Las Vegas Destination Weddings featured in Where Traveler. Photo by AltF Photography. ©
When the team at Where Traveler called me and asked for an interview about destination wedding planning, I jumped at the chance to contribute! Living in an ever-shrinking world is as confusing as it is exciting. With couples coming together from all around the globe, the opportunity to host a destination wedding is more prevalent than ever before. In fact, for some couples that are living and working away from their family and friends, a destination wedding isn't just an option, it's the only way possible to bring everyone together in one place. As a Las Vegas wedding planner, a majority of my clients are coming into market to host a destination wedding of their own. Each wedding presents a new set of challenges and celebrations, and I was more than willing to share some of the knowledge I've come across over the years.
Whether you are planning a wedding in your own country or abroad, this article with tips from yours truly along with celebrity wedding planner David Tutera and also Nellie Sparkman is a great resource for couples considering taking their wedding celebration on the road!
Click here to read the full article on Where Traveler, and continue to scroll fro the full transcript of my interview below.
Full Interview with Where Traveler
What are some of the most popular destinations you’ve helped couples plan weddings at?
Being based in Las Vegas, many of my clients actually come to me. The city has truly developed itself into such a luxury location, with the very best of resorts, dining, decor, and entertainment. It’s not for the faint of heart, but for the couple that is willing to make a statement and truly design an experience. Outside of Las Vegas, I have been fortunate enough to consult with couples in New York, Chicago, Tucson, and Coronado Beach.
What destinations do you have your eye on that you’ve not gotten to plan an event in yet?
Italy! That’s my heritage, and so having the opportunity to plan a wedding where my family came from would be magical for me. And I am so looking forward to Mexico! Two years ago I was working on awedding in Cabo that was relocated due to weather issues, so I am looking forward to heading back.
Is there a separate list of LGBT-friendly destinations that you rely on for LGBT ceremonies?
You know, I always tell people that I don’t plan “gay weddings” - I plan weddings for people in love. Sometimes those people are two grooms or two brides. But the minute I start treating them as “other” and qualifying that this is a gay couple is the moment that I give the destination, the city, and the vendors permission to do the same. In my experience, it is less about the destination and more about the venue and the professionals that we work with.
Is it realistic for a couple on a budget to think they can plan their destination wedding without hiring a wedding planner?
Possible, sure. But not enjoyable and not advised. A luxury wedding planner will typically account for 20% of your budget, but what you pay for is nothing when compared to what you get in terms of guidance, professional experience, and piece of mind. A professional planner will scout the area, connect with reputable vendors, create a plan, a back up plan, and another plan. Every couple deserves the opportunity to be delighted and taken care of, to turn over the leg work, the nerves, the timing, and the stress to someone else so that they can just enjoy their day.
What’s the most important factor to consider for couples who are planning a destination wedding?
Couples planning a destination wedding are, by nature, open to risk and new experiences. However, that does not mean that their guests are. Couples should always plan with the guest experience in mind, and seek out locations that create excitement for their guests while also ensuring their physical and emotional comfort level. Beyond that, always consider the weather, the popularity and seasonally of the destination, the flight patterns, and the financial costs that are involved for both the couple and their guests.
What’s the range of budgets you’ve seen that create a successful destination wedding?
On average, my clients spend $750 - $1500 per person and more. With a budget of this size, clients are able to do more than just “check boxes” and get the basic needs, but they have the ability to really make decisions based on what is right for them, and not what is based on budget.
In your experience, are couples getting older before they get married?
Yes, absolutely. On average, my couples are overwhelming in their 30’s and 40’s as opposed to in their 20’s.
Are there any etiquette rules on who pays for the wedding party's accommodations and transportation during a destination wedding? What about for guests?
No, there are no rules. In general, unless the couple has extensive resources the wedding party is responsible for their accommodations and airfare.
What are the rules on bringing your own photographer, caterer or planner with you to your wedding destination?
I always recommend leaving the caterer to the venue; they have relationships that are long lasting and work well within the four walls and venue. Importing a planner and a photographer is completely based on personal preference. A planner will wear many hats throughout the process; we are designers, accountants, tour guides, concierges, directors of operations, etc. The most important thing in picking a planner is working with someone that you connect with. A photographer preserves your memories. You want someone who sees the world the way you do, who can capture the emotions of the day in the way that you want to remember them.
One thing to remember when you import any vendor is that you will be responsible for their airfare, accommodations, and per diem expenses. For your photographer this is typically a one time fee, but your planner will require at least one, maybe more, advanced trips. Don’t forget to factor those costs in.
