Destination Wedding Trends: Personalizing a Couple’s Day

July 18, 2019

By Aimee Baldridge

Photo © Robert Peterson/Rustic White Photography

Who doesn’t love an excuse to get away from the day-to-day and have a great time in a far-off, beautiful place? 

In recent years, weddings have been providing that excuse for an estimated one in four couples, and the destination wedding trend is still going strong. But the definition of a destination wedding has evolved. We wanted to find out what’s changed and how visual storytellers can respond to what couples are looking for now, so we asked editors at The Knot and Wedding Wire to fill us in on the most important destination wedding trends they’re seeing lately.

One of the biggest trends being observed is couples choosing locations for their personal significance. As WeddingWire senior editor Kim Forrest explains, when the destination wedding trend took off about ten years ago, “the idea was simply to get away, to combine a beach vacation with a wedding.” But these days, she says, “every aspect of a wedding is personalized, and that includes the location. So instead of choosing a warm-weather destination just for the sake of it, couples are selecting a wedding location that is meaningful to them.” 

If you thought destination weddings are all about calm beaches and lush tropical settings, think again. Couples are also increasingly traveling to more inhospitable (but just as photogenic) locales with unconventional events, like this “first ski.”
Photo © Carrie Paterson Photography  

Some couples pick a city they love, a favorite vacation spot or another place that has played a part in their life as a couple, while others choose a destination that reflects their families’ heritage or culture. “According to our [recent] survey,” says Forrest, “53 percent of couples who host a destination wedding choose the location because it was meaningful to them and their partner.” There are also couples who choose destinations that are close to family members or serve as a mid-point between the two families. All of this means many destination weddings have gotten closer to home, which may make the market more accessible to some photographers. According to the WeddingWire survey, only a third of couples who considered their event to be a destination wedding had to fly to get there, and only 13 percent said it took place in another country. 

However near or far the destination, the focus on personalization makes for a wider variety of settings to shoot in. “More and more, we’re seeing couples showcasing their unique love story and personalities with their weddings, which holds true in their photography as well,” says Rebecca Crumley, senior director of Real Weddings for The Knot. “One of our Colorado couples opted for a ‘first ski’ away from the altar, which our followers loved. Another couple rode out on surfboards fully clothed in their wedding attire….” 

Capturing the location and local culture as more than just an attractive backdrop to the celebration has become more important than ever. “Our recent Newlywed Report found that 22 percent of couples include local elements into their wedding day,” says Forrest. “Most often, couples incorporate local food into their wedding menus, but we’re also seeing local favors, welcome bags, flowers and more.” Destination wedding couples also tend to want all of the elements of their celebration to play a part in expressing their connection to the place or reflecting its aesthetic. “When it comes to requesting that guests dress in accordance with a certain look or vibe, we definitely see that more with destination weddings, where they may want friends and family to rock all white to a BBQ or a floral look in Provence,” says Alyssa Longobucco, senior style and planning editor for The Knot.

Of course, there are still many couples who opt for a destination wedding because they want that exceptional day of their lives to take place somewhere exceptionally beautiful. According to the recent WeddingWire study, 22 percent of couples considered their wedding location “tropical.” “Beach locales will always be big when it comes to destination weddings,” says Longobucco. “Some close-to-home options like Bermuda, Hawaii, the Bahamas, Mexico and Costa Rica continue to be popular with couples, while others take it more exotic and hit up far-flung spots like Bali or the Maldives. European countries are also hugely popular, probably because they’re typically easy to get to and offer a lot of options for vendors and celebration locations. Italy and France will always tie for number one, but we’ve seen more and more couples choosing more offbeat spots like Portugal and Spain as well.”

Some couples are looking for rarer forms of beauty these days. Often inspired by images they see on social media or other online sources, couples are seeking out settings that aren’t just conventionally beautiful but are uniquely striking. “People are looking for Instagrammable locations, but they’re relying more on photographers and not guests to create the imagery,” says Crumley. “According to the 2018 Real Weddings Study, 30 percent of couples asked guests to limit cell phone usage at their wedding.” Doing some online scouting or showing up in advance to scope out the territory is advisable for photographers who want to capture locations at their most striking and find the best local spots for portrait shoots. 

The Knot’s Alyssa Longobucco says the wedding of HGTV designer Brian Patrick Flynn on a glacier was the coolest destination wedding she’s heard of recently—pun most certainly intended. Photo © Robert Peterson/Rustic White Photography

With destination weddings moving away from the beach, cold-weather destinations have provided some of the most spectacular locations—and sometimes challenging conditions for photographers and filmmakers. Crumley points to images shot at a wedding held during a full-blown blizzard, and Forrest has seen shots of a wedding in Iceland with a waterfall as the ceremony backdrop. Longobucco mentioned a couple who took the wintery wedding theme all the way. “The coolest destination wedding I’ve heard of recently was actually that of HGTV designer Brian Patrick Flynn who married his partner, Hollis Smith, on an iceberg in Antarctica,” she says. “The pictures are unreal and I love that they turned a once-in-a-lifetime moment into something even more dream-worthy.”

When couples choose uniquely beautiful or meaningful destinations, they’re likely to spend more time enjoying them too, so destination shooters can often expect longer events. “Another trend we’re seeing is the idea of following up a destination wedding with a ‘mini-moon’ or even ‘friend-moon’ in the location,” says Longobucco. “Instead of flying somewhere to have a wedding and then going elsewhere for a honeymoon immediately after, couples are staying in town four or five days post-wedding to hang and relax—and some are even inviting their wedding parties to do the same.” Visual artists who want to tell the whole story of the wedding should be prepared to stay for the duration and capture a wide range of activities, from winery tours, golfing or local excursions during the day to fireworks and bonfires on the beach at night.

Couples are choosing to highlight not just scenic locations, but meaningful and unique details that accent their personalities. Like doggie bridal parties. Image © Judy Pak

And it’s not just the wedding itself that’s being turned into a multi-day trip with friends. “Couples these days are all about experiences,” says Longobucco, “so many brides and grooms opt to have unforgettable pre-wedding getaways as well, whether that’s a bachelor or bachelorette party or an engagement-moon before planning really starts getting busy.” Forrest says recent surveys confirm the trend and show the same diversification of destinations that weddings are seeing. 

“Destination bachelor and bachelorette parties are now the norm, rather than exceptions to the rule. According to a 2017 WeddingWire study, 44 percent of bachelorette parties took place in a destination other than where the bride lives, and 38 percent required the attendees to travel more than 50 miles from their homes to attend the bachelorette party,” she says. “Vegas is still popular, but we’re also hearing about bachelor and bachelorette parties traveling to Austin, Nashville, Miami, Charleston, Mexico and even Iceland!” Not every couple will want a pro to come along for pre-wedding events, but it’s a service worth offering to clients who are in the early planning stages—and to groups booking trips to your area if you happen to be based near a popular destination. 

 Whether it’s for a pre-wedding trip or the main event, the increased interest in destinations that are not just pretty but also meaningful can only be good news for visual storytellers. “Couples are focused on celebrating everything that makes their chosen location special,” says Longobucco. Sounds like the making of a great shot list. 

Expert Panel

Alyssa Longobucco
Senior Style & Planning Editor, The Knot

Kim Forrest
Senior Editor, WeddingWire

Rebecca Crumley
Senior Director of Real Weddings, The Knot

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