9 Tips on Choosing a Wedding Planner for your Costa Rica Destination Wedding

9 Tips - Choosing A Wedding Planner

Introduction

Planning a wedding is an all-consuming affair that seems to never end, regardless if it is a small civil ceremony or an all-day wedding with hundred of friends and family.  There are so many details, from choosing the day, time, and location, to your wedding dress, what the bridesmaid and groomsmen will wear, the invitations, their color, size, texture, font, and whom to send them, the food, the drinks, . . .  Our wedding was a small civil ceremony of 12-14 people and a dinner, and it was quite a bit of work.  

In the following article, we present what we consider the 9 most important criteria to evaluate when choosing a wedding organizer for your Costa Rica wedding.  Our perspective is based on our experience as wedding photographers who have worked with and been contracted by various event organizers, as well as our experience selecting an event organizer for our wedding at Villa Caletas in Puntarenas.  If you plan to contract a wedding organizer, we hope these tips help you find the one who best meets your needs and expectations and makes your wedding day a wonderful, memorable experience.    

Some of these tips may appear common sense.  When planning a wedding, when you are being pulling you in a million directions and have to contend with the myriad obligations of daily, family life, and maintaining professional and personal relationships, common sense has a way of falling by the wayside.  

1. Independent vs. In-House Wedding Planners

Independent wedding organizers work for themselves, whereas in-house wedding designers are employees of resorts with wedding and event venues, such as Villa Buena Onda in Guanacaste, Villa Caletas in Puntarenas, Si Como No in Manuel Antonio, Arenas Springs Resort and Spa in La Fortuna, and Copa Árbol in Osa Peninsula. 

To help you decide which one to select, we compiled a list of the most important possible pros and cons of each:


Independent Planner Cons

· Not a legal business

· Fly by night

· Not bilingual

· Not accept credit cards

· No liability insurance

· No continuity if Planner Quits

Independent Planner Pros

· Creative Freedom

· Pricing Flexibility

· Develop Own Policies

· Choose Own Vendors

· Go Extra Mile

· Personal Investment


In-House Planner Cons

· Fixed Pricing Structure          

· High Employee Turnover         

· May Lack Creative Freedom                  

· Limited or Calcified Vendor Choices      

· Unresponsive

In-House Planner Pros

· Legal Business

. Bilingual Staff

· Accept Credit Cards

· Vetted Vendors

· Liability Insurance

               · Continuity If Planner Quits

* Again, these are possibilities to consider.  You may find a phenomenal in-house wedding planner who speaks 10 languages, who has been with the resort for many years, who is treated and paid well by a boss that has given her/him carte blanch to plan events and choose vendors. 


2. Reputation

Look for a wedding planner with a good reputation, not only with their local clients in Costa Rica, but also, and more importantly, with international clients.  Local clients may love them, but international ones may have a differing opinion, possibly due to language and cultural differences, as well as payment and contractual procedures.

Finding legitimate, objective reviews online for an established, experienced reputable wedding planner should be easy.  If the business is registered with Google Places, there will be reviews on their Google Places or Maps listing.  Another method is to search the Internet for the company name and/or owner’s name, with or without the keyword “review” or “reviews”.  This can lead to blogs by previous clients or posts on sites such as Trip Advisor by customers describing their overall experience.  We personally find unsolicited comments more useful since they usually provide extended feedback and may discuss a specific factor of more importance to you than others.  I love to read the negative reviews on Amazon to see if the issues most people have with an item is of any concern to me.

3. Business Status & Professional Certification

Ensure the wedding designer has a legitimate business, is licensed, has liability insurance, and is certified.  This does not guarantee quality service, but it does demonstrate they have invested the time, energy, and funds to have a legitimate business, and that it is their sole enterprise. 

For a business to be legal in Costa Rica, it must be registered with the Ministerio de Hacienda, the Treasury or taxing authority in Costa Rica. 

It categorizes business according to their economic function, assigns them a specific tax category, and issues a Tax I.D.  number or cédula.  A bank account cannot be opened in the business' name without a Tax I.D.  This may impact which payment methods organizers offer and therefore your options of resolving contractual and monetary disputes in your favor. 

Your wedding planner should also have liability insurance in case they cause damage or injury to your property or person.

Ask if they are a certified wedding organizer.  A common certification in Costa Rica is issued by Instituto Iberoamericano Event Planner (INIBEP).  If they refuse to provide documentation showing they are a legitimate business, have liability insurance, and are a certified wedding designer, it may be better to continue searching.  This has happened to us.

4. Payments

We cannot stress this enough.  Pay by credit, PayPal, Apple Pay or any payment method that allows you to file dispute.  Under no circumstances provide a wedding organizer with your credit card numbers.  Use only a secure, online credit card processing service.  Also, do not pay in full, and ensure you have a receipt detailing the service or product purchased.

