Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Meet the Expert: Steve Kemble

In this week’s Meet the Expert column, we interview one of America’s top wedding planners and self-styled “America’s Sassiest Lifestyle Guru.” He’s hip, he’s funky and he’s none other than Steve Kemble. Steve is a star of several TV shows on the Style Network (Whose Wedding Is It Anyway and Married Away), We (Platinum Weddings, Married By the In-laws, and Bling on the Bride) and ABC (Extreme Makeover: Wedding Edition). He’s also the author of the Dash of Sass Blog (note: this isn’t totally wedding related).

What Trends do you see in destination weddings for 2009-2010?

The strongest trend that I am seeing in destination weddings is that couples are taking their guests' travel expenses more into consideration when selecting their destination. In years past, a couple would select a romantic and exotic destination that they had always wanted to go to, without giving much thought to how or if everyone else would be able to feasibly and economically get there. Given the current economic state of the world, I feel the trend of selecting a more budget (yet still romantic and exotic) conscious destination to travel to for all of the guests will continue to be a very strong trend.

How are the needs of engaged couples changed over time? What are they looking for now that they weren't looking for a year ago?

I feel couples today are planning their special day truly for themselves. In the past, couples were planning their weddings based more on family or cultural traditions and customs, than what they really desired. Today, couples are selecting arrangements for their wedding that truly represent themselves, versus doing what simply may be trendy or hip at the time, or related to family traditions.

If a couple is on the fence about having a destination wedding, why should they consider it?

Not to continue all the doom and gloom about the economy, yet a destination wedding can be a sound financial decision for a couple that is struggling with how they are going to pay for the wedding of their dreams...especially if they are in a big city! A destination wedding allows you to cut your guest list drastically. You can leave off a lot of business associates and friends of friends. A smaller guest list allows for a more lavish affair! Additionally, destination weddings are perfect for the couple who has family and friends scattered all over the country. If these people are going to have to travel to your wedding anyway, why not have them travel to a wonderful, fun and romantic destination to share in your big day!

What is the single biggest source of wedding drama that you see and how can couples minimize it in destination wedding planning?

When planning a destination wedding, the biggest source of drama I see is when couples select a destination they are not familiar with. As I tell all my couples, a destination wedding takes a tremendous amount of trust, or you will have an overwhelming amount of stress! To alleviate the stress, I encourage the couples to travel to the destination a minimum of one time and engage the services of, and trust a planner in the destination of their choice. In addition to having a planner in the locale of their wedding, I feel it is equally important to also have a planner to work with them at home. The advantages of having a planner in the destination are numerous. Most importantly they will help you with language and cultural barriers in addition to knowing the best vendors in the destination. Additionally, a planner in the destination will be able to help you with the best all inclusive rates at local hotel properties because you have to remember the local planner most likely plans numerous weddings at a hotel property or other venues in their home destination, whereas you are only planning your one wedding. Local planners are volume buyers and can get you the best price possible. Personally, I feel there are no disadvantages to engaging the services of a local planner in the wedding destination.

What is the most interesting and unique destination wedding you ever planned? What made it so memorable?

The most interesting and unique destination wedding I have ever planned was in Ireland. Not only is Ireland one of the most beautiful and romantic locations in the world, the couple had Irish ancestors so it made it even more special. What made the wedding so memorable was that the wedding was held in a historic castle. I actually stayed in the castle along with the couple (all in separate rooms of course!) for three days prior to the wedding. Is there anything that could be more romantic than getting married in a castle in Ireland! Additionally, the castle was located in a very small town and everyone in the community celebrated the wedding of this couple they did not even know! We went from pub to pub dancing and singing with all the locals, Irish rugby players included! It was amazing, you would have thought it was the wedding of royals! The bride said she truly felt like a fairy tale princess getting married in a castle!

What is a good size to strive for in a destination wedding?

I feel the best size for destination wedding is 80-100 guests'. This is a very manageable and cost effective size for many fabulous resorts and venues around the world.

In light of the economic climate, how are couples adjusting their destination wedding plans to cope?

They are reducing the size of their guest list and are selecting destinations that are more reasonably priced.

What is the next big thing in destination weddings that you see couples doing?

I am seeing more and more couples incorporating the traditions and cultural of the destination in which they are getting married into their wedding ceremony. Additionally, couples are doing projects with their invited guests in which they are giving back to the local community. I anticipate the aspect of helping the local community and the people that live in those destinations in some way, as the next big thing in destination weddings!

