How to Choose a Wedding Planner for Your Destination Wedding

Should you go with someone who's close to home or opt for an expert on the ground?

Updated 03/18/17

Photo by Molly Jo Collection

If you're having a destination wedding and you want to hire a wedding planner, you and your fiancé have probably debated whether to use a "destination planner" from your own area or to seek out an experienced planner based at your actual destination.

Lots of brides and grooms like to use a known quantity, so to speak. They prefer to hire a wedding planner who has been referred by a friend who had a successful wedding put together by that person. Which makes total sense. Unless, of course, the planner you're considering has never been to the wedding destinations you're considering.

There are lots of destination wedding planners based in the continental United States who have extensive experience in numerous popular wedding destinations. The trick is finding one near you who actually has experience working in the locale where you plan to get married. Otherwise, you're creating a "blind leading the blind" kind of situation. The planner is going to have to research the answers to all of your questions about planning a wedding there. And usually, the clients are paying for the planner's time when she does the research.

There's a good argument for each scenario, so let's compare:

The Advantage of a Wedding Planner Based Near Your Hometown

  • You'll probably meet your planner face to face before you hire her. You'll get to see whether you two hit it off, and you'll have the opportunity to reconsider your decision if you're not impressed.

Lots of brides and grooms complain about dealing with destination wedding vendors, especially overseas and in the islands, because they're not happy with the response time to their phone calls and emails. "Island time" isn't just an expression. It's a way of life. Most wedding planners based in the States are used to dealing with type-A bride personalities, and they're much more likely to respond to you quickly. Keep in mind, however, that island vendors won't respond to a wedding planner they don't know any faster than they would have responded to you.

So you'll be able to complain to your planner about the delays, but it's unlikely she'll actually be able to do anything about the time lag.

You'll be able to sit down with your wedding planner as many times as your planning contract permits. You can bring her wedding dress shopping, have her help you with your invitations, and spend countless hours discussing the place-card chart with her.

The Advantage of a Wedding Planner Based at Your Wedding Destination

  • There's no guesswork involved when it comes to choosing wedding vendors at your destination because an experienced planner will already have a thoroughly vetted list for you to choose from when you're booking your music, photography, catering, etc.
  • You'll pay for a lot less for planning time with an event coordinator who regularly works with your destination. There's no research required, unless you've found something new you want her to check out in person for you.
  • Local wedding planners know the best attractions, activities, and accommodations to recommend to your wedding guests. Unless an out-of-town planner has spent significant time and planned several weddings at a destination, there's no possible way she'll have the same sort of inside track.
  • A planner who works most of the time where you're getting married will have access to discounts on products and services that an out-of-town wedding planner will not.
  • Because they've probably planned multiple events at your specific venue, they know from experience all the potential bugaboos of the property. They know where you can, and where you cannot, hang Chinese lanterns, for example. They'll be able to take one look at the "inspiration pics" you've sent them via Pinterest and tell you if what you have in mind is even possible at your venue. In the Caribbean, for example, most venues are made of concrete or stucco, and you cannot nail anything into the facade to anchor your decor. Unless you have a tent, there's nothing to hook the Chinese lanterns on to suspend them over your dinner tables or dance floor.

    Wedding planners experienced with your destination know all the ins and outs of securing permits to get married on a particular beach, the rules of having a bonfire, and how to go about getting permission for a ceremony at a history landmark like a fort or a lighthouse. While an out-of-town planner can certainly do the research and figure these things out (assuming she speaks the local language), she's going to spend a lot of your time and money getting the answers to those questions.

    It's also important to find out, for comparison's sake, what bringing your wedding planner to your destination for your wedding weekend will cost and if the planner will require an advance planning trip (on your tab, of course). Ask how many of her staff will be traveling with her, how many nights they need to be there, and what the cost will be for their stay. Learn if you'll also be paying a per diem rate for the food and drinks while they're there. It can add up to quite a chunk of change if the planner from home doesn’t have the contacts on the island to execute the wedding and needs to bring her own staff.

    When you choose a wedding planner based where you're getting married, those costs aren't even a consideration, because they're already there.

    Sandy Malone is the owner of Sandy Malone Weddings & Events and author of How to Plan Your Own Destination Wedding: Do-It-Yourself Tips from an Experienced Professional. Sandy is the star of TLC's reality show Wedding Island, about her destination wedding planning company, Weddings in Vieques.

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