In the past three years, my husband and I have received a handful of invitations to weddings at ritzy, all-inclusive Mexican tourist resorts. The current popularity of Mexican weddings is fueled by America’s $16 billion “destination” wedding industry.
Today, one in four weddings, or 350,000 weddings each year, occur in domestic and international destination locations. Mexico ranks among the top three areas for hosting the 30 percent of destination weddings Americans hold annually outside the United States.
The Mexican destination wedding industry works hard to convince Americans that resort weddings in Mexico are affordable, safe, and fun. On the contrary, Mexican weddings require guests to assume exorbitant costs, make bold presumptions about guests’ travel preferences and abilities, and pose unnecessary security and health risks.
The Costs to Guests
Mexican resort weddings draw couples with stunning views, cerulean water, and steep price savings. The average wedding package at an all-inclusive Mexican resort costs less than $5,000, far more affordable than the average $35,329 Americans spend for a traditional wedding. Unfortunately, those savings are achieved by spreading costs to guests.
The average cost to attend an American wedding is $703. My husband’s upcoming two-day excursion to a resort wedding in Cancun will cost nearly $1,800. This includes a $760 plane ticket, more than $740 for two nights in the cheapest room at the venue’s all-inclusive resort, $30 for a shuttle from airport to hotel, plus tuxedo rental and a gift. If I accompanied him, the total would rise to almost $2,800 between doubled airfare and shuttle costs, and an all-inclusive double-occupancy room charge of $906.
The average destination wedding includes 48 guests. Assuming, quite generously, that Mexican resort hotel prices are fairly standard and that all guests will stay as couples in a base-level room for two nights and opt for no additional perks, a resort hosting a destination wedding stands to pull in more than $21,000 solely from housing and feeding guests.
Another costly wrinkle is that some weddings are hosted at adults-only resorts, which means parents who choose to attend must find a babysitter not just for an afternoon and evening, but for several days.
Couples hosting Mexican nuptial extravaganzas assume invited friends and family have limitless funds for travel, but between saving for retirement, home improvements, and a child’s college, alongside paying monthly mortgage, grocery, car, and heating or cooling bills, many Americans do not have the budget for short, expensive vacations.
A Resort Prison Vacation
Whereas domestic weddings usually include one or two days of intermittent activities, destination weddings are touted as an opportunity for the bride and groom to combine honeymoon and wedding into one excursion, and for guests to turn their attendance into a vacation of their own. Some love the idea of days spent poolside sipping drinks. Others have different plans for their precious vacation days and hard-earned travel funds.
Some families and singles prefer to spend days off adventuring and hiking through the wilderness, or exploring new cities and countries by car or using public transportation. Families like mine only travel to places they can bring along their pets and children, or where they can cut costs on food and board by staying with family or at an Airbnb.
The above options are not available to the resort traveler. For safety, guests are often warned not to leave the boundaries of their Mexican resort. Many opt to be ferried to and from the airport by resort transportation to avoid robbery, kidnapping, and carjacking.
In a country where 43 percent of alcohol is “illegally produced, under unregulated circumstances,” guests cannot be certain the beverages they consume will not be tainted with deadly methanol. Alas, such dire possibilities are the side effects of vacationing at an all-inclusive prison compound with a lovely view.
Security and Health Concerns
Particularly in the past five years, visitors to Mexico have had more to worry about than accidentally drinking the water. After November 2015, outbreaks of the mosquito-borne Zika virus in Mexico caused some pregnant women to deliver children born with deadly microcephaly. Today, there remain concerns about whether pregnant women and those trying to get pregnant should travel to Mexico.
New dangers emerged when 20-year-old American tourist Abbey Conner died after consuming tainted alcohol at a Mexican resort in January 2017. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Raquel Rutledge uncovered proof of additional deaths, and more than 170 people who had experienced blackouts, sexual assaults, and robberies, linked to contaminated alcohol at a variety of Mexican resorts. Some victims had ingested only one drink before being affected.
Rutledge also highlighted a host of troubling ancillary issues, including indifferent resort staff and police, and “unethical” medical practices and extortion in local Mexican hospitals. Her investigation discovered that numerous travel sites had failed to provide warnings about recent travelers’ negative experiences, while TripAdvisor expunged negative reviews, including from rape and blackout victims and the parents of those who died in Mexican resorts.
Although there have been no more recent reported deaths from tainted alcohol in Mexico, another concern looms large. In 2019, Mexico’s homicide rate reached a record of more than 35,500 murders. The increase is almost certainly related to the growth of drug cartels, including new cartels that have brought violent murders to tourist locations like Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum.
As Forbes writer Gary Stoller explains, “More Americans are killed by homicide in Mexico than the combined total of Americans killed by homicide in every other country abroad.” In July 2019, this included a California businessman killed in Cabo San Lucas, and a Utah couple killed, shot execution-style, after failing to stop for armed gunmen at a checkpoint while traveling from Acapulco to a beach resort. The couple’s 12-year-old son was shot, but survived.
In spite of these dangers, State Department travel advisories throughout Mexican tourist destinations remain at a moderate “Level 2,” while Mexican resort locations continue to beckon westerners with overly optimistic blandishments about legitimate concerns. Prospective brides and grooms and their guests should be wary of self-interested, profit-seekers who make light of the expensive, presumptuous, and dangerous realities of hosting weddings at Mexican resorts.
If attending your wedding requires me to spend exorbitant sums of money and numerous precious vacations days in areas rife with health concerns and deadly cartel violence, I will send my gift by mail and toast your nuptials by sipping tequila under a sun lamp.