What is the single best piece of advice you would give couples prior to planning a destination wedding?

A Save the Date card is critically important if you expect your desired family and friends to attend! Most people will need to plan ahead for budget reasons and additionally to request vacation time from work reasons.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Win a Honeymoon - Jade Mountain Resort

Jade Mountain Resort in St. Lucia is offering the chance to win a Honeymoon Vacation / Destination Wedding in St. Lucia. I’m not totally clear what the rules are, but you can check them out and also enter the sweepstakes here. The sweepstakes is being offered by Jade Mountain Resort and Chronicle Books.

We’ve never been to St. Lucia, but it’s high on our list! We’ve entered and will definitely post a review if we win!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Meet the Expert: Richelle Albrecht

In this week’s Meet the Experts column, we interviewed Richelle Albrecht, owner of Girl Metro, Inc., a specialty invitation company in Chicago, Illinois. She is lover of beautiful paper and translates that love into specialty wedding invitations. From Maui to Barbados, Las Vegas to Cabo San Lucas, Richelle has designed invites for many of the most popular wedding destinations.

What trends do you see in destination wedding invitations?

There are several trends that are specific to destination wedding invitations - generally, a couple has chosen the destination for some unique feature that they loved - whether it's tropical weather, gorgeous scenery, or local culture. Most of the time, they want their stationery to reflect that feature though color, paper, or illustrations (or some combination of those three).

In addition to stationery that reflects some special aspect of the destination, there's a trend toward making a few days before and after the ceremony a multi-event vacation for guests. As a result, much more information must be relayed to guests, to ensure that they know about all the events that they may want to take part in, and so they can plan their trip accordingly.

For example, we've created additional invitations and enclosures for events like deep-sea fishing trips, pre- and post-wedding cocktail parties, brunches, professional baseball games, golf outings, tours, and more. Additionally, once guests arrive at the destination, we often recommend that an itinerary, map, and customized favors (with tags that match the stationery, of course) be provided in their hotel room, so that guests who are unfamiliar with the location can do some exploring and stay aware of what's going on each day.

Do destination wedding invitations tend to be more thematic than traditional weddings? What are some of the common motifs?

For tropical weddings, themes definitely seem to be more popular. We've created invitations with beach scenes and palm trees, sea shells, and the like. One of my favorites, however, was a "sea and sky" theme, which was carried out only in the use of Caribbean turquoise blue and textured turquoise, cerulean and pale blue papers which represented the sea's rippling surface.

We thought about printing our invitation in a certain way and then attaching it to a pair of flipflops and sending it to our guests. In the end, we opted for a more traditional approach. Are you seeing couples doing anything truly unique and different?

Although couples have come in with visions of invitations printed on Frisbees, paper fans, pirate maps, and playing cards, most of the time we end up creating a more traditional invitation. I think that ultimately, couples see their wedding -- wherever it takes place -- as an event which is too important to make light of. As a result, they turn to a more traditional format, or sometimes, just more traditional wording for the invitation text to illustrate that importance as well as the seriousness of their commitment to each other.

What are the most common color schemes for destination weddings?

Most often, the color schemes are suggested by the location that couples choose for their wedding.

For couples planning tropical-locale weddings, we see a lot of bright colors - Caribbean blue, vibrant greens, oranges and fuschias. For desert weddings (in Santa Fe, for example), rich terra cottas, deep reds, and deep yellows are often predominant, along with cerulean blue (for the perfect, uncloudy blue of a sunny desert sky).

Some couples prefer to go with a color scheme that reflects their personality and the tone of their wedding, however, regardless of the location. We've done black, white and red velvet for a New Year's Eve destination wedding, and black and cream for a desert wedding, too. There aren't any hard and fast rules, so we tend to look to the couples' personalities and vision for their wedding for color inspiration in addition to the colors suggested by the location.

One of the things we wondered about for our destination wedding was how far in advance to send the invitation. We sent a Save the Date about six months in advance and the wedding invites about two months in advance. Do you have any advice on timing for Save the Dates or invitations?

Sending information to guests early is crucial for a destination wedding... Guests need time to request time off from work, make travel arrangements and babysitting or pet boarding arrangements, and for truly far-flung destinations or in a rocky economy, to save up some cash. Giving guests ample time to take care of those necessities will result in more of them being able to come to the wedding.

