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Casa Interview: Destination Wedding Planner Alison Hotchkiss (Part 2)


Alison Hotchkiss, the creative director of Alison Events and the author of Destination Wedding Planner, has plenty of smart advice on planning destination weddings. If you, or a couple you know, are planning a destination wedding, I highly recommend Alison's new book to lend a guiding hand in your planning process. You can read the first half of the interview here. Alison has more great advice in the second half of this interview.

CasaSugar: When you plan a destination wedding, do you try to use local artisans, caterers, and other services?

Alison Hotchkiss: I definitely try to use as much local support as possible. It’s cost-effective, puts money back into the community, and is a positive way to support the area. I will sometimes hire a local planner to serve as my eyes and ears locally, and then I have someone to help us when we’re there. Especially in smaller beach communities, a lot of negotiations and contracts are over a handshake, not a formal agreement, so it’s important to respect the way that the local community does business.

To see Alison's advice on everything from wedding favors to organizing activities, read more.

CasaSugar: What’s your take on wedding favors? Have there been any that have stood out? Have there been any alternatives that were creative or impressive?


Alison Hotchkiss: One of my favorite favors was from my Costa Rica wedding. All of the guests were given Holga cameras preloaded with film, so everyone was able to take photos throughout the ceremony. There was a big beautiful glass bin where everyone could drop their film and they could reload throughout the evening. At the end of the evening the bride took all of the film, processed it, and put it on the Pictage website, so everyone could see all of the photos that were taken.

Another trend I’ve been seeing is people paying it forward by offsetting people’s carbon footprint for travel. This is often seen on the bottom of the menu or program. Other couples have donated to schools or children’s community shelters. I’ve seen a lot more of that than people purchasing favors. I think it’s a waste of money to do a favor these days when there are so many other things you can put your money towards.


CasaSugar: How do you deal with gifts at a destination wedding?

Alison Hotchkiss: I rarely see gifts at a destination wedding. Most people know to not bring gifts and to ship them in advance. If somebody were to get gifts they’d have to pack them and bring them back. You’d have to arrange for shipping, and oftentimes if you’re staying at a hotel that’s something they can execute for you.

One other great story is that some of my clients, in lieu of wedding gifts, the client included a notecard in the invitation asking everyone in lieu of gifts to “pay it forward” and do something for someone else, be it a family or an organization in their name, and then to write it on the notecard. Then, when people got to the wedding, the guests had the same card that had their name and their table numbers on it, so they replaced the name cards with the pay it forward card, and we had this really awesome display of what people had done to pay it forward. They ranged from deep, meaningful stories to really silly stories, such as “Oh, I paid for the person’s toll behind you,” and someone else said, “I rescued a bird off the side of the road.” That was a really cute idea and a great way to say, Let’s not focus so much on material gifts, and focus more on giving back to the world.

CasaSugar: Once guests get to the destination, have you found a fun way to organize activities? Do you let guests know a schedule beforehand, or spring it on them as a fun surprise? How would you say is the best way to organize this?


Alison Hotchkiss: I’d say the majority of people these days are creating their own wedding websites, which is the best way to communicate all of the information that can happen. It can have directions, wedding activities, local things to do and see, all of that. Or, rather than asking people to sign up beforehand on the web-site you can have people, during the rehearsal dinner, sign up for the following day’s tours. We have used a chalkboard so it was more fun than writing it on a 8.5x11 piece of paper. Different activities we have done are a snorkeling adventure, massage, or horseback riding. It’s nice to not have to determine things so far in advance.

CasaSugar: Given the economic climate right now, if you were going to recommend one area where guests can squeeze their budget, what can be downsized?

Alison Hotchkiss: I’d say music. We always tell people to go with a DJ vs. band, it’s thousands and thousands of dollars for a band. A band can run from $2,000 to $10,000. That’s one area. Another is limiting favors. You can also choose beer and wine instead of an open bar, or limiting the time of the open bar. Pick your battles and consider what’s most important.

Another area is the flowers. Instead of doing flowers, consider using a combination of herbs, flowers, succulents, and fruits. We did a wedding recently in the tropics and cut bougainvillea petals from the local branches and made a carpeted aisle for the ceremony. It was so vibrant and so colorful, and it was free. Use what you have locally.

CasaSugar: What would you have at your destination wedding?

Alison Hotchkiss: All I know is I want it to be somewhere tropical (with good surf), laid back, and I would be totally happy with fish tacos, a DJ, and local beer, Oh and I think I am going to wear a short dress and lose the shoes!

CasaSugar: That sounds excellent.


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