The Philippines is poised to become a venue for destination weddings. No less than American Yanni Tzoumas, editorial director and publisher of Grace Ormonde Wedding Style, made this assessment after recent visits to Manila and Cebu.
Upon the invitation of leading wedding and events planner Rita Neri, whose company is celebrating its 20th year in the business, Tzoumas and his photographer did a series of pictorials featuring the works of three of the country’s leading events stylists, such as Robert Blancaflor, Jing Tañada and Zenas Pineda.
The images, including a number of food and venue shots, will come out exclusively in the magazine’s January 2014 issue. Tzoumas is married to Ormonde, founder and editor in chief of her self-named magazine, which is considered by industry practitioners like Neri as the “bible” on anything and everything about chic, high-end weddings.
Shangri-La Mactan and Shangri-La Makati hosted Tzoumas and his photographer during their 10-day stay in the Philippines. Neri planned and coordinated their photo shoots, including trips to other leading wedding venues within Metro Manila and Tagaytay.
“It’s my first time to be here,” said Tzoumas. “Based on what I’ve seen so far, there’s clearly infrastructure in terms of getting to and from the Philippines. I’ve seen some of the venues, and I think whoever comes here to the Philippines will benefit from the heightened level of service and hospitality.”
Tzoumas likened the service he experienced to a “well-oiled” machine. Staffers in the two five-star hotels he stayed in, for instance, were attentive, but their brand of service was far from intrusive.
“They’re not over your head all the time,” he said. “There’s a sense of them observing you from afar, and when they see you, say, fiddling with something or in need of anything, they’re there.”
Based on the limited number of venues he visited, he was impressed by the country’s natural beauty and rich heritage. His impressions were further bolstered after he watched a travel video produced by the Department of Tourism.
Although he attended a grand, 850-guest wedding in Cebu upon the invitation of a Filipino friend (the couple’s uncle), Tzoumas had yet to grace a real “destination wedding” to fully articulate his Philippine experience.
“That was different,” he said, referring to the Cebu wedding he went to. “It was more of a local wedding since the couple and their parents are from here. Their uncle, who’s my neighbor, lives in the States.”
In Tzoumas’ book, destination weddings have gained popularity, at least in the US, in the last eight to 10 years. It’s an alternative, really, to staging one’s wedding where either the bride or groom and their immediate families reside. A destination wedding is definitely for more adventurous couples for whom money isn’t an issue.
Ideally, it should be a location that appeals to both parties. It may not be out of the country, as some couples in the US—based in Chicago, for example—stage their weddings in Florida, California or Hawaii.
Mexico, the Caribbean, and certain towns and cities in Europe have also proven to be popular among Americans thinking of tying the knot abroad.
“The idea behind a destination wedding is to pick an ideal location because the event could last up to four to five days,” he said. “To make their trips worthwhile, guests arrive days earlier, so there should be other activities to entertain them such as golf, tennis, sailing.”
Typically, guests are welcomed in their rooms with gift baskets, which include a list of suggested activities. Unlike a regular wedding, a destination wedding is usually smaller and more intimate in scale.
Apart from the exotic venue, what makes it special is the attendance of guests dear to the couple. After all, it’s no joke, especially in the US, to travel to a far-off, exotic destination just to attend a wedding. These guests must really love the couple for them to go out of their way and share in their celebration.
“In most cases, everything will be paid for by the couple,” said Tzoumas. “Usually, guests would just pay for their transportation.”
Neri first invited Tzoumas and Ormonde several years ago when the couple were doing a book tour to promote their coffee-table book on weddings. The trip didn’t pan out, but the couple kept Neri in mind.
When the opportunity did come earlier this year, Tzoumas e-mailed Neri to tell her that he was attending a wedding in Cebu. He also requested her to coordinate photo opportunities, as he was interested in featuring new and inventive ways to create tabletops or table settings as interpreted by Filipino talents.
“Asking Rita to collaborate with us wasn’t a leap in the dark,” said Tzoumas. “Although we haven’t met each other personally prior to this trip, I’ve seen her works online, and they’re high-caliber projects.”
Neri invited Blancaflor and company to participate. Knowing how influential Grace Ormonde Wedding Style is, the three events stylists didn’t think twice about accepting the invitation.
“We gave them free rein to do whatever they want,” said Neri. “I only requested that they submit either sketches or pictures before the actual photo shoot to give me an idea of what they intend to do. It was done mainly to avoid duplication.”
The events stylists were originally set to do a table setting each, but they all ended up doing two. Tzoumas was pleasantly surprised at the level of sophistication and creativity each artist brought, well, to the table. (Images and details of the tabletops have been embargoed until the magazine’s January 2014 issue hits newsstands.)
Tzoumas didn’t know what to expect, but having featured hundreds of tabletops before, he wanted to see arrangements that exude “elegance with a touch of the avant-garde.”
“I was hoping we would see a good fit for the magazine, something our readers would appreciate,” he said. “It’s not about conforming with the norms, but staying within good taste. I think we reach interesting levels when we surpass the norms. It’s about thinking outside the box.”
And he got what he wanted, as every tabletop he encountered had a different feel and character. Blancaflor, for instance, did away with the table linen in lieu of a wire mesh filled with dangling white flowers.
“Doing away with linen has been done before,” said Tzoumas, “but the overall effect of Robert’s tabletop was totally new, totally fresh. For his second arrangement, he went grandiose with red flowers.”
Pineda incorporated t’nalak, a fabric woven by tribes in southern Philippines, for an exotic touch. Tañada outfitted a table that formed the figure “8.”
“It was such an inviting arrangement because you can see each other,” Tzoumas said, referring to Tañada’s handiwork. “And with all those dangling crystals she decorated the ceiling with, you’re instantly transported to a whimsical garden.”
After the bride finds the ideal wedding gown, said Tzoumas, the couple now focuses on the food and venue and all the minute details that go with it. They want everything to be special, since it’s their first time to host guests from both sides and tell them “what they’re all about.” Going for a destination wedding in the Philippines could very well be the ideal statement they’re looking for.