3 Things Couples Must Do for Destination Wedding Guests

06/13/2016 03:29 pm ET Updated Jun 13, 2017

Back in the days when parents paid for everything at weddings, brides and grooms were sometimes accused of padding their guest lists so they'd receive more gifts from more people. That happens less and less as wedding couples accept responsibility for the wedding tab. And almost never for a destination wedding.

Many engaged couples view destination weddings as an opportunity to cut the guest list by a lot, because not everybody they know will expect to be invited. And not everybody they invite will have the time or money to accept the invitation, so they can plan the wedding of their dreams someplace exotic without breaking the bank.

There's a catch, though. When you have a destination wedding, you actually have to spend some real facetime with the guests who have travelled so far to celebrate your big day. It's not like a traditional wedding in your hometown, where you can get away with chatting to every guest for just a couple of minutes at the wedding reception, and have fulfilled your social obligation as the guests of honor. When you ask people to travel a great distance for your destination wedding weekend, you have to pay attention to them.

True Horrible Story: I recently got an email from a very disappointed mother of the groom who had just returned from her son's destination wedding in Mexico. She and the groom's father had spent more than $4,000 on travel and accommodations to the resort that was the wedding venue, and looked forward to getting to know the bride's family better at all of the other special events and activities that were planned for the group on the wedding compound. They didn't know anybody else who had been invited, but were looking forward to meeting the groom's friends they had heard so much about.

Unfortunately, the wedding weekend was badly planned. There were LOTS of changes - new times, new locations, cancelled events - and more than once, the parents of the groom found themselves all alone in a designated location, waiting for the rest of the group, who never showed up.

It turns out the bride and groom were communicating all of the last-minute changes to their guests via text message, and his parents' cell phones didn't have an international plan. With everything scheduled for inside the resort that weekend, they didn't think they would need to have cell phone service. Yes, there are still people in the world who don't check their messages and social media all day long.

This mother of the groom was very hurt, and felt so left out of the weekend because of the way things were handled. She said they heard about several groups of guests going on excursions with the bride and groom, but nobody invited them to join in the fun. The groom was insistent, during the wedding planning, that he and the bride would be spending their honeymoon time alone, after the wedding. But then his parents kept running into the newly married couple partying it up with their besties and the bride's family.

"Why did they even invite us if they didn't want to see us?" she asked me.

That's a tough one to answer without sounding mean. Obviously, they invited you because you are the groom's parents. You get an automatic invitation. But for something as long and involved as a destination wedding in another country, you cannot expect any of your guests to travel that far and not spend any time with them. Family dynamics and drama aside, what this bride and groom did to his parents was just plain rude.

There are three things you must do to take care of the guests you've asked to travel so far for your destination wedding:

  1. Have a way to communicate with all of your guests during the wedding weekend. You cannot expect everyone to have phone and data service in another country, and older folks don't check their social media for important information like where the rehearsal dinner has been moved to. When we have to change something at a wedding I've planned, we try to contact each guest individually. If they're all staying at the same resort, we plaster the place with signs announcing the change of venue just in case they didn't check their messages. It's such a laborious process that most wedding couples do everything possible to avoid having to make a change that must be communicated to the whole group. It's always better to stick with the printed schedule you provided in their welcome packet so people don't get confused.

  • Invite all of your guests to participate in all of your events. It's rude to exclude anyone from anything at a destination wedding because you're leaving some of your guests to fend for themselves, and you may be taking away the only other people they know at the destination. For at home weddings, wedding etiquette says the rehearsal dinner must include the wedding party, immediate family, and out-of-town guests. Every invitee is an out-of-town guests at a destination wedding. Therefore, everybody should be included. The only exception to the rule would be a very small, immediate-family-only brunch or luncheon, and those events shouldn't be publicized so that others feel left out.
  • Make sure you spend time with all of your guests during the wedding weekend. It's natural to want to hang out with your friends, but usually, the friends attending live near you at home, and you see them all the time. While you may not be as close to the relatives who are with you, or to your parents' friends who have come, that doesn't mean you can simply blow them off. Giving them only two minutes of your time - like you might at a reception back home - is an unacceptable way to acknowledge the attendance of people who obviously care enough about you to have traveled and spent a lot of money to attend your big day.
  • While the groom gets the bulk of the blame for failing to take care of his parents, the bride is on the hook here too, for the way this particular mother of the groom was treated during her wedding weekend. She had looked forward to getting to know her soon-to-be daughter in law better during the weekend, and instead she was ignored. That's left a nasty taste in her mouth. And whatever the problem is that has prevented their family from being close in the past, it's unlikely they did anything to repair the damage at the wedding. In fact, the total disregard for his parents' feelings left things in a shambles, far worse than before the trip.

    Weddings are emotional experiences. When there's a rift in the family, a destination wedding is a perfect opportunity to build a bridge and start over together. It's also an opportunity to make somebody feel ostracized and unloved, and widen the chasm in the relationship. The wedding couple holds all the power in this situation, as it's unlikely that anybody with manners would call them out for their lack of tact at their own wedding, regardless of how badly they behave.

    As a bride or groom, it's your responsibility to think ahead about ways to make everybody you're inviting feel included, even if it's somebody you HAD to invite. You don't have to sit next to someone all weekend to be polite, just treat them with the respect they deserve after having traveled to attend your big day.

    Until next time, happy wedding planning from Sandy Malone Weddings & Events!