Destination wedding on the beach
About one in four couples today opts for a destination wedding

Barefoot in the sand, the happy couple exchanges vows amid a small circle of loved ones. This intimate scene is what most people envision when they hear the phrase “destination wedding.”

In the luxury market, the term expands to include elaborate events for hundreds of people in every imaginable location from Italian olive groves to the African savanna.

Destination weddings – wherever they are – are a fast-growing niche. Read on to discover the 6 essentials of today’s upscale destination weddings.

Destination weddings are growing in popularity. reports that the destination wedding market accounts for $16 billion in annual spending. And according to a 2013 study by XO Group, destination weddings account for nearly one in four of all weddings, up from one in five in 2009. The average number of guests is 75, and the average budget $22,443.

destination wedding couple
Budgets for a luxury destination wedding can start around $500,000

But when Sarah Kerr, director of celebrations for a Virtuoso agency in New York, New York, plans a wedding, guest counts range from 150 to 350 and budgets start at $500,000. Kerr says this is still less than clients would spend locally: “It’s very costly to take a space that’s been used many times and make it your own. You don’t have to do that when the destination is your venue.”

“Everybody likes to get away,” adds Cynthia Dolbee, director of catering for Montage Laguna Beach in Orange County, California. “If you’re in the same place where you work, it’s hard to unplug and really enjoy the moment.”

Millennials are driving destination wedding demand.

Couples who opted for destination weddings in the past were often on a second marriage. But today Millennials, a generation passionate about travel, are increasingly choosing the destination wedding route. says that the average age of a destination bride today is 33, compared to the U.S. average of 28. Destination wedding couples also have high levels of education and income. says 70% have graduated college. And their average household income is $110,000.

destination wedding setting: istanbul
This exotic Istanbul setting is right in line with today’s destination wedding preferences

Couples want special, fun or exotic destination wedding locations.

The XO study found that couples who had a domestic destination wedding wanted a destination that was special to them as a couple. Their second reason was wanting a more intimate wedding with fewer guests; third was a special, fun or exotic locale.

Couples who had an international destination wedding said a special, fun or exotic locale was their top consideration. A more intimate wedding was #2, and a more cost-effective event was #3.

The hottest locales for destination weddings aren’t just sun and sand.

Beach locations are frequent destination wedding sites. The XO survey found that almost eight in 10 take place in the Caribbean, Mexico or Hawaii.

But couples are thinking more creatively about wedding sites these days. “Brides and grooms are starting to go more international and look at different settings,” observes Kathy Wilton, a Virtuoso travel advisor in Vancouver, B.C., Canada. She’s seeing interest in destinations such as New Zealand and Fiji.

According to the XO survey, destination weddings in Europe doubled between 2011 and 2013. Kerr worked on one memorable wedding in Puglia, Italy in a remote olive grove with huge trees creating a canopy overhead. The elaborate setting included lace tablecloths, sparkling crystal and enormous lanterns nestled inside ancient trees draped in wisteria. “When you walked in it was almost ethereal,” she remembers. “It was so beautiful.”

destination wedding party in Oslo
Couples are looking for different locations for destination weddings, like this bride and groom in Oslo

More guests are turning destination weddings into vacations.

It used to be that 25-30% of those invited to a destination wedding would decline. But Dolbee says 10% is more common now: “Attendees look forward to it. They make it their vacation.”

Destination weddings tend to be three-day events. Some couples want detailed itineraries that keep everybody together the whole time. But most prefer a relaxed atmosphere with optional activities. Those could include sightseeing, water activities or spa sessions.

Either way, local flavor is essential. “A lot of our couples like to incorporate mariachis, locally blown glass hearts, fire dancers, or colorful Mexican linens,” says Ximena Perez, director of romance at Las Ventanas Al Paraiso, A Rosewood Resort in San Jose Del Cabo, Mexico. “If they do a wedding weekend, they often have a Mexican fiesta one of the nights.”

Couples are thrilled with their destination wedding experiences.

The XO study found that more than 90% of couples were satisfied with their destination weddings. Their top ratings go to location, accommodations and atmosphere.

If you’re looking to plan your own destination wedding, Virtuoso has experienced specialists happy to help. Tap into their expertise to create your own event of a lifetime.


  1. One of the greatest wedding that we had in Italy is the wedding by Ritika e Rohan which was done in Egnatia FAsano Puglia a small village in south of Puglia-Italy for the cost of 10.000.000 dollar! Whit more than 800 gust. All the wedding was inspired by the Ancient Rome. Al the gust have arrived with almost 20 private jet. It was sad I could not be there!!!
    ALex Personal Assistant in Italy

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