By: Michael Pihach
Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and DailyXtra.ca. Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.
“Travel is back on track,” says Karolina Fernandes, owner and founder of Diamonds Destination Weddings. “Prices are expensive, but that’s not an issue. People are moving forward.”
Ever since the world woke up from its pandemic-induced coma, destination weddings have made a fierce comeback – and Fernandes, a certified destination wedding planner from Ottawa, ON, has the bookings to prove it.
“Something happened during COVID,” Fernandes tells PAX. “I’m seeing a big increase from couples who couldn’t get married locally [during the pandemic] and decided to look at destinations.”
And the size of her destination wedding groups are only getting bigger, she says.
“Groups, on average, have gone from 25 to 30 people to 80 to 100. Things are growing as everyone is missing travel.”
It’s anecdotal evidence that aligns with the latest market research. In a report released by the Business Research Company in March, the global destination wedding sector grew from $21.31 billion in 2022 to $28.31 billion in 2023.
And the boom is not expected to weaken, especially as couples who were forced to cancel their big day during COVID ramp up with makeup dates and reimagined plans.
That same report says the destination wedding market will grow to a whopping $78.89 billion by 2027.
This bodes well for suppliers and wedding planners as more couples, in an age of revenge travel, increase their budgets and request personalized weddings in off-the-beaten-path destinations.
Tracey Manailescu, co-founder of The Wedding Planners Institute of Canada, is watching the trends closely.
“The average budget has increased,” Manailescu says, noting how today’s average spend on a destination wedding can range from $28,000 all the way up to $80,000 (or more), “depending on the luxury of it.”
And “couples are branching out to unique places that are special to them,” Manailescu says, citing Mexico, Hawaii, Jamaica, the Bahamas, St. Lucia, Italy, France and Spain as some of today’s leading choices.
Less cookie-cutter, more personalized
With friends and loved ones travelling far and wide to celebrate, the overarching theme of destination weddings, right now, is based off new patterns of behaviour and ways of thinking.
Coming out of COVID, destinations weddings – which typically unfold between late winter and early spring, and then for a period in early fall – are getting away from the “cookie-cutter” celebrations they once were, Manailescu says.
“Before, it was people taking packages at a hotel, having a little party, and then going to a club,” Manailescu says. “Now, they’re booking secret locations, private villas…people are embracing local, more sustainable experiences.”
Wedding groups may rent a bus – or even vespas – and go into town to do a cooking class, or go shopping at a local market.
There’s also a greater emphasis on giving back through voluntourism, Manailescu says, which is when tourists offer up their time, for a good cause, in the community they’re visiting.
“People want to feel good about where they’re going,” she says.
Customization is key
But the key word is customization, says Fernandes, whose clients, the majority of which are in their early twenties, are passing on “resort packages A, B or C” and designing their own events.
“They want to create their own experiences,” she says. “Sometimes there are items in a package they won’t use, or a package might be for 40 people when they have 100. So, they’re customizing.”
More clients are opting to hire outside vendors to come to resorts – to oversee florals and décor, for example – “and they’re bringing their own photographers and make-up artists,” she says.
Couples on their second (or third) marriage, meanwhile, tend to book smaller ceremonies, Fernandes says, which are “more catered to comfort.”
Ready, set, decorate!
Customization, of course, opens up a world of design and décor options. One hot trend that Manailescu has noticed lately is the “mirror aisle,” a reflective runner that’s tinted in either gold, silver or rose.
Designers will line these mirrored installations with flowers so that it gives off a full, lush look.
LED-lit dance floors and disco balls, for the reception, are also very popular right now, she says.
And what about trendy songs? Music, after all, can make or break a party.
Talia Kraines, a senior editor of Pop at Spotify, recently spoke to Brides.com to share her top wedding music trends for 2023, saying “we’re expecting to see a lot more individuality in song choices as weddings become more relevant for the Gen-Z age group.”
