As more couples seek exotic and unique destination weddings, costs for attending can grow so high that the risk of only a handful of people showing up increases.
In the case of one bride, which went viral on Reddit this month, not only did the $3,000 per person, Thailand-based destination wedding become a public disaster, it also seems to have ended some friendships.
A Sept. 13 Reddit post says that a woman used Facebook to criticize friends after only nine people out of 150 invited guests RSVPed for a destination wedding in Thailand. When the bride reportedly moved the wedding to Hawaii, shaving off $1,000 per person, she said only seven people RSVPed.
“It costs less (sic) but less of you wanna come?!” the unidentified bride-to-be wrote in her Facebook post, which was captured in a screenshot posted on Reddit. The woman gave her invitees three days to respond, or after that, she was deleting them as Facebook friends.
The Reddit post, captioned “Bridezilla is upset her friends wouldn't spend $3k for a destination wedding, follows up with a registry complaint. A true knee slapper,” garnered more than 1,000 comments, mostly sympathetic to the guests.
One Reddit respondent wrote about how a Thailand wedding “would involve passports and extended vacation time from work, not to mention the cost. Right now, there’s one, maybe two people in my life that I would go through that much trouble to attend their wedding. I cannot imagine 150 people caring about me so much to bother with all that nonsense.”
While the public shaming of the bride-to-be is one dilemma, there also is the potential fallout for a travel agent, both in the time and effort wasted planning the wedding and any negative feelings from the couple.
Intake session is crucial
That’s why expert destination wedding specialists say qualifying questions and your first intake session with the couple are crucial to success.
“That initial consultation is so important,” said Lisa Sheldon, president of the Destination Wedding and Honeymoon Specialists Association (DWHSA), and owner of her own agency in Janesville, Wisconsin. “You’re not just asking the where, when and how questions, but getting to know the bride and groom, why they want this event, and what their expectations are. It’s also your chance to get to know them.”
Sheldon said asking questions specific to who the most important guests are, and whether they are on board with the couple’s plans, is a crucial moment.
“You need to be honest based on your personal expertise, and work through the numbers with them,” Sheldon said. “You need to say, ‘You’re inviting 100 people, but only a couple dozen may come. Are you okay with that?’”
According to a May 2018 survey from CompareCards.com by LendingTree, a destination wedding guest spends $1,421 on average, including travel, gifts and spending on personal items. That number jumps to $2,514 for destination weddings outside of the U.S., with the actual travel costs estimated at $1,595 for an average of about five days.
While so-called bridezillas are a rarity in her experience, Lisa Brasgalla, director of romance travel at Travel Leaders, in Fargo, North Dakota, and a destination wedding specialist for six years, said her instincts can tell during that first consultation whether or not there will be a problem.
Because Brasgalla and her agents work out of a storefront, they regularly meet with their clients, and as a result she gets a strong feeling for the level of awareness her brides and grooms have about the costs of a destination wedding, and how much family and friends can afford to pay.
Like Sheldon, Brasgalla believes dealing with the reality of a small number of attendees needs to be discussed upfront.
“Our job is to educate our clients,” Brasgalla said. “I’m pretty blunt. I will just come out and say it: ‘This is going to cost your guests $7,000 per couple. Are they going to be okay with that?’”
Sometimes conflicts arise because the couple are uneducated about the costs of destination weddings, and not that they are unsympathetic.
“When I ask what their budget is, most have no idea what to expect,” Brasgalla said. “Here in the Midwest, though, people are pretty conservative to begin with, and the majority of couples are concerned with how much their guests will be paying.”
The CompareCards.com survey showed that 51 percent of destination wedding guests turned down an invitation recently, with 55 percent thinking destination weddings “can be inconsiderate to guests,” 70 percent saying they are more expensive, 41 percent saying they require taking time off, and 34 percent responding that it takes too much time
Another factor to consider, Brasgalla said, is that many people don’t share their private financial situation with couples who are getting married.
“You may not always know what is going on in someone’s life. Does someone have high healthcare bills right now, because of a sickness, or a child’s tuition bill is coming due?” Brasgalla said.
What’s a destination wedding specialist to do?
When price becomes an issue, destination wedding specialists have options they can offer to couples to try to help more of their guests afford attending, like reducing the number of nights the guests will stay, or seeing if a shoulder season wedding might work, said Brasgalla.
“We can try to negotiate with the resort on the rebate, and see if the couple would be willing to steer that back to their guests,” she said. Sheldon at DWHSA said another option is using some of the free nights a resort awards for total nights purchased, to help guests struggling to attend.
For many couples, moving their wedding dates and/or the destination are simply not acceptable, Sheldon said.
“That’s when you tell them, ‘Look, it’s your day. Have what you want to have, but you just may have to accept that a lot of people aren’t going to come.’”
“It’s always best to look your client in the eye and say, ‘Yes, this is your day. Make yourself happy. But you have to have empathy and be realistic about what your guests can afford, and expect that not everyone can come,’” said Brasgalla.