Save the dates should be sent out at least 6 months before the wedding, and should include some basic travel and accommodation information if possible. If the wedding is going to be part of a weekend- or week- long series of events, it's a good idea to let guests know that they may want to stay on after the wedding, or arrive a few days early (or both!). Some couples also include a few notes in the save the date as to why they chose a specific destination, or things to do in that locale, as well.

The invitation should go out between two and three months ahead of the wedding, so that those who didn't take advantage of the save the date card's information can get in gear and make their travel plans. If accommodation and travel information didn't go out in the save the date cards, that's a must with the invitation. It's wise to let guests know things which will make their trip smoother, like how far the location is from the nearest airport, whether the hotels where rooms are blocked are walking distance to the ceremony and reception or if a shuttle is available, or whether guests should plan on renting a car or hiring taxis, etc.

Another timing issue to consider is response time - it's vital to get responses back well before the couple must leave for the destination! I always recommend that the "respond-by" date leaves ample time to make phone calls to those who haven't responded, and to get a final count to the contact at the ceremony and reception locations.

How do you recommend couples disseminate accommodation and travel information? We put together a website to keep couples informed, but this was very informal. However, we spent a lot of time questioning whether to include the website URL on the actual invites?

It's always better to include as much information as early as possible - either by including the specifics with or on the save the date cards, or by including a web address on the save the dates for guests to visit and stay up-to-date on travel and accommodation information.

If, when the save the date cards are sent out, the accommodation and travel information isn't finalized, it's perfectly fine to include that on an enclosure card which is mailed with the invitation. In such cases, though, I generally recommend mailing the invitations out as early as possible.

Beyond invites, what else do couples need to remember to bring for their destination weddings?

Couples should think through their celebration, and pinpoint items that would be helpful both to guests, and to their plans. For example, here's the stationery needs we determined for a Cabo San Lucas wedding last year:

- Save the date cards
- Wedding invitation, including: weekend itinerary information, travel information (airline discount code, shuttle info from airport to hotel, hotel reservation information), response card including attendance options for pre- and post- wedding events, and a note about the location and why it was special to the couple
- Hotel welcome kit: weekend itinerary with taxi, shopping and restaurant information, directions to all of the pre- and post- wedding events as well as the ceremony, start times for pre-wedding events, ceremony, cocktail hour and reception and post-wedding events, contact information for the wedding planner (who was fielding guest questions), tags for bottled water and a note thanking guests for traveling to the wedding
- Custom name tags for welcome cocktail party
- Sandalwood fans for the outdoor ceremony, with small ceremony programs attached with ribbon
- Escort Cards (directing guests to their table) with ribbon for hanging
- Menus
- Charitable donation cards with wide ribbon which wrapped around each dinner plate, keeping the card and the menu in place at each place setting (the dinner was held out of doors, so wind was a concern)
- Additional wide ribbon, by the spool, which could be used as decor on chairs, pergola frames, and added to the bride's bouquet
- Thank you cards to send out to guests after the couple returned from the honeymoon

How have the needs of engaged couples changed over time? What are they looking for now that they weren't looking for a year ago?

We're seeing a trend toward more intimate weddings, with couples looking for fewer invitations and more announcements, particularly for destination weddings. Additionally, the over-the-top luxury which many couples wanted for their invitations last year seems to be falling out of vogue - simplicity and elegance is definitely back in style this year.

What is the next big thing in destination weddings that you see couples doing?

I see a couple of trends for destination weddings - a big trend this year is couples moving toward eco-friendly materials for all aspects of the wedding. We've had tons of requests for seeded (plantable) paper, which guests can plant and have a living reminder of a couple's wedding, as well as environmentally-friendly favor options.

A second trend this year is couples using vintage postcards with images of the wedding destination as save the date cards, with the save the date information printed via letterpress in the "message" space on the back. Each card is unique, and some couples go so far as to use vintage postage stamps, as well.

As a wedding vendor with your company Girl Metro, what is the single biggest piece of advice you would want to give couples prior to their destination weddings? What do you wish couples who contact you would know about working with a wedding vendor?

Wow, that's a big question! I think the single most important thing for any couple is that they have a clear idea of what the wedding will be like (which is easier said than done!). If a couple has a clear vision of their wedding, it becomes easy for them to decide which items fit that vision, and which do not -- whether it's the stationery, the bridesmaid's dress, or anything else.

