Destination Venues

We pick Kelly Chandler’s brains on the trend towards destination weddings.

Wedding party gathered for a photo
Photo: Lucy Greenhill

What is a destination wedding?
A destination wedding is a wedding celebration that takes place in a location that’s quite far away from the couple’s home or location. There is no geographical limit but UK couples historically would define a destination wedding as going to popular travel destinations such as the Caribbean, France or Italy and a couple from Asia might describe themselves as having a destination wedding in London.

However in recent years a destination wedding has been applied more widely to the trend for more and more couples to pick a location and a venue within the UK, often somewhere rural, perhaps two to three hour’s drive from their home. This location is usually somewhere they have no connection to, in other words they didn’t grow up there, family don’t live there and they don’t reside or work there now. The location is purely chosen because it’s somewhere they love and want to celebrate their wedding in rather than because of any traditional wedding expectations.

What are the features of a destination wedding?
Wedding plans can vary hugely depending on the style and wishes of each couple but usually if a couple are choosing a destination wedding they are viewing it as a multi-day event – this is not an afternoon and evening party only but more likely something that will involve exclusive hire of a venue and space for at least some of the wedding party to stay for two to three nights or more.

It’s more viewed as a mini holiday in the same way as heading off to a holiday destination might be, but with the wedding itself at the heart of it. Destination weddings are often smaller in guest size than the average although this will depend on a lot of factors and isn’t always the case, especially if most guests are still travelling within the same country.

Guests attending a destination weddingHow has the trend for destination weddings changed and what are the drivers?
Destination weddings used to be more driven by access to better weather, being able to justify having a smaller guest list and not offending anybody (if going abroad). But over recent years there has been an increase in those couples who just want quality time somewhere beautiful, relaxing and very “them” to celebrate in their own style with nearest and dearest. This might be somewhere that doesn’t burden one side of the family who are local, but somewhere that everyone can share in a new experience and, in some cases, pitch in and help with the creation of all the wedding details.

The wish to be together for multiple days is driven, I believe, from our general separation in modern living – with couples and their friends and families often more likely to be geographically apart from each other because of work and lifestyle, the value of quality time that a wedding affords is even more special. Additionally, the idea of everyone pitching in to create the wedding, to “DIY it”, is very much in tune with the young millennial collaborative spirit, something not shared by older generations.

How has Covid impacted the trend?
I believe Covid has accelerated the trend. With a year of being deprived of almost all face to face quality time with loved ones and of the lack of holidays and celebratory experiences, the trend for UK destination weddings is set to explode, especially when you consider that, as I write in spring 2021, international travel and the overseas destination option is much more risky and slower to recover and the UK destination a more do-able option.

How can a venue adapt to become a destination?
Key to being a destination venue is having accommodation as part of the offering. That’s essential. You don’t have to have hundreds of rooms but if you’re looking to host weddings for say 60-80 guests then you need to have options thought through for 30-40 units or rooms, the majority of that onsite supplemented by other local options. That can also be temporary accommodation like bell tents and yurts (and the extension of permitted development for temporary structures to 56 days from 28 days for 2021 is a help).

But… accommodation itself does not create a destination that couples want to host their wedding at. You need to sell the experience of what they can do at your venue and in your local area and why they would want to spend two to three days entirely on your land and in your property. This is about putting your tourist hat on and thinking more in terms of how you would create a holiday experience. Whilst a wedding party will of course focus their stay on the wedding day, getting ready and dressing their venue spaces, they will also want other activities to be available, whether it’s sporting facilities, guided walks, a pre-wedding day pizza party, pampering or a post-wedding day pool party, for example.

Bedroom in holiday accommodationAre you competing with hotels?
In some respects yes in that hotels have the ready-made accommodation and facilities for dining and the like but in many ways no. Hotels often struggle to give pure exclusive use and privacy to wedding parties, certainly over multi-days because of the other commercial revenue they generate from their restaurant or leisure breaks. Privacy is highly valued by wedding couples and, for a multi-day event, independents will often have the edge over hotels unless the wedding budget is very high.

Is there room in the market for a ‘new’ kind of destination wedding venue?
If permitted development was extended to 56 days annually on an ongoing basis that would help sell future destination weddings, at least for the peak of summer. Properties that struggle with the accommodation aspect and that aren’t wanting to operate year round under a substantial full planning permission investment could then compete.

I would say that the openness of couples to consider small guest numbers this past year means that a lot more existing properties can feasibly become destination venues if they proactively seek it out and carefully build a destination focus and offering.

Any suggestions on how best to package a destination wedding for couples?
Always bear in mind that a couple who are not local are going to need help and support. They will want some of that help to be available remotely without multiple visits so you will need to embrace tech and virtual – a lot more natural to us all in 2021!

Having tried and tested suppliers who can work with you seamlessly on accommodation and catering/bar in particular will be very important. Catering and bar options should also extend to those pre and post days and meals, not just the main wedding meal. That’s not to say you have to incorporate all of those things into a package and it will depend on your ideal client and venue style; you could have more of a DIY vibe, in which case emphasise use of your kitchens, ease of food deliveries and the like. However, in general, where everyone is not local, destination couples and their families tend to need more support and “done for them” services as options.

Absolutely key for destination weddings is how you present your venue hire and accommodation. It’s quite unusual for a couple to pay for everyone’s accommodation for a multi-day wedding so even if you charge one overall venue hire fee, make it clear in all of your sales processes that part of that cost can be charged out to guests and how.

People gathered socialising in the kitchenDo destination weddings always have to be more expensive?
A destination wedding doesn’t have to entail more expense and there are ways of divvying up the costs in the way of presenting it more as a shared holiday rather than a wedding with one couple or family footing the bill. That will depend on a lot of factors.

What has to be carefully considered though is that a destination wedding is multi-day. Aside from the obvious additional travel costs for people to get there, this type of wedding involves bringing people together for much longer than a conventional wedding; ultimately people need feeding, watering, comfort and entertainment. Whilst this doesn’t have to be for every minute of the day, and certain parts of the stay can be “at leisure” for each guest, that needs to be planned out, made clear and communicated for a successful and happy time for all.

To put it bluntly you probably wouldn’t feel comfortable laying on just a hog roast and a couple of drinks when you’ve asked Simon and Karen to fork out £500 for accommodation and leave them with having to pay all their meals and drinks for three days! Unless this was made very clear to them from the start and the whole event had more of a “let’s have a holiday together” focus rather than “you’re invited to a wedding”.

How should you market your venue – what kind of couple can you expect?
Destination couples will vary of course as destinations vary but in general they will be bold, wanting to create something that’s very them, and wanting to look at ways to create a special and memorable wedding experience in your location, otherwise they could stay more local, do what other friends have done, follow more of a format and do a lot less work!

Couples are likely to want to know what others have done in your setting, what you’ve done before and want to listen to quirky touches you can help with to make their wedding unique, and make the best of what’s available locally (particularly food and drink) to celebrate the area they are in geographically. They are more likely to even search for their wedding venue not actually using the term ‘wedding venue’ but view the whole thing as a holiday so you may find them using terms like ‘party house’, ‘staycation’ or ‘private home for hire’.


About the Author

Kelly ChandlerKelly Chandler is passionate about supporting venue owners to develop and evolve their wedding offering as market conditions adapt and change. An in-depth knowledge of the destination market is just one area that Kelly brings to her bespoke consulting programmes for venues.

Kelly Chandler Wedding Consulting helps land and property owners thrive by generating profit from hosting weddings. Kelly and her team offer specialist private consulting and a range of training programmes focussed on creating spot-on wedding offerings, growing enquiries and resulting wedding sales.

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