The Unexpected Solution to Destination Weddings in the Era of COVID-19
As 200-person weddings get indefinitely postponed, couples are road tripping to the mountains and eloping.
In the era of COVID-19 and social distancing, most weddings — whether scheduled to be held abroad or in the couple’s backyard — have been put on hold for the foreseeable future. While that, inevitably, reduces the number of traditional weddings taking place, destination elopements — already a budding trend — are having a moment right now.
Janessa White, co-founder and co-CEO of Simply Eloped, lives and breathes destination elopements. Since starting her company in June 2016, she has coordinated intimate wedding ceremonies across the country, facilitating memorable elopements within national parks, along idyllic beaches, and at sought-after U.S. landmarks.
While elopements host fewer guests, a destination elopement also typically requires building a venue from the ground up and a vacation itinerary for the couple. That's where White and her team come in. They suggest potential locations based on their clients’ interest and introduce them to local vendors with great reputations. They can even help with the legal wedding documentation. But perhaps most importantly, they compile a complete itinerary for the couple, such that their destination elopement truly feels like a vacation.
White started working on this idea with her partner after watching “friend after friend drop top dollar on their weddings and not enjoy their day. We felt there had to be a better option.”
After some initial research, they found that a remarkable number of engaged couples were interested in eloping, but had a difficult time finding beautiful spaces that could accommodate their needs. Often, a city hall wedding is the only option for those looking to stay domestic and not spend thousands on a far-flung island elopement. And while eloping at city hall can be especially meaningful for some couples, it’s not a fit for everyone — especially those who want to incorporate natural beauty into their special day.
“There is [also] a huge lack of information when it comes to planning elopements,” says White. “And that can be incredibly stressful for couples who are venturing to a place they've never visited before.”
Simply Eloped fills that information gap, while helping curate the trip. And as weddings and travel evolve amidst COVID-19, their services have become even more relevant.
“A lot of people are under financial duress. I don't see the luxury wedding industry picking up until 2022,” says White.
But plenty of couples are still looking for ways to tie the knot sooner rather than later, even if they can’t have their full-scale wedding this year. And for many of Simply Eloped’s clients, the solution is a destination elopement within driving distance and a limited guest list, in adherence with state protocols.
Simply Eloped is currently in 17 markets all across the United States. While Colorado and Hawaii are typically some of their most-requested destinations, White is finding a new trend: people eloping much closer to home amidst the virus. And they’re excited about a short road trip to a beautiful outdoor venue.
“People are wanting epic outdoor settings,” she says. Specifically, national parks are a leading destination elopement choice for their clients, which is why they are expanding to places like Seattle, where there are plenty of national parks within driving distance.
Right now, couples want “as awe-worthy a location as possible while still being localized,” says White.
In addition to rapidly expanding to the Pacific Northwest, they are working on their presence in the Northeast and central California (specifically, near Yosemite) to accommodate couples looking to plan a road trip and tie the knot. Local national parks, from Tennessee to Kansas to Colorado, are particularly appealing, because there’s plenty for the couple to do after the legal ceremony on their mini-vacation. The guests get a road trip, and the couple gets to scratch their travel itch.
Early in the pandemic, when stay-at-home orders were firmly in place, Simply Eloped transitioned into virtual ceremonies for New York, New Jersey, and California. But since states have started reopening slowly, their business has picked up, with interest from couples who want to get married in a way that keeps their close family safe.
“We see people who feel pressured to get married because they’re worried about things closing down again,” says White. “We see people who had larger wedding plans, and now want to elope immediately and have a large wedding later, or do this in lieu of a larger wedding.”
In March and April, Simply Eloped had 300 cancellations and 550 postponements. In May, as markets began to reopen, they were able to not only reschedule many couples, but book 200 new customers in a month. White stresses that the elopements and vacations they are planning for couples amidst COVID-19 put safety first and strictly follow state regulations. She says that couples choosing to tie the knot in this situation want to protect their family and ensure a safe environment, which is why they are getting legally hitched in particularly remote locations with very few guests.
And the point Simply Eloped makes is that an intimate wedding ceremony doesn’t have to be no-frills. Their company is a big proponent of creating a once-in-a-lifetime outdoor elopement experience — even for couples on a tight budget. As White says, “Even though you’re not doing a 300-person wedding, it should still feel special, personalized, and meaningful.”