Destination Wedding Disasters: How to Protect Your Guests & Why Group Room Blocks are Essential in Emergency Situations
“Why should I book a group room block for my destination wedding?” is in the top 5 destination wedding questions that I receive – and it’s a good one! Booking a group room block often requires contracts, deposits, and has terms, conditions and stipulations that can seem overwhelming and unnecessary, especially for smaller destination wedding groups.
On top of that, there will always be a destination wedding guest (or two) that don’t like the resort that the wedding will be held at, have a friend who said that they can borrow their time-share, prefers a cheaper hotel stay off-site or simply found a “cheap travel deal” online or at a big box travel retailer store.
I have a separate article that goes into detail about the benefits, advantages and disadvantages of group room blocks which you can find HERE. However, I want to focus this article about what happens in the event of a hotel shutdown, evacuation, sale, fire, weather event (like a hurricane!), government-imposed travel restrictions by your destination country or other unforeseen event.
Before you start thinking, “well what are the odds of THAT though?!” or “I’ll be fine, because my wedding isn’t scheduled during a predominantly bad weather month”, I do want to gently point out that the COVID-19 pandemic greatly affected everyone on a global scale and seemed to come from nowhere.
In that same vein, so can hurricanes, floods, volcanoes, fires, blizzards and hotel acquisitions – and yes, I do mean that your hotel could be sold to another owner before your wedding and they may have plans to shut down and renovate! Yikes!
I'm going to warn you now, that this is a relatively a long article. :) There is so much to know and understand which often go overlooked before it's too late. I have gone through many of the above scenarios with clients, and wanted to share one of the latest stories I've encountered with a wedding group just a couple weeks ago...
Throughout my 11 years of planning destination wedding travel, I've had at LEAST one event per year affect a wedding group of mine and sadly, sometimes 2-3 in a year! Considering that I usually only accept a maximum of 20 weddings per year, so I can dedicate the time and attention required to my couples and their guests, it's statistically high odds that you might be affected by an unforeseen event – which in turn means that your guests will also be affected.
In addition to the coronavirus pandemic affecting all destination wedding couples in some way, one of my wedding groups had to do deal with two separate situations that wreaked havoc on their wedding vacation. While originally, they had done “all of the right things” and booked their wedding well out of hurricane season, when COVID hit, they (along with every other couple, group, and vacationer) had to reschedule due to travel restrictions and hotel closures. Due to the options offered in the early COVID chaos period – the availability was scarce, and they had to select an early October postponement.
Unfortunately, a sizeable hurricane began to head toward the popular tourist region where their wedding was scheduled just a day before travel – while rare, nothing is impossible, and thankfully the hurricane weakened before it made landfall and people in the area had time to evacuate to remain safe. The resort the wedding group was scheduled to arrive at, sustained damage and had to cease operation for repairs. The guests who were already staying at the resort, and those who were scheduled to arrive in the next few days (such as my wedding group!) were all diverted to a sister resort that had not been impacted by the hurricane.
What I really want to do, is give you a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what happens to a destination wedding group during an unforeseen emergency. Below will outline three ways your guests may make their room reservation to attend your wedding, and everything to think about BEFORE they do, just in case something like the above scenarios may happen to you, perish the thought!
The group mentioned above was comprised of wedding guests who booked in the following three ways:
Booking Style #1
It probably goes without saying that if you book with the travel agent and within a group room block that you’re likely to fare better, but let me share the specific reasons why...
Booking Style #2
These guests are often wary of “contracts”, travel advisors, and are savvy personal vacation planners who may have simply found a promotional deal through a third-party travel retailer. While there is nothing wrong with that, should an unforeseen emergency arise, they are often left with the following problems:
Booking Style #3
The most risky, whether there is an unforeseen event or not, but especially in the case of a destination wedding group moving locations due to an emergency. Should something happen, these guests that decided to stay off-resort often have no recourse at all – whether prompt or otherwise.
As regular readers and clients of mine will already know, I would never recommend counting on purchasing a resort day pass to attend a destination wedding – too much can go wrong here.
You can read more about why here. However, in the event of a situation that requires guests to be moved to a different property, the reason is simple:
Refunds or Partial Refunds
This is a hot topic and an important one when facing emergency situations that require a change in plans and accommodation. Unfortunately, force majeure events are not usually covered in any travel package terms and conditions – this is where travel insurance becomes a vital backup.
While travel insurance policies have their own terms and conditions, oftentimes you’ll find that you are usually covered for reimbursement of some, if not all, expenses incurred in an emergency situation*.
*For specific terms, conditions, and coverage policy details you will need to reach out to your preferred travel insurance provider to discuss.
Most hotels and airlines are not required to reimburse you in anyway or to “make up” for the fact that an event impacted your trip, so if provider offers anything at all, is usually in the faith of good customer service, but not all companies will make exceptions.
With that in mind, if you are booked with a group who has entered into a group room block contract and has a travel advisor on your side, you’ll tend to find that the travel agent will advocate on your behalf for possible partial refunds or additional comps, perks and amenities for the trip interruption that you faced. Online or big box travel retailers do not provide these services and the single traveler is unlikely to get far when asking for favors – the simple truth is that a good destination wedding travel agent already has a relationship with the right people in addition to being likely to promote and sell the resort in the future for groups and as such, will have more chance of using that leverage to your advantage.
What to Expect If Disaster Strikes
Understanding the behind-the-scenes details when disaster strikes (whether it be natural, managerial, or accidental), can help better appreciate why it can appear that resorts are slow to act.
In the example of any disaster, the safety of the guests and staff comes first, and their comfort second. The order in which this works is also tied to guests already on property and then transitions to guests who are scheduled to arrive next and so on – but priority is always given to those guests who are currently at the hotel. During this time staff are overwhelmed with moving guests to safety, securing the grounds and retrieving guest belongings from the rooms to forward on to the new property - just to name a few.
This flurry of activity often results in delayed check-in and room allocation at the new property as the staff works with accommodating the influx of new guests and belongings that they were not prepared for. This can take quite some time especially as the staff navigates displaced guests and groups and attempts to accommodate all the special requests that were included in the original booking, as they transfer essential details into their computer systems – all while continuing to manage the property and the guests currently in place and who were scheduled to arrive.
The best thing that you can do is be patient, flexible, and enjoy the resort amenities while you let the resort staff tackle the monumental task at hand – remember, they want you to be safe, happy and to have a wonderful vacation, so they are doing all that they can to ensure that you leave with a positive experience!
I hope you found some valuable information to help you understand the importance of protecting your destination wedding and your guests with a group room block. If you feel overwhelmed or would like assistance to navigate contract negotiations, we are here for you! This is what we do every day!
We spend most of our vacation time touring resorts, meeting with the wedding coordinators and training for destination weddings, so we can make it very simple for you. We save you time by filtering out all the bad advice and countless options for you. Let us take the guesswork out and match-make you to the destination and resorts that fit your style, vision and budget the best.
Together we will find your most perfect wedding resort and we take care of the logistics after that. All you have to do is the fun wedding planning and creating an unforgettable event your friend and family will remember for a lifetime! Schedule your free consultation to see how we can assist and learn more about our services!