Looking After your Destination Wedding Guests

18 June, 2014

I think it’s safe to say that every bride wants her guests to have an incredible time at the wedding.  Why else would we spend so much time pouring over every detail of the decor, the food, the entertainment, the venue etc. etc?  Destination weddings carry a much bigger responsibility however and it’s really important to acknowledge not only the expense that people are going to in order to travel to your wedding, but the other sacrifices they may be making to be there.  They may be using their entire quota of annual leave to attend your wedding, or it could mean holidaying in a location that they wouldn’t necessarily choose themselves, or perhaps spending their vacation with a group of people they’ve never met.  It’s also important to realise that, while close friends and family are generally more than happy to make some sacrifices to be there, your best friend’s ‘plus one’ may not feel quite so motivated.  From my own experience, I can tell you that exchanging our vows in a spectacular setting was one of the most incredible things I have ever done.  Having our family and friends there to witness it, and knowing how far they had come to be there with us, just elevated it to another level entirely.


Destination Wedding Welcome Cruise in Santorini by Photographer Michael Renga


We actually had quite a small group of family and close friends at our Icehotel wedding five years ago, and I have to confess that our ‘program of events’ was a reasonably haphazard affair consisting of ‘welcome drinks’ at a bar in Stockholm arranged half an hour in advance by text message, and a “who wants to come on a dogsled??” tour the day before the wedding.  Our guests were fantastic,  everyone went with the flow and there was a really good mix of spending time together and each of us doing our own thing as well.  In the years since, I’ve had the chance to attend a couple of destination weddings as a guest and – via this blog – to observe many, many more.  I’ve come to the realisation that, while it’s generally presumed that a wedding is all about the bride, destination weddings are actually far more about the group of people present.  When your guests are going to great lengths – and great distances – to be a part of your wedding day, it’s so important to step back and view the event through their eyes, and not just your own.  Your guests are going to be such an integral part of your destination wedding, so it’s essential  to consider them every step of the way.  Here’s a few thoughts on how to make sure that your guests are looked after, and to make sure that their experience is as incredible as your own.


Destination Wedding Welcome Cruise in Santorini by Photographer Michael Renga


Negotiate Discounted Rates

Destination weddings are big business and typically worth a tidy sum to your chosen venue.  Depending on the location, size of your group, alternative options nearby and time of year, you could be in a strong position to secure a group discount, so it pays to at least ask the question!  Also, wherever possible, try to chose a location that offers a variety of accommodation types and room rates so that your guests feel they have some control over their choice of accommodation.  Some might love the opportunity to splash out, while others will appreciate a more affordable option.



There’s nothing worse that stepping out of an unfamiliar airport and being accosted by a dozen hawkers while you simultaneously try to hang onto your bags, hail a cab, figure out where you’re going and remember if one thousand local dollars converts to five US dollars or five hundred??  If airport transfers are not included in the room rate, it can be a nice gesture to arrange this for your guests.  Depending on the destination and the distance involved, this can be a relatively small expense that your guests will really appreciate.  Alternatively, researching the various options and letting your guests know in advance which is the safest/cheapest/fastest alternative, or how much a standard cab fare to the hotel is, will also be appreciated.


Destination Wedding Welcome Cruise in Santorini by Photographer Michael Renga


Welcome Pack

Not only is this a nice gesture and a way to thank your guests for travelling to your wedding, it’s an opportunity to make their time as enjoyable as possible by including a few practical items as well as some information or advice on the destination and any events that you have planned.  It pays to remember that your guests may be visiting an unfamiliar location, and because you will be making a lot of decisions on their behalf such as where they stay and how they will spend their time, it’s fair to assume they might not research the destination as much as they would if choosing it themselves.  A local map or phrase book is a good addition to your welcome pack, along with lots of information on the local area and any attractions, restaurants or shopping areas.  A schedule means that they can plan their time, and some local food or wine is a great way to get everyone in holiday mode!  A hand written note is a lovely touch also.


Welcome Function

This is a chance to kick off the celebrations and for everyone to mingle and meet each other ahead of the wedding.  It can be as low key or as extravagant as you like, but if you’re planning a function soon after your guests arrive, it’s a good idea to host something onsite as opposed to a boat cruise or excursion to the next town.  This gives any jetlagged guests a chance to excuse themselves early if they need to.


Destination Wedding Welcome Cruise in Santorini by Photographer Michael Renga


Local Tour or Activity

It’s custom to host at least one group tour or excursion in addition to a welcome function, but of course this depends on the size of your group and the length of time that your guests are staying.  You’ll want to ensure that it’s something all of your guests will enjoy so if you have a broad range of ages or tastes, a few smaller, optional activities might be more enjoyable that one large event that your guests might feel obligated to attend.  If you’re arranging a spa day or a shopping trip for the ladies, consider arranging a golf game or some water sports for the guys at the same time.  A number of your guests will probably be partners of friends or workmates who don’t necessarily know anyone else, so giving them the chance to mingle with the others will be appreciated, and it means they aren’t left at a loose end while their other half is hanging out with the girls or boys.  On a final note, don’t be afraid to ask your venue if there’s anything they can offer you in terms of tours or activities for the group.  A friend who married in Thailand was given the use of a beautiful big boat for all 40 guests the day after the wedding.  It was a fantastic way to cap off the trip, and it cost the couple absolutely nothing.


Don’t Over Schedule

Everyone has their own idea of what constitutes a great holiday, and for some, that means laying on a sun lounge for three days straight.  While it’s nice to feel that you’re keeping your guests entertained, it’s important to factor in free time as well.  After all, you don’t want your guests so exhausted by your wedding day that everyone wants to go to bed at 9:00pm!  Chances are you’re all going to be staying in or around the same location anyway, and there’s actually something nice about bumping into different people over breakfast or by the pool, instead of having to meet somewhere at a certain time for prearranged catch up.


Destination Wedding Welcome Cruise in Santorini by Photographer Michael Renga


Dietary Preferences

It goes without saying that you need to cater for any guests with allergies or intolerances, but it’s also important to understand that not everyone will want to embrace the local cuisine.  Some might not like spicy food, others may be ultra healthy eaters and some people are just plain fussy.  The obvious reason to travel is to experience new things, and for me, that means food!  When we married at the Icehotel five years ago, I was really keen to have a traditional menu that featured local dishes, and in Lapland, that dish is reindeer.  There were a few different menus to choose from, and I always remember one that consisted basically of beef and three veg, followed by vanilla ice cream.  I could never understand why you would travel all the way to the North Pole to eat that, but I guess what it shows is that some guests really don’t want to step outside of their comfort zone and you do need to cater for that.  I made sure to ask all of my guests beforehand if they were happy to try reindeer or if they’d prefer something else, and as it turned out, everyone was on board.  By the way, Rudolph was delicious!


Image Credits: Welcome cruise in Santorini by Michael Renga