So you are thinking about going a little further afield to tie the knot? Inviting your guests to spend a few days in paradise with you is as dreamy as it gets—if you can nail the logistics. We sat down with Beth Helmstetter, the founder and Creative Director of Beth Helmstetter Events, a full-service event design and production studio that focuses on multi-day weddings throughout the world to get the scoop on what know before you start sending out all those invitations. Known for her intimate and collaborative take on weddings, and recognized as one of the best planners in the world by Harper’s BAZAAR, Martha Stewart Weddings, and Travel & Leisure, we knew she’d have advice on everything from the save the date to the wedding welcome bag.
For our couples, the guest experience is increasingly more important to them, as their wedding viewed as a time to reconnect, reflect, and create new memories together. Typically, our couples opt for a 4-day wedding celebration, with pre-arranged activities for their guests. Particularly for destination weddings, this time frame allows for guests to arrive relaxed and to settle into the celebration with ease.
With so many things happening at once, couples can sometimes feel like their wedding day was a blur. Extending the length of a wedding celebration means more opportunity for relaxation and meaningful time spent with one another, rather than feeling rushed. Weddings are the perfect environment to make new memories, and a weekend allows guests to linger in those moments.
Using a planner
Wedding planning is a full-time job, and for couples who lead busy professional lives, this kind of support is critical. For destination weddings, there is an added layer of consideration to ensure smooth transitions for guests; accommodations, transport, travel, activities, and meals. It’s certainly advantageous to hire an experienced planner who understands the local culture and logistical demands.
Photo: Steve Steinhardt
We’ve produced destination weddings at a variety of venues–from the remote jungles of Bali to the vibrant, cultural hub of Mexico City and everywhere in between. A smaller wedding will give you more flexibility to celebrate at a unique, non-traditional venue, like a trendy art gallery or private estate. If you have a larger wedding or plan on having the ceremony and reception at one location, opting for a full-service hotel that has experience with events has its advantages. Mainly all your guests can stay in the same space, and you’ll have fewer transportation needs to consider. Most hotels will have black cars on hand for guests during the weekend, but always check first and hire additional wheels if required.
Any wedding will come with transportation demands. Those in more remote areas will likely involve multiple transfers from the time your guests land to the time they depart. Arranging bus shuttles, boat, or ferry trips is often needed. There are ways to make these transitions more enjoyable for guests. For instance, have water bottles and snacks at the ready inside temperature-controlled coach buses to pick them up from the airport and bring them to their boat transfer (if needed). Consider having a live musician on the boat to greet guests with energy and enthusiasm.
Save the dates and invitations
Save the dates for a destination wedding should be sent out 6-9 months beforehand so that guests can make travel, work, and childcare arrangements. They should include information about the venue, accommodations, transportation information, and a bird’s eye view at the significant events of the weekend. Include contact information for your planner should anyone have questions. Or include an online link to your wedding website where you can share additional flight options, area maps, and suggestions.
Photo: Steve Steinhardt
It’s incredibly important to show your guests your gratitude for celebrating with you. One way is through immersive activities that surround the wedding day. These should all be optional events—each carefully planned with attention to the tastes of your guests. One mini-event in the daytime and one at night is a nice balance. If many guests haven’t visited your destination before, plan activities that allow for true cultural integration, like a visit to town for shopping or a guided cooking class with a local chef.
Welcome parties are a great way for guests to reunite or meet one another for the first time. They are an excellent time for toasts from friends or family who may not have a dedicated spotlight at the wedding. Farewell brunches are a nice time for the couple to thank their guests once again and to make sure guests have a hearty meal before a long trip. Otherwise, consider a ‘breakfast in bed’ box with a couple of doughnuts and an iced coffee, scones, and local fruits.
Your wedding design should remain cohesive through the wedding day. The celebrations or activities around on either side of the wedding day can hinge less on one color palette or theme. Use them to show a different side of you as a couple and the place where you’re celebrating.
Guests crave a strong sense of place at a destination wedding—something they won’t experience at home. We often incorporate linens with a pattern that is native to that region, curated welcome bags with local delicacies and used indigenous florals in our arrangements. We’ve served guests’ street food from authentic carts, hired local musicians and performers and arranged creative classes guided by local artisans, or a tour of a local farm or winery.
Welcome bags should be designed thematically to complement branding you’ve established for the wedding. Inside, consider including your favorite items that reflect a sense of place. Like local snacks from the couple’s favorite local bakery, hand-painted cocktail stirrers or a pair of moccasins. Surprise and delight guests with a small box of cookies and milk waiting inside their rooms for a late-night treat. If it’s hot during an outdoor ceremony, consider placing delicate fans at their seats.