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Making payments in the U.S. is quite different than in Costa Rica.  The most common payment method is making a bank deposit in person in the account of the provider.  It is also normal to transfer funds from your account to theirs electronically, or to pay in cash and receive a receipt or factura (available only if the business is registered with the Ministerio de Haciendas).  These payments methods leave you few to no options to recover funds.  To do so would require you to demonstrate the planner did not fulfill their contractual obligations in civil court in Costa Rica, or hire a lawyer to represent you here.  Pay with a credit card.    

5. Contract

Professional event organizers require clients sign a contract, not only for their protection, but also yours.  It should, at minimum, provide the legal business name, address, contract information, and the tax ID number, explain in detail exactly which services and products they will provide, specify the start and end times and the specific wedding location wedding events (the preparation the ceremony, the dinner, for example), list exactly what their responsibilities are, detail the cost of their service, the payment schedule, and payment methods, and explain what happens in the case the wedding planner cannot fulfill their contractual obligations in case of force majeur

6. Website

Choose a wedding designer who has a paid website.  In addition to demonstrating they have a personal and financial investment in their business and their brand, a well-designed, informative website is a must for clients.  Unlike Facebook, which obligates visitors to scroll through one picture, post, or comment at a time that may have no relevance to the purpose of your visit, websites allow you to find relevant information quickly and to bookmark specific pages you can easily send to your fiancée or whomever is helping you choose an event organizer.

The website should have current and pertinent content, as well as quality pictures of recent weddings, not ones from 3 years ago.  It should have a section explaining who they are, provide information about the business, state if they are a certified and licensed wedding organizer, and explain how they work at minimum.

The photos should provide representations of the tangible items they provide, such as the wedding cake, food, place settings, chairs, tables, glasses, silverware, flowers, the bouquet, canopy, altar and other items, from different angles, distances, and from different events.  This will help give you an idea of what to expect and allow you to compare their work to other wedding planners.

 7. Wedding Planner Providers / Vendors

Independent, as well as in-house wedding planners, usually have a select group of providers they consistently subcontract to provide the goods and services for your wedding.  These providers should likewise be experienced professionals in their given field and have a website or other means to learn more about them and see current examples of their work. 

Ask the wedding designers you are considering to provide you with the link to the website or other online source of their providers, especially the baker, the florist, the photographer, and videographer.  If they refuse, move on. 

The photos or video on the wedding planner’s website may be outdated, may not be the work of the photographer they currently subcontract, and might have been recorded by the wedding organizer’s personal phone.  Believe it or not, when looking for an wedding planner for our wedding at Villa Caletas, a number of event planners simply refused to provide us with links to their provider’s website.

It is your wedding.  It is your day. You are the client.  You are paying.  It is your special day.  You deserve to be provided with this information soyou can make an informed decision.  Period.  If they do not, keep looking until you find one who will.  Costa Rica does not suffer from a deficit of wedding planners. 

 8. Personality

It is important to be able to have a professional and amicable relationship with your wedding organizer.  The right mix of professionalism and friendliness goes a long way.  One that is too serious can drain the joy out of planning your wedding and put a damper on your wedding day.  One who is too friendly, on the other hand, may become tiring, in our opinion.  This is one of the most personal factors in choosing a wedding organizer, and there is not much more we can say other than to find one whose personality you like.

9. Cost

As wedding photographers, we are confronted with this issue on almost daily basis.  We understand.  It is usually the deciding factor for most of our clients.  Many people are willing to sacrifice quality for cost.  For us, cost is a deciding factor when choosing photography and lighting equipment, but it is not the deciding factor.  We must purchase durable, quality equipment that will allow us to provide our clients with high-quality photography yet not break the bank.  It is possible.

We recommend not making a decision based solely on cost.  You are not in the market for a bottle of bleach, in which case, anyone will more than likely due.  It is your wedding, one of the most important days of your life.  An good, professional wedding organizer with solid providers can make all the difference.

Putting it Into Practice

Start by developing a budget based on what you consider the essential elements for your Costa Rica wedding.  It gets expensive quickly and can easily get out of control without a budget.  Then, decide if you want an independent or in-house wedding planner.  Know that if you hire an independent wedding planner, resorts may charge for not using their vendors.  For example, they may charge $150.00 for contracting a photographer not on their list of providers.  Factor this into your budget if choosing an independent wedding organizer.

Find wedding planners whose style you like.  Take into consideration the points in this article.  After finding about 5-6 wedding planners that fit the bill, ask for an estimate.  Then, reduce the number to 2-3 based on cost.  At this point, any of the remaining organizers should meet your needs.    

Planning a wedding, especially an international one, can be overwhelming.  We hope this article helps uncomplicated the process and helps you find the best planner for your Costa Rica wedding, or wherever you get married.  ¡Felicidades!