Getting Real About Guest Experience: 6 Elements that Make a Major Impact at Your Destination Wedding
As someone who’s planned and produced destination weddings for nearly two decades, I can confidently say there is one thing that, without fail, makes or breaks an event: guest experience. But what exactly does guest experience even mean—and, more importantly, how do you ensure yours is unforgettable?
Today, I wanted to offer up everything there is to know about guest experience, including the six most important elements that will take the guest experience at your wedding to the next level. Let’s dive in…
What is guest experience?
Guest experience is just what it sounds like—the term refers to the experience your guests have at your wedding. While it’s easy to focus on wedding design when you’re engaged and planning your destination wedding (after all, that Pinterest inspiration won’t pin itself)—if you’re dreaming of an unforgettable event that’s ripe with good times, guest experience is just as important (if not more so) than aesthetics and styling.
The elements that are important for guest experience…
1. Interactive Elements
Having some type of interactive element at your wedding is always a surefire way to enhance guest experience and leave your friends and family raving about your destination wedding for years to come. Think through ways you can dive deeper than aesthetics and allow your guests to truly engage with the environment you’ve created for your event.
We’ve seen everything from a “ring the bell for champagne” wall and wandering beer burros (yes, donkeys wandering around with beer coolers)—to polaroid cameras that encourage guests to snap photos of themselves and vintage typewriters used in place of typical guest books so guests can type a message for the couple. At least one event element that allows your guests to engage, interact, and have some fun is definitely necessary when you’re thinking about creating an unforgettable wedding experience.
PRO TIP: If you’re getting married outdoors, lawn games during your cocktail hour are always a guest favorite!
When I’m working with couples to plan experience-rich destination weddings, this is the one area I really encourage my couples to go big. Investing in great entertainment is the difference between a packed dance floor buzzing with good energy and a wedding that feels like it’s lacking life.
And remember: It’s not just about having an incredible band, beautiful harpist, or experienced DJ who knows how to get people moving and having fun—entertainment spans far beyond music. You can have everything from tarot-card readers or portrait artists in place of a typical photo booth—to acrobats, marching bands, and poker tables. Bonus points if you can work your cultural heritage—or the culture of the place you’re getting married—into your destination wedding entertainment. When I’m planning destination weddings in Zambia, for example, I love to bring in traditional tribal dancers—it makes for a surprise moment that serves up a sight unlike anything guests have ever before seen.
3. Clear Signage
While, at first, signage may seem like it falls more under aesthetics and less under guest experience, the truth is signage plays a major role in the way your guests experience your destination wedding. Guest experience, after all, isn’t just about ensuring your guests have a great time—it’s about ensuring they have an easy time. If you’re getting married at an expansive resort or on a large estate—at a bare minimum you should have wedding signage that welcomes guests (so they know they’re in the right spot) and points guests in the right direction for the ceremony and reception (so they know where to go). The last thing you want is guests feeling confused and frustrated as they try to navigate your destination wedding.
4. Great Food and Beverage
Gone are the days of lackluster buffets, boring banquet food, and bad wine being the only options for your wedding. From seaside clambakes, local food trucks, and fresh sushi bars to pasta stations, massive charcuterie bars, and custom signature cocktails, food-and-beverage options for your destination wedding truly are endless. If creating a top-shelf guest experience is important to you, you’ll want to pay particular attention to what guests will eat and drink—because, just like with entertainment, it really can make or break an event. After all, no matter how beautiful your wedding design may be, if the food and cocktails are less than desirable—that’s what will stick with guests.
PRO TIP: Be sure to keep both seasonality and the setting you’re getting married at in mind to keep things feeling authentic (and tasting delicious!). If your destination wedding is at a beautiful lemon-tree orchard, for example, work citrus into both the food menu and cocktail menu to help create a seamless connection between what your guests are seeing and what they’re tasting.
5. A Gracious Welcome
When you’re hosting a destination wedding, you have to remember guests have traveled from around the world to see you get married. That often means they’ve taken time off of work, secured childcare, paid for plane tickets, shifted their schedule around, and so much more. You want them to feel the love and gratitude as soon as they arrive—so they know their efforts are seen and appreciated.
Make sure you have welcome bags ready for your guests when they arrive full of high-quality local goods and a tip sheet that breaks down all the best area restaurants and shops—and, for an added touch, include a personalized letter from you and your partner thanking each guest for their attendance (if you’re able to hand-write the note, that will make it feel even more special). I also recommend couples host a small welcome cocktail reception a day or two before their wedding to greet and thank their guests—but if you don’t have the time or resources for that, you can always do something a bit smaller but just as meaningful, like sending a bottle of champagne or a nice fruit tray to your guests’ rooms as they arrive.
6. An Element of Surprise
The final ingredient for a destination wedding experience that will leave your guests in utter awe? One big element of surprise. When you want to set your event apart from the rest, keep guests engaged, and seal things with a celebratory bang—an unexpected, unforgettable spectacle is the ultimate way to do so. Your options include everything from fire dancers and firework shows to flash mobs. Need some help brainstorming? Start by thinking through the things you and your soon-to-be-spouse love and considering what would blow you out of the water at a destination wedding. What have you always wanted to see or experience? Live hula dancers? An incredible jazz band? A Chinese dragon performance? There are no rules!
When it comes to delivering an incredible guest experience, Likando and Calum’s fun-filled Zambian destination wedding did not disappoint. Let’s lose ourselves in these stunning images from their unforgettable nuptials.
Until next time, happy planning!
Stepan Vrzala | http://www.stepanvrzala.com/
Avani Victoria Falls Resort| https://www.avanihotels.com/en/victoria-falls
Contact Exalt Africa Weddings for more details or to discuss your upcoming wedding.