It's your big day and of course, you want to share this day with the most important people in your lives. You're guests are dedicating time and expense to celebrate this important milestone in your life. Your wedding is a part of their vacation experience.
Helping your guests prepare for this special event can mean the difference between a huge celebration with of all of your favorite people and a stack of declined RSVPs. Here are some tips on how to prepare and inform your guests about your big event....
Create your VIP List - If you are planning a destination wedding within the next 2-3 years, start gathering your guest list. Create an excel sheet with guests name, mailing addresses, phone numbers and email addresses. You'll also want to list their relationship to you...Father of the bride, BFF from grade school, work colleague. This list will become a valuable tool for all event planners. Keeping communication lines open with family and friends is important throughout this entire process. Organizing all of your guests contact details in one place will make it easy for you to connect with them.
Savor the Mystery - Ever notice movie coming attractions are enticing and exciting but never give away the entire story plot? Keep details about your choice of destination and celebration a secret until you're ready for the big announcement.
Sure, you're excited but remember, there will always be critics. You will never make 100% of people 100% happy all the time. If you share your plans with everyone then everyone will feel free to share their opinions....and what they have to say may cause drama. I've seen far too many a bride in tears, stressed out trying to make everybody happy. This is YOUR day. This is the one time in your life where it's all about you and your partner. You are planning this event. Your guests are invited to a celebration, they are NOT the party planners. Keeping specifics and details on a "need to know" basis helps to build anticipation and while saving you a ton of stress. Besides, everybody loves a surprise so treat your guests to that.
REALLY Save the Date - Guests who want to share your special day with you need time to budget for travel expenses. Many will have to plan and allocate vacation time off from work far in advance. Some may need to arrange child care if this is an adult only celebration. Respecting your guests and their obligations means giving them plenty of time to plan.
If you know a destination wedding is in your future, consider mailing "Engagement Announcements" as soon as the commitment is real. Include a line that says
- "You're invited to our Hawaiian Destination wedding....so stay tuned".
- "We'll be tying the knot at sea (month/year) - Hope you're on board to join us"
- You're royalty to us, please plan to join us (month/year) for our castle wedding in Ireland
- Get your passports ready for our Destination Wedding (month/year) - watch for more details
It's best to confirm destination wedding plans 1-1.5 years in advance of the big day. Once you've made your deposits and confirmed your ceremony date, mail out a "Save the Date" announcement with details about your destination, venue and how to book their travel. Because your guests have busy lives, a formal wedding invitation about 7 months prior to the wedding also acts as a reminder that they need to confirm their travel.
Hire a Travel Professional - Many couples think they can arrange their own destination wedding and quickly become overwhelmed. A travel agent can certainly help with the logistics of travel but the partner you really want is a travel agent that is a certified event planner. Planning an event and an excellent vacation experience for 50, 100, 500 people is a completely different skill set. You'll want someone who can automate this entire process allowing you to be a guest at your own party.
Block Space - Your travel professional can help you negotiate discounted group rates and help you fully understand group contracts. Again, you'll need to do this 1-1.5 years prior to your event for the best rates. You'll need to be prepared to place a credit card deposit to hold room space. Every venue is different. Deposits can range from 10-40% of the total cost of a room, it all depends. For example, say the room deposit is $100 per room and you plan to invite 125 people. If you want to hold 50 rooms, you'll need to be ready with a deposit of $5000. Group contracts usually include 1 free room for every 10 booked. Again contracts differ but around 60 days prior to travel, all guests will need to pay for their trips in full. At this time, deposit refunds or free rooms will be applied as the couple desires.
Blocking space is the best thing you can do for your guests. This locks in pricing for them. By nature, most folks procrastinate by nature. In the travel business this means prices go up the closer we get to departure. As long as contract date deadlines are followed, your deposit is not under any risk. Block space means accommodations will be available for your guests and prices are locked in for them.