There are a few things that I wish couples knew when they contacted me about creating their wedding stationery:

Budget is really important - I don't want a couple to fall in love with something that won't fit their budget. It's heartbreaking for them, and it's an awful feeling for me. That's not to say that a couple must be explicit about how much money they want to spend, but it's much easier for me to gauge what will be appropriate if I have some parameters. ("We want to spend about $12 per invitation suite," for example, or "We expected to spend between $2000 and $2500 for all of our stationery.")

The second thing is how many invitations a couple truly needs. Many, many couples mistakenly request a number of invitations which is actually the number of invited guests, not the number of invitations they must mail. Even it the guest list isn't 100% complete, having a good idea of how many invitations will be needed will allow a vendor to give the couple a more accurate estimate of cost.

Finally, it's a good idea for a couple to talk through the process with each vendor that they are considering, and to request samples (particularly for an invitation vendor), so that there are no surprises. For the same reason, couples should be sure that there is a written contract with the estimated cost, what that cost includes (exactly), as well as any terms and conditions, before they make any final decisions. Having that information up front will help a couple determine how efficient a vendor is with communication, how professional he or she is, and how responsive he or she is to their needs; all of which will help alleviate stress for the couple.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Meet the Expert: Lara Weiss

In this week’s Meet the Experts column, we interviewed Lara Weiss, the Managing Director of K Hotels. As a veteran in the hospitality industry, Ms. Weiss directs operations at this collection of boutique hotels around the world – many are popular with couples having destination weddings.

What trends do you see in destination weddings?

Destination weddings are small, around 40 people, and currently I am seeing a lot go to Costa Rica. Previously Mexico, Puerto Vallerta and Cabo, were the hot spots but with the negative publicity Mexico is receiving, Costa Rica’s popularity seems to be growing. Also flights to Costa Rica are at a great price point for the attendees.

How have the needs of engaged couples changed over time?

Couples seem to be older now, late 20’s early 30’s and now they don’t want a huge extravaganza, but rather close friends in a amazing location. Luxury at a value is very important.

From Greece to San Francisco and from Brazil to Bali, K Hotels has luxury, boutique properties all over the world. Which K Hotel locations are the most popular for destination weddings?

Costa Rica, we have amazing hotels in several cities all over the world but the majority of our clients are US based and for the US traveler it’s not feasible to do a wedding in Bali with the cost of flights, but Costa Rica, on the other hand, is a great value for an incredible destination. Puerto Rico is another popular destination.

If a couple is on the fence about having a destination wedding, why should they consider it?

How many guests they really want at their wedding, but making the decision to have a destination wedding you significantly cut down on your guest list. Couples should also consider, flights, hotel accommodations, distance from airport, because then the guests will have to rent a car, or hire transportation. All in all it comes down to who you really want at your wedding, and making it as easy as possible for those that do make the trip. At K Hotels we are happy to assist from the moment each guest lands in their preferred destination to the moment they leave. We work with world class concierges and have partnerships globally that allow us to offer first class service to our clients.

What is the typical size of a destination wedding at one of your properties?

About 40 is a typical wedding.

In light of the economic climate, how are couples adjusting their destination wedding plans to cope?

Destination weddings typically are less expensive for the bride and groom because the guest list is significantly smaller, however the cost falls to the attendees. In my experience, I have seen several attendees make the destination wedding the family vacation as well, to help justify the cost, and the hotels are always willing to work with the guests offering the discounted group rates pre and post.

What is the next big thing in destination weddings that you see couples doing? (spas, themed weddings, etc.)

Destination Weddings seem to take a more modest approach. Barefoot on the beach, tan suits instead of tux’s, casual meals, a more relaxed and inviting environment.

What is the single biggest piece of advice you would want to give couples prior to their destination weddings?

Think of your guest list, who do you really want to share your wedding with, and know that destination weddings will generate a lot of “no responses” to RSVP’s. Pick a destination where someone can turn it into a vacation.

What do you wish couples who contact your firm would know about working with a wedding location?

Be specific with what you want, and be willing to go out early and check out the location, I do not recommend planning wedding based on photos. Interview vendors, florists, photographers, and be sure to see examples of their work at your specific property and be open to working with the on property team, they know their hotel better than anyone and will be honest with their answers.