How hard is it to plan a wedding that’s legally recognized in the U.S.?
Not at all! Each state has it’s own requirements, but generally speaking the US is one of the easiest destinations to get married in. For domestic couples going outside of the US, I always recommend that you have a civil service privately in your state of residence to keep the paperwork clean and orderly.
Is it possible to have a large destination wedding? Are there benefits to keeping the wedding small?
Absolutely! I have planned destination weddings of 350 and more. The benefit of keeping it small is that the cost of the wedding get down, and you are able to spend more time with each guest individually.
How hard is it to accommodate 200+ guests in a luxury destination wedding versus a smaller wedding?
Honestly, I don’t find it to be that difficult at all. Most venues are built to accommodate “the average wedding” of 80 - 120 guests, but if you are working at a resort with both ballrooms and breakout rooms, indoor and outdoor locations, and speciality space then you should be able to accommodate a wedding of virtually any size.
There’s a tale I’ve heard that weddings held abroad are cheaper than weddings held in the U.S. In your experience is this true?
Not always, no. Sure, you may pay less for a pre-packaged wedding, but any time you design a custom wedding the cost goes up. Luxury and quality are not exclusive to the US, and you will pay a premium price for premium products and services anywhere in the world.
Is there really an industry divide for luxury destination weddings vs low-budget or non-luxury destination weddings? Or are most destination weddings that you’ve worked with luxury by default just because of the time and efforts it takes to set up a wedding in a different location or country?
Luxury is one of those tricky industry terms that often times conveys an overall budget, but I can tell you that luxury is not solely determined by money. Luxury is all about experience; the experience a couple has in planning, the experience the guests have at the venue, the quality of the food and florals. If you buy a “wedding package” for 10 people at a luxury resort that has truly taken the time to design an extraordinary experience for your guests, then that comes across as a luxury wedding. Try to replicate that for 100, 150 guests, and suddenly the experience is diluted to something that feels much more static and basic.
A good rule of thumb is that packages are going to be more straight forward, and they are a great option for couples that need a “one stop shopping” experience; whether that is because of finances, time, experience, etc. These could very well fall in the non-luxury category, because they are not personally designed to the individual taste of the couple.
Luxury weddings have a feeling when you walk into them. There is branding, consistently, always something unexpected that delights and inspires, and at the end of the day guest leave with the sense that every element was hand selected for them, by the couple, with care and intention.
Is there a rising trend in destination weddings that you’ve seen?
Yes. The world is shrinking, and individuals are becoming more educated, more cultured, and they have seen and experienced things that previous generations haven’t. Couples today have less fear the they did 20 years ago, and the idea of packing up and moving across the country or across the world isn’t as strange anymore. Additionally, more couples are meeting through out of state universities, while on vacation, and at work. Their families and friends are often spread throughout the world, making travel a necessity for at least a portion of the guest list. At that point, if a large number of people are traveling, you might as well travel to someplace fantastic!
In your experience what do travelers gain by having their ceremony somewhere that’s not home?
Any time you leave your comfort zone your senses are heightened. You bond with your guests through a series of unique, shared experiences, and you are able to literally and truly step away from the monotony of your day to day life and revel in the experience of being completely catered to and taken care of. Every moment of every day feels special. You aren;t brewing your own coffee and making you own eggs; they are delivered to you via in-suite dining. Couple’s aren’t bogged down with daily life - they experience a mini-moon before the honeymoon, giving them and their guests a once in a lifetime escape that will never be replicated again.
Las Vegas Wedding Planner Andrea Eppolito is often published, with works featured by the likes of BRIDES, Style Me Pretty, Grace Ormonde Wedding Style, The NY Times, LA Times, Junebug Weddings, and more. With an eye catching style that shares not only the story, but the soul, of a wedding, Andrea's clients praise her for being their wedding planner, event designer, advocate, and friend.
An internationally acclaimed speaker, Andrea appears and speaks at events for the Engage! Luxury Wedding Summit, NACE, The Knot, the Wedding MBA, and more. Named the Best Wedding Planner in Las Vegas (2013, 2015, 2016), Wedding Professional of the Year (2011) and ranked as one of the top 50 wedding planners world-wide, Andrea works with celebrities, athletes, executives, and all people in love!
Based in Las Vegas, and working as a destination wedding planner world wide, you can learn more at www.AndreaEppolitoEvents.com.