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Destination or Local: Financial Factors to Choosing a Wedding Venue Post-COVID-19

Illustration of wedding ceremonies on a beach and in a backyard

If you're engaged and planning a wedding, selecting a venue or location for your big day is probably one of the most important decisions you'll have to make. For most people, a major decision is to have it be a local or destination wedding. Both types of weddings have their pros and cons, and both require different planning approaches. So, how do you decide which one is right for you?

Several factors will play into the decision, one of the main ones being the financial costs. To help you decide if a destination or a local wedding might be better for you, here’s a breakdown of the main financial considerations for each.

Destination Wedding

A destination wedding is simply a wedding that is held in a setting that’s away from your hometown. 

In most cases, the bride and groom will invite the wedding party and their family or friends to an exotic location, such as the beach or the mountains, for the ceremony. A destination wedding can thus serve as a mini-vacation for both the wedding couple and their guests. 

Of course, a destination wedding might also involve just the two of you and an officiant.

Destination weddings have grown in popularity over the years. The COVID-19 pandemic temporarily threw a wrench in many people’s destination wedding plans forcing them to postpone or cancel. 

But with things slowly returning to normal, weddings have picked up again. According to the Knots 2021 Real Wedding Study, for example, 19% of weddings in 2021* were destination weddings, which was a 10% improvement on the previous year’s figures. 

What Are The Main Financial Considerations For A Destination Wedding?

If you are thinking of having a destination wedding, some of the main costs that you will have to budget for include:

  • Travel and accommodation (these will likely take up the biggest chunk of your budget)
  • Passports and visas (if you don’t have them already and if they are required)
  • Travel insurance (you can’t travel to some countries without it)
  • The pre-wedding or rehearsal dinner
  • The wedding ceremony and the officiant
  • The photographers (and their transport costs if you are bringing along your own)
  • The reception
  • Wedding dress for the bride and suit for the groom

Who Pays For What in a Destination Wedding?

When it comes to covering costs, customarily, guests are responsible for paying their own travel and accommodation expenses. Destination wedding etiquette dictates that the couple only cover their guests' travel and lodging expenses if they can afford it.

The couple is usually only responsible for paying for:

  • Cost for their own travel
  • The pre-wedding or rehearsal dinner
  • The ceremony
  • The reception

When selecting your wedding party, make sure to inform them beforehand of what they are expected to cover and the estimated costs of these to avoid unpleasant surprises later on.

Can You Get a Wedding Package?

Due to the rise of destination weddings, many established and high-end resorts and hotels now offer wedding packages.

You might, for example, be able to get an all-inclusive package that includes your ceremony and everything that goes with it, such as accommodation for you and your spouse-to-be, catering and bar service, music and entertainment, floral arrangements and decorations, and so on. The package could even include an on-site wedding planner to oversee and handle everything.

If there is something you want but that is not included in the wedding package, you can coordinate with the hotel or wedding planner to have it included (for an extra cost, of course). For instance, if the music or entertainment component of your package includes a DJ but you prefer a live band, you may be able to bargain for an upgrade.

While most packages are geared toward the bride and groom, you might also be able to negotiate special packages for your guests. 

Some hotels, for example, may be willing to offer room discounts or free local transportation (e.g. trips to and from the airport) to your guests if they book for a specific number of nights. Check with the hotel where you plan to get married to see what kind of packages you may be able to get for your guests. 

Tips for a Cheap Destination Wedding

Manage Your Guest List
The fewer guests you have, the less you'll have to spend on food and drink and the smaller venue you'll need. To reduce costs, for example, many people planning a destination wedding often limit their guest list to just a few close friends and family.

Plan Your Wedding Around the Off-peak Season
Another great tip for a cheaper destination wedding is to plan it around the off-peak season. Avoiding the busiest times of year will help you get better deals on everything from your airfare to accommodation. Research your destination to find out what its peak and off-peak seasons are and then take advantage of the latter. 

Local Wedding

A local wedding is a wedding that takes place in the local area where the bride and groom live. The wedding, for example, could be held in a local church or event hall, followed by a reception at a banquet hall.

What Are The Financial Considerations For A Local Wedding?

Other than travel and accommodation, the main costs remain largely the same as those of a destination wedding. They include:

  • Ceremony and reception venues
  • Flowers and decoration
  • Catering (food, beverages, and drinks)
  • Photography or videography
  • Entertainment
  • Officiant

Which is Cheaper: Destination or Local?

A destination wedding can be significantly less expensive than a local wedding, but this will depend on the location and the number of guests you invite. In the grand scheme of things, here's why a destination wedding might be less expensive than a local wedding.

  • Because of the more complex logistics as well as financial obstacles such as flights and accommodation, the guest list for a destination wedding is likely to be smaller. This could save you money on some guest expenses such as food and catering.
  • Unlike a destination wedding where you might be able to find an all-inclusive package, with a local wedding, you are probably going to have to book and pay for all expenses separately, including venue, catering, and decorations. This is likely to translate to higher costs for the wedding.
  • With a destination wedding, you can combine your honeymoon and wedding and thus save on any extra travel costs for the honeymoon.
  • With a destination wedding, you might be able to find a country with a favorable exchange rate or with a lower cost of living. This will result in lower overall costs for the wedding as your money will go further.

Having said that, a local wedding has several non-monetary benefits that might be more important to you than any money that you could save by choosing a destination wedding. For example:

  • You can invite more people to a local wedding. 
  • A local wedding might be more convenient for your guests to attend, especially if everyone lives close by or in the same area.
  • Ever-evolving COVID-19 protocols may make it difficult for some guests to leave the country.
  • A local wedding might be easier to plan and coordinate —you can visit potential venues and meet with vendors in person and get a feel of everything before you pay for it.

A Two-Way Decision at the End of the Day

As seen, there are several financial factors to consider when it comes to making a decision between a destination and a local wedding. Contrary to popular belief, a destination wedding can actually be cheaper than a local wedding, especially if you are able to score an all-inclusive package, and if the guests will be paying for their own travel and accommodation expenses.

Ultimately, whether you choose a local or destination wedding comes down to what you and your partner's dreams and preferences are for your big day.

Will a local wedding perhaps feel more special because more of your friends and family will be able to attend? Or would a wedding at a tropical location with a stunning ocean backdrop make for better memories?

Consider all of the pros and cons of each option and then make the decision that feels best for you and your soon-to-be spouse.

Get even more financial tips and advice from our series with a Certified Financial Therapist, including 5 Financial Facts to Consider as You Prepare to Say “I Do” and more.

*Data sourced from The Knot