Here's What a Destination Wedding Looks Like in 2023
If you have a serious case of wanderlust, you might consider planning a destination wedding. Given that marriage trends are constantly evolving, the definition of a destination wedding has taken on a totally new meaning over the last few years. If you find yourself wondering, “What is a destination wedding, exactly?” we’ve got the answer—and no, it’s not limited to a tropical beachfront ceremony or a remote European elopement. According to The Knot 2022 Real Weddings Study, which surveyed nearly 12,000 recently married couples, destination weddings are somewhat common today. In fact, you might have planned a destination wedding without even realizing it.
What Is a Destination Wedding?
It’s nearly impossible to create one, concise destination wedding definition, because it looks different for every couple. Traditionally, though, a destination wedding is a ceremony that’s held outside of the couple’s hometown, which requires travel for most (if not all) of those involved. These weddings are commonly associated with picturesque locations, like the South of France or Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. In 2022, 18% of couples hosted a destination wedding, proving that they’re a great alternative to a traditional ceremony close to home. Of those who planned a destination wedding, though, only 15% said they would consider the location to be tropical—and 9% said it was in a different country. This indicates that the majority of destination weddings today are actually domestic destination weddings—or, as we like to call them, “domestination weddings.”
What is the Domestination Wedding Trend?
With plenty of charming destination wedding venues throughout the United States, it’s not surprising that domestination weddings are popular—plus, it’s often much easier to obtain a marriage license within the US than it would be abroad.
Experts also say that COVID-related challenges couples have faced since 2020 helped expedite the popularity of domestic destination weddings. “The pandemic was a catalyst to spark the ‘domestination‘ wedding trend since people did not, or could not, fly,” says Melinda Redling, Director of Wedding Sales at Nemacolin, a luxury resort property outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “Couples chose beautiful destinations within their drive market that offered a complete getaway for their guests. As we leave the pandemic behind, this wedding trend has continued to gain momentum, becoming more popular than ever.”
Why Do Couples Like Destination Weddings in the US?
Of those who hosted a destination wedding in 2022, 59% picked the location because it was interesting. Just over half of all respondents (55%) selected the venue for its significance to them or their partner, and 19% hosted their loved ones at a venue that was not in their hometown or in the city where they currently live. Over 80% of couples confirmed that they stayed overnight at their location, as did the majority of their guest list. Additionally, 28% of couples had to fly to their wedding destination, meaning their guests likely did as well. This factors into the average cost of being a wedding guest, which fluctuates year over year. Our data finds that the average guest spend for those who traveled in some capacity, either by driving or flying, ranges between $600 and $1,300.
Experts predict that the popularity of destination weddings in the US may continue to rise, due to a variety of factors that we break down below.
Travel Is Largely Back to Normal in the US
While the pandemic made destination wedding planning a bit more complicated over the last few years, the rate of destination weddings—especially those that took place within the United States—remained somewhat steady. In 2019, 21% of couples classified their big day as a destination wedding, just slightly higher than 2022’s rate. We anticipate that given the current travel boom (and many people’s eagerness for a getaway), the rate of destination weddings, both domestic and international, will continue to rise in 2023 and into 2024.
Now that travelers have a grasp on health and safety guidelines in the US, it’s easier to plan accordingly. “Couples have a sense of confidence when traveling in the United States,” says Elisse Peck, Director of Catering Sales at Silverado Resort in Napa Valley, California, which she says largely attracts to-be-weds from all over the West Coast, particularly the Bay Area. “Whether they’re coming in by car or a plane ride, they understand the rules in place.”
Domestic Destination Wedding Locations Offer Tailored Guest Experiences
Perhaps one major reason that domestination weddings are becoming increasingly more appealing to couples is their ability to provide guests with unique, tailored experiences. While destination weddings do require guests to spend time and money to get to the chosen location, couples could curate thoughtful weekend experiences that make travel worth the effort. “Couples are prioritizing elevated guest experiences and moving away from the traditional norms of a single-day event,” explains Suzanne Thibeault, a wedding specialist for Alexandria, Virginia’s tourism bureau. “What was once your special ‘day’ is quickly becoming a weekend experience reflective of each couple’s personality. The goal is to strike a balance, allowing the unique destination to speak for itself while convening friends and family for organized activities nodding to the couple’s passions and core values.”
Domestination Weddings May Offer More Flexibility Within a Budget
When it comes to the pros and cons of hosting a destination wedding, it’s imperative to evaluate the cost, as this may be a deciding factor for some couples. While the average cost of a wedding in the US is $30,000, the average spend for a destination celebration is higher, at $35,600. However, since the guest count tends to be lower at destination weddings, couples are spending more per wedding guest when hosting a destination event. By investing in a stellar wedding venue with incredible views, couples may be able to inadvertently save money on their decor. After all, you won’t need as many accents with a stunning backdrop that takes center stage. “A great setting sets the mood for everything,” notes Camila Chamorro, Market Director of Catering Sales at Ritz Carlton Bal Harbour in Miami, Florida. “If you have a stunning venue, you may ultimately spend less money on additional decor and ambiance.”
Plus, booking an all-inclusive wedding package at a destination resort may include services and perks you wouldn’t receive at a traditional venue. And for those looking to embark on a “mini-moon” right after saying “I do,” it’s easier to maximize your travel expenses by staying at the property for a few extra nights.
What are the Most Popular International Destination Wedding Locations for 2023?
While domestination celebrations do account for the majority of destination weddings, international soirées are still highly sought-after. Of those who hosted a destination wedding, nearly one in five couples reported that they traveled over 120 miles to their location. Here are some of the most popular international destination wedding locations of 2023, based on our data.
The Knot 2022 Real Weddings Study found that Mexico was the most popular location for an international destination wedding, with 44% of respondents saying they hosted their nuptials in the Mexico/Baja region. This likely won’t come as a surprise—after all, when you imagine a destination wedding, you probably envision crystal clear blue water, white sandy beaches, and palm trees galore…all of which you can find on the vibrant shores of Mexico.
Our data indicates that Europe was the second-most popular international destination wedding location in 2022. We found that 20% of respondents jetted off to countries like Italy, Greece and France to tie the knot. From the rolling hills of Tuscany to the lush lavender fields of Provence and the coastal town of Porto, Europe is home to so many up-and-coming destination wedding locations—and we predict their popularity will only continue to rise.
The Caribbean is also a beloved place for jet setters to marry abroad, as 18% of our survey respondents said they chose these islands as their destination wedding location. In addition to their scenic views and picturesque coastlines, part of the reason islands like Bermuda, Jamaica and the Bahamas are so appealing may be thanks to their extensive destination wedding packages, which make it easy to get hitched and enjoy a bucket list vacation at the same time.
Rounding out our list of the most popular international destination wedding locations is Costa Rica. According to our data, this rugged country—along with other Central American hotspots like Belize, Brazil and Argentina—was home to 6% of international destination weddings in 2022. Brimming with historical architecture, sweeping coastlines and a diverse cuisine scene, a Central or South American wedding would certainly be one to remember.