By Stephanie Wilson, VOWS Lead Coordinator
One of the first tasks in wedding planning is figuring out the guest list. Most couples will look at their list and notice that there are many guests who would need to travel from another city, state, or country. Are you worrying about what to do with your out-of-town guests and how to be a gracious host? This is a "stress" that we hear from most of our wedding clients. It doesn't have to be stressful. So how do we do this right and make things easier for them? Here’s a cheat sheet for your success!
Communication: A wedding website is a handy tool when planning any wedding; especially if you have out-of-town guests. The website should include wedding date and location, any other wedding related events, travel information and discounts you have arranged, things to do in the area, directions, and other misc. information pertaining to your wedding. You can also honor your attendants and special family members by listing them on the website. Mailing out Save the Dates with a wedding website link at least six months in advance of the wedding is ideal. This gives your guests plenty of time to decide whether or not they can make the trip to your wedding. If they are able to attend, they have time to make those travel arrangements, take time off from work if necessary and block out their calendars for your wedding weekend. Some of our favorite wedding websites include www.mywedding.com (free), www.weddingwindow.com and www.wedsite.com (paid).
Travel Information/Discounts: Some airlines offer discounts for group travel. Depending on how many guests are flying in, your planner can negotiate discounts with Alaska Airlines, Delta, American, United and others. Posting instructions and the discount code on your wedding website or enclosed with your save the date is helpful when guests are making reservations. Rental car discounts and recommendations are also helpful.
Finally, and most importantly, arrange for a block of rooms at a discounted rate or just a flat rate discount at hotels that are convenient to your wedding venue. Keep in mind that not all guests can afford high-end hotels and not all guests want to stay in a budget friendly hotel either. We typically arrange room blocks or discounts at two different hotels to accommodate the different budgets your guests may have. Another bonus of having guests book under your wedding block or discount is that the hotel can always provide you with a current rooming list so you know who has booked and what day they arrive. This makes things easier when it comes to do a welcome gift for your guest(s).
Welcome Gift: As a “thank you” and “welcome to our wedding”, it is a lovely gesture to have a welcome gift waiting for each guest, couple or family as they arrive at their hotel. This shows the guests that you appreciate the time and expense they are giving to celebrate with you. Welcome gifts can be really fun to assemble! We recommend that you include local treats (a sweet and a salty), beverages (bottled water, locally made soda, local microbrew or a bottle of Washington wine), a few packets of Emergen-c to follow that plane ride, a small packet of pain reliever, a small tube of sunscreen if it’s a summer wedding and maybe a bath fizzy if their hotel has a nice tub to relax in. If your guests are bringing children, toss in a few kid friendly snacks or activities for a special touch! Last but not least, always include a welcome letter with contact information, itinerary for the wedding and any special events they are invited to, and a link to your wedding website where they can find directions and things to do in the area.
Packaging for the welcome gift can be as simple as a decorative gift bag from your local craft store or as elaborate as a monogrammed tote bag. I always recommend sturdy natural canvas bags that guests can easily pack in their luggage and use again for shopping, a beach trip, or other. We dress up the bag with beautiful ribbon and gift tag with your guest’s name and arrival date.
Delivery to the hotel prior to your first guest’s arrival is crucial. Some hotels will charge an amenity fee and deliver the gift to the guest’s room. Others hand out the gifts upon guest check in at the front desk. Be sure to ask your hotel(s) what the method of delivery will be and how billing will be handled.
If a welcome gift is too much for the wedding budget, a welcome letter or card for each guest is appropriate and budget friendly.
Transportation: This is an optional perk that your guests will love taking advantage of. If you have a ceremony and reception in a different location, or you just don’t want your guests to worry about driving in unfamiliar places, parking and finding your wedding (on time!), booking a shuttle or other form of transportation to whisk your guests to and from wedding events with ease. It is wonderful that you won’t have to worry about guests drinking at your wedding and driving afterwards. For those VIP guests, it’s also an option to pamper them from the airport with a private car service to their hotel.
Optional Events: There are a few options to really go above and beyond in welcoming your guests and spending more time with them. The day before the wedding is a good time to treat them to a group activity. Some great ideas include a trip to the space needle, a Chihuly museum tour, a hometown ball game, a ride on the Seattle “Ducks”, a golf outing or a chocolate making class, a boat ride tour of our gorgeous waterways, a city tour, or even just a casual picnic in a local park.
If most of your guests fly in the day before the wedding, consider a welcome cocktail party or social gathering at a location nearby their hotel. This can be hosted or un-hosted. A cocktail party is a great way to give them something to do their first night in Seattle area, and they will be eager to see you and offer their congratulations!
Many couples opt to host a brunch the day after the wedding. Typically, this is a casual event and can range from a small open house style gathering at someone’s home, a picnic event at a local park (remember a rain backup plan!), or a group breakfast at a restaurant.
The bottom line is that your out-of-town guests have come a long way to see you. Be gracious and make this easier for them with good communication, by making their travel arrangements easier, by letting them know you care that they have made the trip, and by making things as easy and fun as possible once they are here. Finally, during your toast, raise a glass to them and thank them for being there for this meaningful celebration!