Plan Bonding Activities - Your loved ones will be traveling great distances to spend their vacation time with you. Make sure you plan some fun group activities prior to the ceremony. This can be as simple as a trivia night or group dance lessons to a catamaran cruise or winery tour. Plan these activities right from the beginning when you're planning flights and accommodations. Schedule one activity for the entire group first full day after arrival. Your guests will appreciate having a fun activity planned at the start of their trip. Choose an activity that can be inclusive for everyone. You're friends may thrill at the idea of zip lining but Grandma might feel left out. These types of activities help to break the ice, build camaraderie and help bring people together. You may also want to include activities for specific guests like a girl's spa day for your wedding party, A golf outing for the groomsmen or a private special dinner for immediate family members. it's best to plan these events in advance and factor the cost right into the package price.
Allow for Free Time - A great event means balance. There needs to be time spent together as a group as well as plenty time for your guests to relax and enjoy activities by themselves. Don't over schedule your itinerary. Let guests enjoy dinner alone and suggest everyone meet for drinks at 8pm at the jazz bar.
The Rule of Repetition - From the moment you send your "Save the Date" until the moment you say "I do" there will be a year's worth of time in between. Think about all the things that have happened in your life in the past year. Your wedding is just one of many important things that will be happening in the lives of your guests.
People need reminders. They need PLENTY of reminders to compete with the noise of everyday life. Also different people remember things differently. Some folks do better with repetition. Younger people are in tune with social media while older guests may need an old school written itinerary mailed to them. Even though they have a details itinerary on their phone, they will still need a printed on in their room upon arrival. Keeping your guests engaged and informed is where your travel planner's experience is invaluable. Again, their input is far beyond booking reservations.
Besides building engagement and camaraderie, your guests will have a million travel questions...payments, reservations, reservation changes, what to pack, obtaining and updating their passports, how to navigate an unfamiliar airport, transportation, dining reservations, tips and tricks....the list goes on and on. The amount of questions is proportionate to the travel experience of your guests.
Bottom line - With a destination wedding, you can't simply invite guests and assume they will show up. You'll need to interact with them during the planning process. Your guests will have millions of questions. Those questions will need to be answered....via live chat, via email, via social media. Your guests will also need to be reminded of important deadlines...via video chats, via emails, via phone calls, via text...and this is why you need to partner with an experienced travel professional with a great deal of group travel and event planning experiences. Otherwise, this responsibility (and stress), belongs entirely to you. You may think, "ours is a small, intimate affair, we can handle it". All it takes is one super needy guest to turn your fairy tale wedding into a your destination nightmare.
Select a Host - When groups of people gather together there is a phenomenon known as "herd mentality". Groups need a Shepard, a leader....a host.
Your travel planner is your "host" prior to travel. With larger weddings of 50 or more guests, you'll want your travel planner to attend your event acting as your host. This means they are waiting in the lobby to welcome your guests when they arrive. They help orient your guests and update them with any important news. They deliver welcome gifts and make sure your guests have a schedule of all events. Every guest has the room and cell number of your host who is on call 24/7 to help in any way. Your host is there to troubleshoot any last minute hiccups so that you're not bothered on your big day. If someone gets hurt or sick, your host can intervene and get them appropriate care. Your host insures everyone has their proper check out times for their return trip home. Again, someone with professional experience in this roll is the best option.
With smaller events or in situations where your travel professional cannot attend, you'll want to select a host far in advance. Your travel planner can collaborate and introduce your host to all of your guests prior to departure. Your family and friends will appreciate having a "go to" person instead of having to bother you with their personal needs. You'll want to be sure the person you select as host is not a part of the immediate family or wedding party. Your host needs to be someone who is personable, organized and doesn't mind being the "designated" person who can keep their wits about them at all times. The host you select needs to understand their role and knows they will be required to work at times during your big event.
There are a million ways to help engage and connect your guests prior to your destination wedding. Ask for reception playlist suggestions and pass these along to your DJ. let him spotlight the person who made the special song request. It's also a great way to get a few anecdotal stories that honor you and your mate. Giving your guests a VIP experience means a memorable event for everyone. That is an anniversary that everyone will want to celebrate!