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Destination “I Do”

One of my childhood friends is getting married in Jamaica later this month.  She’ll be packing her swimsuit and sleeveless wedding gown after weeks of record lows and snow days here in Texas.  She picked Jamaica because it tends to be about 10 degrees warmer in February than the Bahamas, and she’s not alone.

According to Susan Breslow Sardone, author of Destination Weddings For Dummies, 9 out of 10 couples say weather is a key factor in selecting a location.  Shane McMurray of The Wedding Report notes that couples from colder climates are more likely to have destination weddings, with South and North Dakota at the top of the list (can we really blame them?).

Google search statistics agree with the climate connection.  Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia lead in U.S. searches for “destination wedding.”   (When expanding to global searches, Canada trumps all other countries.)  Searches tend to peak in January, not surprisingly since 15% of proposals occur in December.  And those new brides-to-be in Milwaukee can’t help but notice that it’s 25 outside in Wisconsin while it’s 80 in the Virgin Islands.

Of the various industries I’ve researched, wedding professionals have undoubtedly been the most responsive.  But they don’t all agree on the numbers or trends for destination weddings.  Richard Markel, President of the Association for Wedding Professionals International, pointed me to the U.S. Library of Congress page on the business of weddings, which explains that hard data in the world of weddings are almost nonexistent since the industry is made up of multiple small businesses (caterers, photographers, DJs, etc.) who often serve both wedding and non-wedding clients, may moonlight part-time, and rarely make SEC filings.

That said, estimates for destination weddings range from 16% of marriages to only 8%.  The Wedding Report notes that: 

While couples spend roughly 64% less on a destination wedding, high travel cost (lead by high fuel prices) and a tough economy has caused the number of destination weddings to decline by 33% from 2008 to 2009. Of particular note, early 2008 numbers indicated that destination weddings could be as high as 20%; however, tougher times caused this to slip to 12%.

In 2009, couples will spend $1.39 billion on destination weddings with 176,000 (8%) weddings and an average cost per wedding of $7,920. McMurray wrote that he doesn’t expect the destination wedding market to grow much, if at all.

Similarly, estimates for the number of guests vary widely.  The Wedding Report records an average of 74 guests per destination wedding in 2009, while a survey by Destination Weddings magazine found that the average number of guests was 48, around a third the size of the average traditional wedding.  DestinationWeddings.com suggests a number in the mid-20s.  My friend and her fiancé are going alone.

Markel, of the Association for Wedding Professionals International, says that the number of guests for his destination weddings clients is declining.  Nonetheless, he expects that: “We will continue to see growth in [destination weddings] for a few reasons. The cost factor and the Internet. It usually will cost the bride less to have a destination wedding. As an example, Mexican Peso, valued at 1/12 of the dollar. The same food she would have at her wedding will cost less… [and] because it is away, fewer guests will attend.”

As for the internet?  The Google Trends data indicate that searches grew 17% in 2007, but the rate slowed to 4% growth in 2008 and 1% growth in 2009, followed at last by a decline of 4% in 2010.  Searches in January 2011 have slipped 20% compared to January 2010.

Looks like those brides in South Dakota may be sticking with shawls and space heaters.

Posted in Travel, Various.