Destination vs Local

Deciding whether to hold a destination or local wedding can be a tough challenge for even the most decisive couples. There are countless variables to consider, and the typical trade-offs are hard to quantify and compare. So how can couples cut through the confusion and figure out what’s truly right for them? The answer is simple: by thinking about it not as an evaluation between ‘destination versus local’, but, rather one of ‘experience versus effort.’


“Couples should not think about it as a choice between destination versus local, but, rather a choice between experience versus effort.”

Every wedding comes down to a delicate balancing act between the experience provided and the effort (including cost) required from both the couple and guests. Many times in life, in order to extract a greater experience we must invest greater effort. Balancing these two opposing forces of experience and effort/cost is what your wedding location selection process is really all about. And if you manage to strike the right balance, irrespective of how far away that location may be or how much you and your guests spend, you will achieve a successful result.

Think about it like this: the more effort (usually approximated by time and cost) you require from yourself and your guests, the more experience you need to deliver, and visa versa.

The greatest drivers of a rich wedding experience are events and activities. The more events and activities offered throughout the wedding, the more the guests and the engaged couple will feel a sense of engagement and satisfaction with the experience in general. That is not to say that guests need to be bused around from one activity to the next for days on end at the couple’s expense. In fact, many wedding goers cite planned downtime such as a pool day as one of the most enjoyable moments during any long wedding weekend. The point is not to pack in events and activities in a forced manner, the point is to provide a roadmap for guests that supports their own pace while fostering connections and experiences along the way. The typical destination wedding can be an effective way to capture a captive audience of vacation-mode adventure-seekers ripe for new experiences and deep connections.

On the flip side of the coin, the primary drivers of effort are distance and cost. Travel time and travel logistics can add layers of complication to your planning, especially when international travel is involved. The more variables introduced into the equation, such as layovers, multiple forms of transit, and remote planning, the greater the odds that something will go wrong. Of course, in the high-stakes and complicated world of weddings, things will go wrong. Issues are not fun when they happen but they are usually not as bad as they initially seem, and almost nothing can ruin a wedding if the bride and groom bring bright spirits on their special day. Opting for a local-style wedding, though, one that the bride and groom can manage more comfortably and the majority of the guests can drive or taxi in for the day or night can help reduce effort, stress and cost for the guests and the hosts alike, and can be a more palatable option for those who don’t love surprises.

These considerations can be summarized in a simple matrix illustrating the trade-offs between experience and effort. This is where our loose definitions of ‘local’ and ‘destination’ typically come into play, with local more commonly associated with lower effort (particularly for guests) and destination associated with higher experience but also higher effort. It’s important to note that one is not better than the other – if your wedding happens to fall anywhere within the green quadrants, you’ve achieved a successful event, irrespective of how proximate or expensive your wedding might be.

The amount of experience and effort associated with a wedding also has a big impact on the most important of wedding factors: the guest list. The guest list behaves in a largely predictable way: the more difficult it is for guests to attend, the fewer will. This can have both positive and negative consequences depending on the relationship with the declining guest and the types of invitees. For example, if the bride and groom (or their parents) are inviting a large number of acquaintances out of courtesy, the couple may not be too disappointed to see those invitees decline the invitation. After all, fewer guests means lower cost as there are fewer people to feed, transport, etc., and may also result in a more curated selection of highly-enthused guests – an effective win-win. Unfortunately, while many effort-induced guest declines might be welcomed, there will always be important casualties as many couple’s often wrestle with the choice between their preferred destination wedding location and the attendance of an important loved one who can’t travel such as a close grandparent.

A local wedding may seem like a more cost-effective option for the bride and groom, but it is not always the case as guest count is normally the single-greatest driver of wedding cost. So, if 200 guests would turnout for a local wedding and only 100 guests would turnout for a destination wedding, the destination wedding could very likely be the cheaper option for the hosts, even after accounting for personal travel and lodging expenses and other events and activities such as a Welcome Dinner.

As one might expect for any decision that affects the pocketbooks of others, couples also cite feeling a sense of guilt for burdening guests with the time and expense of a high-effort wedding. Fortunately, guilt does not have to be a part of the consideration set. If the couple has done their part by appropriately balancing the high-effort with high-experience, then there is no cause for any guilt – the guests who value the experience offered relative to the effort and cost required will attend and the ones who don’t won’t.

The best advice any wedded couple-to-be can receive is to plan the wedding that works for them, and not be swayed by others to go against their instincts. It is impossible to accommodate and please everyone, so couples who are able to block out the noise and listen to themselves will feel a much greater sense of satisfaction than they will by listening to everyone else’s vision of their special day.

Below, we’ve outlined the four most common categories of weddings, along with where they typically fall within the Experience-Effort Matrix and other tips on how to maximize the experience and minimize the effort and cost for your wedding, irrespective of where you decide to have it or how much you decide to spend.

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Staying local? Consider these 5 tips to maximize your wedding experience:

  • Stay Onsite. Foster interactions and connections among the wedding party at every turn by hosting the wedding at a hotel where you can stay onsite and invite everyone, including your fellow locals. Negotiate a discounted ‘courtesy’ room block (non-mandatory with preferred rates) and convince all your friends to spend a long weekend together.
  • Make it Longer. Spread the wedding activities, and love, over 2-3 days and nights.
  • Captivate the Audience. Find a hotel venue that is just the right size – big enough to accommodate anyone who wants to be onsite and small enough so that it feels like your own private compound.
  • Do More. Arrange for 3 or more scheduled activities over the course of the wedding, including a welcome dinner, a welcoming leisure activity such as a pool party, and a celebratory post-reception brunch.
  • Go Big. Find a venue where you can celebrate with your guests late into the night (or early into the morning) by selecting a venue that offers late curfew options or line-up arrangements to meet at the local hotspot or Airbnb afterparty.

Destination or bust. Implement these 5 tips to minimize the effort and cost of your destination wedding:

  • Fly Direct. If you do go the destination route, consider reducing travel time and cost by narrowing your options to a location where most of your guests can fly direct.
  • Shoulder the Season. There is always a special window in every destination, typically within the shoulder seasons, when the weather stays nice, the crowds go home, and the prices calm down.
  • Have a Plan. Spell out the entire wedding plan, even including periods of ‘free-time’, to make it easy on your guests. (But don’t go overboard! Stick with essential facts arranged by date and time.)
  • Don’t Fuss. The destination welcome dinner is a must, but don’t make a fuss. Get creative – host it at one of the Airbnb’s in your wedding party and cater in tacos and beer, or head into town for an authentic local dive offering good food, fun vibes, and reasonable prices.
  • Low-cost, High-experience Activities. On the day before the wedding, make arrangements for an early-morning activity (some low-cost options could include yoga and meditation class or a local hike) followed by a scheduled leisure activity such as a ‘pool day’. This will deliver a full day of planned activities, experiences, and connections at almost no cost to the bride and groom.