“This is a generation that wants to express themselves through their music choices,” Kraines says.
Couples, she says, are embracing their personal preferences and tastes.
“Expect to hear lots of new Taylor Swift (‘Sweet Nothing‘) and Harry Styles (‘Love of My Life‘) at weddings in 2023 as first dances,” Kraines says, adding that nostalgia hits from the ’80s and ’90s are also trending.
Beyond party favours
Brides and grooms are also planning weddings with more intel that they’ve sourced themselves (which is only reinforcing the value of hiring a professional).
Romance and Foodie Travel‘s Cindy Almond and her colleague Deanna Beatty say more brides, these days, are declining vendors offered at resorts in an attempt to save money based on comments they read online.
“They’re getting information from bridal groups or resort fan pages on Facebook,” the duo says. “They’re coming armed with more knowledge (or fake news) than ever before.”
This can sometimes lead to mixed messaging, the ladies say, especially when it comes to booking and paying for upgraded room categories at properties.
For example: clients may read comments online and be led to believe that an upgrade can be paid for on site, but their experience ends up being the opposite, they say.
“And it’s impacting their room selection.”
Another observation? Regardless of the block of rooms that have been set aside, “guests will always want something different,” the ladies say.
“They’ll want to do their own thing, or stay for different durations.”
But booking excursions in advance, whether it’s exploring a cave or taking out a catamaran for a cruise, is more popular than ever, the ladies add.
So are memorable experiences. Brides and grooms want to thank their guests for coming “and not just with party favours,” the duo says, but with things like bands or s’mores parties.
“They want their guests to feel appreciated for coming.”
Sustainability, too, is now an important consideration. More couples are opting for eco-friendly and sustainable locations, Manailescu notes, citing Tulum, Mexico, as a popular choice.
This could be choosing to work with a resort or venue that has banned single-use plastics or deciding to serve locally-sourced food and beverages.
Not just sand and sun
In Canada, when talking about destination weddings, the mind tends to default to beach weddings in Mexico or the Caribbean.
After all, Canadians love escaping the cold, and these locations not only make for memorable weddings, but also provide a gorgeous backdrop for photos.
But countries in Europe, too, can also be epic and romantic settings for tying the knot, and this is an option more couples are exploring, Manailescu says.
“Especially in the luxury market,” she says. “They’re combining their wedding with their dream honeymoon. They’ll celebrate with friends and family and then continue on.”
Local touches are a priority
Marsha-Ann Donaldson-Brown, director of weddings and romance at Sandals Resorts International, says her team is booking weddings of all sizes and budgets.
She says the booking lead times will vary, but generally tend to fall within 12-15 months of travel, allowing guests time to plan.
As for trends, Donaldson-Brown says couples, right now, are craving authenticity.
“Whether it’s serving regional cuisine or a traditional dish during dinner or hiring local entertainment or even creating welcome bags filled with locally-made spices, candles, rum and other goodies, we are definitely seeing more and more couples add elements of the local culture into their celebrations,” she says. “In fact, these special, local touches are becoming just as much of a priority as other wedding essentials such as photography.”
Natural beauty is also in high demand. Couples, she says, are bringing forward the natural beauty of the destination into their ceremonies and celebrations by utilizing flora, fauna and décor that is indigenous to the host island.
This trend has actually led Sandals to develop new Caribbean wedding inspirations that will roll out soon, Donaldson-Brown says.
She also sees more interest in giving back, whether it’s purchasing local artisan-made crafts as gifts for guests, organizing tree planting opportunities, participating in a “Pack for a Purpose” program or donating items to local schools and charities.
Finally, after years of restrictions, it appears more couples are up for some real adventures, Donaldson-Brown says.
“From ‘taking the plunge’ (pardon the pun) and becoming certified scuba divers or heading out in a MINI Cooper at Sandals Royal Curaçao to explore the island like a local, it’s sweeter when done together,” she says.