How to plan a destination wedding

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      Just the two of you. A tropical beach. Sunset. While this scenario sounds romantic, Cheryl Bailie says that most couples hope all of their loved ones will join them as they wed in paradise.

      Bailie is the owner of Honeymoon Consultants, a North Vancouver travel agency that specializes in destination weddings. In a phone interview with the Straight, she explains that couples choose to get married away from home for two main reasons: to simplify the planning and to reduce the Big Day budget.

      She notes that many people have divorced and remarried parents and don’t want to deal with the politics of a wedding. “You get too much tug of war between the sets of parents,” she says. Or, the couple themselves may be busy, and “it’s easier to plan a destination wedding than a normal wedding.” That’s because weddings abroad tend to be smaller and more low-key, arranged by the resort’s wedding planner.

      Bailie’s agency deals mostly with all-inclusive properties in Mexico and the Caribbean, part of such chains as Barceló and Sandals. She’s arranged over a thousand weddings and says the average one includes 30 to 40 guests. Couples can expect anywhere from a third to two-thirds of those invited to attend. Planning a year in advance is recommended so guests can schedule their holidays accordingly.

      According to Bailie, destination weddings can be very economical. A weeklong all-inclusive package runs about $1,200 to $1,500 (plus tax) per person, which guests generally pay themselves. The couple can expect to pay $1,000 to $2,500 on top of that for the wedding ceremony and reception. By having the ceremony abroad, travel to the honeymoon location is built into the cost, although many couples opt to pay for an extra week at the all-inclusive.

      As a travel agent, Bailie works on commission and doesn’t charge a wedding planner fee. She encourages couples to have their guests book directly with one travel agent who will handle the whole group, rather than booking with the resort individually online. That’s because if complications arise, such as an airline bankruptcy, those who book through a travel agent will be protected through Consumer Protection B.C. They can be rebooked, generally at no additional charge, on another airline, while online bookers are on their own. If the resort oversells its rooms, individuals may be bumped to a different property, but the group will likely be accommodated together. And a travel agent can move the group to another locale entirely if something threatens to derail the wedding, such as the 2009 Mexican swine flu outbreak, which caused many weddings to be relocated to the Caribbean.

      Susan E. Hyatt also arranges destination weddings but concentrates on the festivities. Hyatt is a Port Coquitlam–based wedding planner who calls herself “the Wedding Lady”. Couples and their guests make their own travel arrangements—staying at hotels, vacation rentals, or condos—and the couple pays a consulting fee for her to help them plan the wedding. She specializes in Maui and the Bahamas, where she grew up.

      Speaking to the Straight by phone, Hyatt says she arranges everything from simple beach ceremonies to elaborate multiday extravaganzas. Lately, she’s noticed a trend toward “just the two of us” weddings. “Couples are not calling it eloping; they’re letting everyone know,” she says. They may get married somewhere exotic, and then throw a casual party back home.

      Hyatt helps with the logistics, including finding the right location and ensuring the ceremony is legal. In addition to the consulting fee (the amount of which she declined to specify), a simple beachfront ceremony in Maui starts at $550, which includes the officiant, a coordinator, two orchid leis, taped music, and assistance with arranging the wedding licence.

      From there, couples can customize the celebration exactly how they want it—whether or not that includes family waiting on the sidelines.

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      Jan 19, 2011 at 8:34am

      My fiance and I are planning a wedding right now. We would have loved to do a destination wedding, but it just would have excluded too many of our friend and family members. You're asking a lot of people when you get married away from home. However, <A HREF=""> Mexico </a> would be a lovely honeymoon spot.

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      Consumer Protection BC

      Jan 19, 2011 at 1:42pm

      Thanks for the shout out Cheryl & Carolyn! We always recommend that consumers book with a licensed BC travel agent as there are many advantages. This includes being protected by BC's travel assurance fund. You can find out more about the fund (and lots of other great info) at

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