriages begin with destination weddings, and for U.S. couples, 40 percent of destination weddings take place in international locations. 

“I’ve seen the numbers go up for destination wedding guests recently,” says Will Medina, owner of Destination Weddings Expert in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “It used to be 60 percent of the invite list would come to the wedding, and now you’re seeing 70 to 80 percent, so more and more people are attending and they’re staying longer.”

When it comes to advisors selling this valuable niche, a simple way to demonstrate expertise to clients is by staying informed on the trends shaping the future of the destination weddings market. By presenting ideas for personalizing a couple’s celebration and making it stand out from other weddings in new and unique ways—such as helping them choose themes, activities, food and entertainment that reflect both the destination and their one-of-a-kind love story—agents can differentiate themselves as a planner who goes above and beyond for couples. 

Karen Bussen, an internationally known celebrations guru and the exclusive designer for Weddings by Palladium from Palladium Hotel Group, has tapped into this growing desire for destination wedding personalization by giving couples a palette of fabulous possibilities for fulfilling their unique celebration vision. “A few years back, destination weddings might have been much more casual, but now they are full-on events that require a detailed level of planning and personalization,” Bussen explains.

Read on to familiarize yourself with ongoing and upcoming trends that will help you fulfill your clients’ destination wedding dreams in 2020 and beyond.

1. Instagram and Pinterest Are Everything
Couples want to share professional-looking photos on their social media accounts, and will ask for customized photo shoots beyond the wedding ceremony and reception. Some couples are even requesting a specific style, whether it’s photojournalistic, illustrative, natural or fine art, to fit their distinct vision. 

“One thing is certain: They are not crazy about traditional photography and want it to feel more organic and candid,” says Itzel Rodriguez, wedding sales manager for Modern Destination Weddings in Houston, Texas. “With that said, they want what is on their friends’ Instagram pages, but in their own preferred style.” 

2. A Standout Location 
The most important thing about the destination is that it needs to be able to provide authentic experiences that help make the celebration special. 

“It’s about couples wanting to find places that feel one-of-a-kind,” says Mike Salvadore, co-owner of 58 Stars Travel in Seattle, Washington. “A wedding overlooking the beach is always popular, but it’s also about focusing on the local culture so people can be part of the conscious travel movement as well. Those things make couples feel great about what their wedding is all about, and it gives you those moments that help it stand out.”

3. Making Space for Families 
Couples want it all, so they are loving family-friendly resorts that have adults-only areas, or are adjacent to an adults-only property with overlapping spaces. 

“In my experience, the properties that have adult and family sides that connect with exchange privileges will always win, because couples want the option for guests to bring their kids,” says Medina. Another way to get a more focused experience is to book a smaller hotel or reserve guestrooms in the same section of a resort, so family and friends can take over and make it their own.

4. Personalized Decor 
Decor trends move quickly, and destination wedding specialists have to be able to respond to unique requests. Local flowers, organic materials and tactile textures are currently in vogue, and The Knot’s 2020 wedding trends report points to pops of color as one of their favorite new wedding trends. 

“What we’ve found is that many couples want a palette to start with—something to inspire them with mood and included details—but they want to be able to edit those details, whether it’s by switching out one element for another, changing the color of curtains or chair accents or flowers, or adding in extra elements that they have on their mood boards,” says Bussen.

5. Big Impact Moments
Brides and grooms want to make a splash that reflects their own style and interests when they bring their guests together to celebrate. It’s these big impact moments that create an unforgettable atmosphere for the entire wedding. 

“We had a groom order a cigar-rolling station just for him and his groomsmen, dads and grandfathers,” says Rodriguez. “For brides, the quintessential spa day will always be a winner, although we had a bride who booked horseback riding on the beach for her girls and had a photographer there so they could each take home the wonderful memories and photos.”

6. Unique Refreshments
Couples are looking for something outside the box when it comes to cuisine, custom cocktails and mocktails. “Beach barbecues, for example, are still very popular as welcome parties, but couples want to add in local flavor—such as jerk chicken in Jamaica or tacos and tequila in Mexico,” says Bussen. 

Another dining trend: Seating charts are out, as couples want a reception where guests can move around freely, making themed food stations a big hit. This is especially true when the food is made to order or provides an interactive experience, like a s’mores-making bar where clients can mingle as they participate in the preparation.  

7. New Ways to Celebrate 
Couples are looking to entertain and host friends and family in fresh, flexible formats. For example, if the wedding is going to be black-tie traditional, they may choose a barefoot beach bonfire as a welcome event. 

“For us, experiential has also become a hot phrase in the space,” says Salvadore. “Instead of just a rehearsal dinner, couples want a farm-to-table experience helping to cook the dinner. That way, the wedding guests are part of the team that is putting it all together. The key is making it about the region, and figuring out ways to do things that are unique to the destination.”

8. Interactive Entertainment 
Entertainment today goes far beyond DJs, with couples looking for added surprises like fire shows, dance troupes and water drums to please their guests. According to WeddingWire’s 5 Biggest 2020 Wedding Trends, this includes unexpected touches all around the wedding, going as far as entertainment like tarot card readers or Champagne stations near (or even inside!) restrooms. 

“One huge trend right now that brings in local flavor with a twist is La Hora Loca, the crazy hour,” says Medina. “I’ve seen weddings come to life with these vibrant performers who get everyone dancing. It’s an interactive experience, and by the time they’re done with their performances, the party is started.”

9. Scouting the Location 
With more properties offering wedding preview trips, more couples are checking out the destination, ceremony site and available amenities before the big day. Couples go on their own or with friends and family members, taking advantage of the discount to confirm the location before sending out the invitations. 

“We work with couples as long as 24 months, so when we start the research phase, couples have the time to visit the resorts before making a decision,” says Rodriguez. “We love when resorts open up their calendars early so we can begin planning much earlier.”

10. Last Fling Before the Ring 
It’s become trendy for couples to hold their bachelorette/bachelor parties at the same destination right before the wedding. Brides and grooms are looking to party with their crew, whether it’s taking advantage of the resort amenities with the guys and gals staking claim to separate nightclubs, or booking private VIP transport for a night on the town.

“They come in a couple days before the ceremony, and they do something fun together during the day before taking a night to dress up and hit the clubs,” says Medina. 

11. South Asian Destination Weddings
When it comes to the rising popularity of South Asian destination weddings, authenticity and personalized details are absolutely crucial for success. 

“These are big celebrations, often four times larger than our standard wedding groups, and the couples plan every detail to reflect who they are,” says Bussen. “Food is at the center of the celebration, and the families expect vegetarian options, a tailored menu of authentic flavors and the ability to create fusion-style meals that combine, for example, traditional favorites with local flavors. Think: an Indian buffet but with a taco and tequila station on the side.”

12. After the Party, it’s the After-Party! 
Couples want to keep the celebration going, so they are dancing the night away at a nightclub after-party or taking everyone out for a day party following the wedding. 

“I think one of the things we’re seeing the most is multi-day celebrations,” says Salvadore. “A lot of people want to extend it beyond one day. They’re having classic after-parties at a chic restaurant or club, or they’re having a winery buyout for their guests the next day or going out on a boat experience.”

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