Congratulations on your engagement and your decision to host a destination wedding for all your friends and family someplace fabulous, tropical, and remote. Most of them will be really excited by the invitation, even if they've never traveled off the beaten path before. Thing is, you have a responsibility to make your guests' trip -- both planning and execution -- as smooth as possible for each and every one of them.
That sounds like a big commitment, but it's easy to do. You simply research your destination so you can provide them with all the necessary tools they'll need to get to where you're saying "I do." If you have a wedding planner, they should provide you with something to send your guests. But if you're DIYing, you have a little homework to do.
I do not recommend getting involved with group travel packages and using travel agents unless you absolutely, positively have to, and not unless you have a really good, reliable agent you've worked with before to spearhead that coordination. It can be a nightmare. If your guests want to use a travel agent, they will. Just don't put yourself in the middle of that.
Although I've said it can be a "nightmare," helping your guests plan their trip to your destination wedding doesn't HAVE to be difficult. All you have to do is follow the five steps below to create everything your guests really need:
1. Talk to both sets of your parents about your decision to have a destination wedding and where you plan to have it. If they're helping pay for the festivities, you have to let them have input. If you're paying for the whole thing, you can present it as a done deal if you're afraid somebody is going to object and cause you stress. But it's important to tell them what's going on as early as possible so they can plan their own lives and prepare their friends if you won't be hosting a big at-home bash that the whole world is invited to attend. Make sure the most important people in your lives are going to be able to travel to the destination that you've chosen before you make the commitment and start the next steps.
2. You need to send out a Save-the-Date to the finalized invitation list as soon as possible -- even two years out is fine! Do it as soon as you've signed the contract with your wedding venue. The sooner the better, anywhere inside the 24-month mark. Most of your guests will have to take off vacation days from work. Many will need to make childcare arrangements. Be as thoughtful as possible and let them know the dates of your wedding weekend as soon as they're confirmed. All you need to tell them is the wedding date and where you're getting married, with a notation that a travel information packet will follow and your wedding website information.
3. Create a really comprehensive Travel Information Packet to send to your guests. Don't just post the information on your wedding website because, honestly, most people don't really look at those until they're desperate for info at the last minute. Create a packet to mail that could be called "How to Get to My Wedding Destination for Dummies" and tell them what airports to fly into, and whether they need rental cars, and how long they can expect the trip to take. Make accommodations recommendations based on the wedding venue you've chosen, and offer a variety of price-points for guests who may prefer to spend less per night but stay longer at the destination. Many of your guests are going to turn your destination wedding weekend into their own vacation with side trips before or after your actual events. The Travel Information Packet should include a detailed "tentative" itinerary that tells your guests when they need to arrive at the destination and when they can leave. If there's a welcome party on Thursday and a farewell bunch on Sunday, they need to know these things for their own travel planning purposes. You don't have to have every detail locked in -- it's fine to say location TBA -- but designating a time and the fact there will be an event is what's important. The Travel Information Packet should be sent to arrive two to four weeks prior to the wedding invitations so that people may make educated decisions about whether they can actually attend when they have to RSVP.
4. Send out a newsletter to all of your guests who accepted the invitation about a month before they depart for your wedding weekend. This newsletter can be serious or fun, but should include final itinerary information that allows for wardrobe planning, and additional information about activities they might be interested in booking during free time on their trip. This newsletter can be sent out as a .pdf to everybody via email. It should include contact information for the bride and groom, or their wedding planner, in case the guests have problems en route to your destination.
5. Write a crazy-detailed welcome letter to greet all of your guests at the destination. I recommend putting these in welcome bags, along with maps, local publications, menus, coupons and whatever other little goodies you'd like to include (my clients favor Puerto Rican rum and snacks). The welcome letter should have tips about the destination -- how to get around, general safety, emergency phone numbers -- and a final schedule of events that also include directions to anything that isn't on the maps. Sometimes you should still give them directions if the fun tourist map appears ambiguous. Provide contact information for your wedding planner (or yourselves if you're DIYing it) so that they can reach you if they're lost or have an urgent problem. You can't put the info too many places!
Managing your guests once they arrive at your destination is a whole different blog, and is often compared to "herding cats" by my more entertaining clients. Once everybody arrives, the schedule of events in the welcome letter should kick in and get everybody where they're supposed to be. But be prepared for calls from those who didn't bother to read it, or from your friends who would get lost in their own apartments if you turned out the lights. Everyone will be relying on you to help them during your wedding weekend if you haven't designated somebody else as the point person.