Building Your Destination Wedding Dream Team

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Building Your Dream Team
special series by guest expert Larissa Banting 

You have the travel agent looking after all things travel related, you have decided on a location and now comes the part where you are in your element. Flowers, music, décor, cakes - now we're talking your language. But do the vendors?

Ladies and gentlemen, we've just arrived at the step that is potentially the hardest of all in planning a destination wedding - where to find the vendors. Good vendors. Professional vendors. Vendors who will show up on time, with the promised goods. Vendors with whom you can communicate with. Unfortunately this may be easier said than done. You know how long it has taken to build relationships with the vendors in your hometown, separating the good from the mediocre or just plain bad through years of experience. Now, you've got to find a team in a country where you may not speak the language and don't have an idea of who to hire. What to do?

Consider working with a local planner, since they'll know the lay of the land and who to hire. If the wedding is at a hotel or resort, there will likely be an in-house planner on staff. Depending on the size and scope of your wedding, a list of their preferred vendors and some advice may be all that you require of them. Or you may need more guidance and assistance, requiring that they become more of a planning associate. Rarely is there a fee for their services since they are on-staff. Ask them what they are able to provide you with and how the two of you can work together so both of you are on the same page as you upfront. The in-house planner is usually the easiest and most affordable route to finding the vendors you need.

One thing to keep in mind - most larger hotels and resorts have numerous weddings each month, sometimes upwards of 30 or 50. Dealing with that kind of volume means keeping things simple and straightforward via packages. They usually work with one photographer, one florist, one DJ, etc. The cake is baked in-house with only one or two basic design and flavor options and the meals are standardized. You may be limited to how creative you can get with their packages, what the hotel can provide you with or the choice and variety of vendors they work with.

Also, some larger resorts have wonderfully experienced and trained planners who are a dream to work with. However, other "planners" may just be the reservations person who has had 'wedding planner' tacked onto their job description. Try to discern ASAP which type of planner you're working with. If the latter, you may want to consider working with an independent planner in the area if your wedding is fairly complex and the location 'challenging'.

Where to find an independent planner? The web, destination wedding magazines, ask the hotel or the travel agent for their recommendations or feedback about whom they like working with. The local tourist board may also have a list of area planners. An independent planner will have a wide range of vendors, have more time to spend on the wedding and can give you unbiased opinions and options. Think of them as your eyes, ears and tastebuds in Weddinglandia.

If you're going to work with another planner and rely on their expertise, be sure to negotiate up-front the services your require (ie just a list of vendors or assisting you with the entire planning process and day-of coordination) and the fee. Have everything in writing as well so there is no room for misunderstandings.

I remember one planner calling me, asking for some advice on her client's wedding in the middle of nowhere, a place so remote you had to fly or sail in and there were only generators for power. She'd no idea where or what she was dealing with and her Hollywood starlet bride wanted an ice sculpture (impossible - not a word I use often but IMPOSSIBLE). I gave my suggestions and off she went. I get another email from her asking about where to rent chairs. Then another about musicians and bands. Then another seeing if I can recommend a florist. While I am willing to help a fellow planner, I felt this woman had crossed the line from needing some advice to having me do all the legwork for her . . . for free. I politely wrote her back saying I'd be delighted to assist her - for a fee. She was never heard from again. Point of the story is that a local planner can save you a lot headaches, time and money. Use them to make your life easier but be sure to compensate them for all they bring to the table.

Don't be afraid to ask for help. You are still the planner in charge, working with the bride to realize her wedding vision. The local planner is there to find you the best vendors for the task, negotiate with them and act as your agent 'on the ground'. Many places are still not on the 'information highway' so finding vendors can be incredibly difficult and frustrating. A good planner will make your life a whole lot better and easier.

You may also choose to bring in some of your own vendors (just be sure to check with the location that they allow outside vendors). It's important that your vendors have a good understanding of the area and what the limitations/challenges are. They may need to complete a site-inspection or two in Weddingladia as well. You may decide to fly to Weddinglandia and seek our your local team directly. Whatever you choose, be sure to include the additional travel, fees and costs into your price when negotiating with your client. Be clear what your expectations and needs are to bring her wedding vision to life in Weddinglandia.

Tomorrow, we wrap up our series with bits and bobs of information ranging from legalities to incorporating local customs to how to keep your wedding cake from being attached by armies of ants.

© 2008 Larissa Banting for The Smart Planner™

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