Destination weddings are a great options for couples of all budgets and backgrounds, but just what goes in to planning one of these long-distance events? We caught up with Claire Baxter, a destination wedding planner at The Wedding Company with years of experience in the tourism and hospitality industry around Ireland and Scotland.

If anyone can tell us what really goes into planning a destination wedding, it’s Claire. Read on to hear her advice for couples, destination or otherwise.

Tell us a bit about yourself and The Wedding Company. How did you get involved in planning destination weddings?

I worked throughout university in the Edinburgh Tourist Information Office, and when I finished my degree, I spent two years at VisitScotland, where I worked on a number of tourism-related events such as gala dinners, road shows and trade fairs. I then moved into a career working at various venues as an events coordinator and began to really love coordinating weddings.

After moving to Ireland about eight years ago, I finally decided to take the plunge into starting my own company and thought it would be a great idea to take my two areas of expertise – tourism and event management – and bring them together by focusing on destination weddings across Ireland and Scotland. The Wedding Company focuses on high-end, unique venues – such as Titanic Belfast, where you can get married on a replica of the ship’s staircase, or Titanic Resort, the world’s oldest golf resort – so the venue costs are often quite high. We do tend to work with couples with bigger budgets, but that’s not to say we can’t do the less costly events, too!

Titanic Belfast

What is the average budget for a destination wedding in Ireland? Do you know how the cost would compare to a destination wedding elsewhere?

A recent survey set the average cost of a wedding in Ireland at around 23,000 euros (or around 18,000 pounds – fairly similar to the U.S. average of $30,000). I find that the budget for a destination wedding can significantly vary from that though (in both directions!). Obviously, you have to account for travel costs, but these can be offset by savings elsewhere.

I know that there are places around Europe, like the south of Spain, that are popular with U.K. couples as you are (almost!) guaranteed sunshine, and the cost can be lower than weddings in the U.K. But I guess, as with all destinations, it depends on the venue you pick and how extravagant you want your day to be.

How can having a destination wedding lower a couple’s overall wedding costs? Have you noticed changes in couples’ wedding spending habits?

The easiest way to lower your costs when having a destination wedding is by choosing to have it on an off-peak day. If you and your guests are flying to another country for your wedding, it is more likely that your guests will stay for a few days, which means there is no requirement for you to stick to a traditional weekend wedding day. By having your wedding on, for example, a Tuesday, you will be in a much better position to negotiate discounted venue hire and you should also be able to get more competitive rates from all of your other wedding suppliers. They will see it as an “extra” day’s work that they can fit in around their weekend bookings, so are often happy to offer big discounts to get the work.

Have you worked with any clients with exceptionally low budgets, perhaps $10,000 or less?

Since starting The Wedding Company, I haven’t – mainly because I’m not sure that it would be possible by the time you add on travel costs – however, when I worked for various venues across Scotland, I regularly worked with couples who had very tight budgets and again, their day was still perfect for them. I had one couple who opted not to have the traditional sit-down meal at all and just had a light buffet with sandwiches and snacks. It did seem strange to me when they chose that, but on the day, their guests didn’t mind at all and they saved a fortune on food!

I also worked with one couple who had a very low budget due to the groom being a self-employed TV and film director. He’s actually very successful now, but at the time, they had very little money. The bride found a stunning dress in an end of season sale and saved hundreds of pounds on that. They used all of the talents of their artistic friends to take the photos and the video so didn’t pay professionals for anything like that. They ordered “black taxis” from a local taxi firm as their wedding cars, meaning they only paid the standard taxi fare instead of wedding car costs. And they used their own iPod playlists for the music. Most importantly, their day was amazing and nobody would have wanted them to spend another penny!

What advice would you give brides and grooms who are considering a destination wedding? Any etiquette tips?

I think the most important piece of advice I could give is to not be offended when people you expect to come say that they can’t. A wedding in a country other than where you or your guests live [means] that, inevitably, a lot of people you invite won’t be able to come, and I find that almost every couple I work with is really disappointed with at least one of their guests not attending. That may [be] because they are too old to travel or because the cost is too high or because they simply don’t want to use up their leave on your wedding. I try to always get my couples to not take it to heart – it’s not personal and that person probably would have been there if the wedding had been local – but to remember all of the reasons why you chose to have a destination wedding and not let the absence of someone take away from the day.

It seems like a lot of destination brides and grooms worry about the guest list. Who is typically invited to a destination wedding? Who traditionally pays for what?

Again, it really depends on the couple. The average destination wedding has around 80 guests, but that varies hugely from couple to couple. Personally, I like the destination weddings where an open invitation is given to everyone the couple knows – “We’re getting married in a castle in Ireland on 20 July and anyone who wants to join us is invited” … that sort of thing. I’ve seen some really lovely weddings planned like that. Some couples choose to put together a guest list and pay the travel/accommodation of everyone who can come, but that is the exception rather than the rule. What tends to happen is that the couple pays for any immediate family and everyone else pays for their own travel and accommodation. Most guests end up extending their stay and making a holiday out of the trip, so they usually don’t mind paying their way.

How important is hiring a planner or day-of coordinator when trying to book a destination wedding? Can a planner or coordinator actually help a couple save money?

The definition of a destination wedding is when it is held in a place where neither the bride nor groom live, and so hiring a planner will certainly help you with all of the logistics of the day. Depending on how far away you live, a planner may be essential. Imagine trying to decide who to hire to do your hair on your wedding day when you live 4,000 miles away!

The Wedding Company focuses on clients living in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and so traveling back and forwards for [site visits], meetings with suppliers, etc. simply isn’t practical. Even if you plan one advance trip, it is advisable to hire a planner to organize and shortlist everything in advance so that when you arrive, you can simply be shown around the important places and meet the suppliers most likely to be suitable.

It’s also important to remember that the best suppliers aren’t necessarily the ones who are top of the list on a Google search. In my experience, the best suppliers are the ones who don’t need to worry about their Google rating or the number of Twitter followers they have – they get their business by being the best and through word of mouth. So, for a destination couple, these people can be very difficult to find, and by hiring a planner, you can be sure that the best supplier for you is selected. Although saving money may not be the primary reason for hiring a destination planner, you will usually find that they have already negotiated preferential rates that become available to you.

Do you have any final advice for brides and grooms on their big day?

It’s a cliché, I know, but the day will go past in a second. I may be biased, but hiring a planner will make sure that you don’t get too bogged down in the details and can enjoy the day. Every moment that you can spend enjoying yourself and remembering the day, rather than worrying about whether your photographer is on time or if the band has set up yet, will be worth its weight in gold.

And there you have it: your comprehensive guide to planning a destination in Ireland, Scotland and beyond. Stay tuned for more tips from our favorite wedding vendors, planners and real brides to make your big day memorable, enjoyable and beautiful.

Photo Credit: Titanic Belfast