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Destination I Do

Consider Hiring A Wedding Planner

Words by Kelli Donley


Couples planning on destination weddings are often nervous to sign vendor contracts, even after months of research and discussion. How can they really know a person they more than likely have never met will show up to take the photographs, serve the cake, play the music, pronounce them married? In reality, budgets often restrict destination couples from traveling to their site before their wedding day. When it comes down to signing on the dotted line, it isn't uncommon for a bride to balk.

Enter the wedding planner.

Scene change.

Woes calmed.

Happy bride and groom skip down the aisle.

Lisa Michelle Riley, an events and wedding coordinator, says such nerves are not uncommon. Riley has helped plan destination weddings around the world and says while you may think you cannot afford a wedding coordinator, you may end up paying more without one. 

"I received a call from young lady in Scotland who was thinking about getting married in New York City," she says. "We spoke for a while, and learned about each others styles. She wanted a traditional Scottish ceremony with a more modern, dramatic reception. She had started to plan on her own, but was very nervous about signing contracts with venues she had never seen. Her finance was worried because every vendor claimed to the "best," and each had very different level of quality.

"When planning a destination wedding, the two biggest challenges for a bride are quality control and organization. More often than not it's not practical to visit every location you have in mind or research all of your possible vendors. They were anxious about getting married in a place that they wouldn't see until there arrival. In particular the groom worried about the vendors' performance."

After working with the couple, Riley was able to point them to a site more appropriate to their style and recommend vendors she knew would do a great job.

"I remember the bride, saying that before I found her dream location, they were going to go over budget for something that they felt wasn't exactly what they wanted. She also felt more comfortable knowing that I was confident it was something they'd love. Their wedding was a smash! After planning for almost 18 months, they had a vision of what to expect. But when they walked in the room, after never meeting me or any of the other vendors who helped create their fantasy, they were overwhelmed."

The couple later told Riley that the event was better than they could have imagined, especially because they never had to deal with vendors or deliveries. They had worked with just one person.

So you aren't planning a huge wedding, with guests coming from Europe? You may still want to consider a wedding planner. Riley emphasizes that even if you are hosting a small wedding with a small budget, a planner can make the difference.

"Not all couples can afford to allocate precious funds from the budget to hire a wedding coordinator for the duration of the wedding planning," she says. "If this is the case, then couples may find it more valuable to seek out a coordinator that offers a basic consulting service that can do these three things for a reasonable fee: 

1.  Help them create a realistic budget. A good budget should consist of more than how much you have to spend. It should be a financial roadmap, one that gives you a realistic breakdown of what you can spend (and also expect to spend) in each expense category (i.e. floral, caterers, accessories.)

2.  Refer them to quality professionals within their budget. Finding the reception location of your dreams, only to discover that it puts you way over the budget can be crushing. Worse than that, some couples don't realize until after the contract has been signed that they don't have enough money to decorate their fabulous location.

3.  Help them organize early in the planning. "If you can't have a coordinator throughout the planning process, the next best thing is to think like one. Consulting with a coordinator can help you develop your theme and organize your thoughts into a vision. Things like what to look for in a contract, questions to ask vendors, and how to keep track of all the great ideas you'll find in the wedding magazines, are all things that a coordinator can help with."
Riley says the cost of a hiring a coordinator may depend on the cost of your wedding.

"Wedding consultant and/or planner fees vary nationally," she says. "The location where you are hiring the professional in can factor into the pricing. Planners and consultants usually charge a percentage of the budget (most often 10-15%), flat rate or a combination of the two."

To find a credible consultant, Riley suggests contacting one of two national organizations:
1. The Association for Bridal Consultants (www.bridalassn.com)
2. The Association for Wedding Professionals International (www.afwpi.com) and doing your own research.

"No matter how you find your consultant checking references is a must," she cautions. "Listen to what past clients say carefully, they are giving you a glimpse of what you can expect working with that consultant."

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