A Destination Wedding in Greece

Nicole Bono of Bono Events International discovers new life in 2021 with a grand event in Santorini. Here’s her story.

It’s no surprise to say that COVID-19 was a devastating blow to the wedding industry. For us, destination wedding planners, the fallout was tremendous, as not only were events out of question but so was travel. I had the most incredible line-up of weddings and events for 2020 and in a flash all of it was gone. I was out of a job, and our entire industry was in the dark. I spent most of my time in quarantine in my tiny apartment in Paris, where I decided to work “on my business” since that was all that was left. It seemed like I was working in the hypothetical space — so far from the reality of what was happening on the news, but I had to push myself to be there mentally to keep going, leaning on industry colleagues for support and motivation. 

One of my main decisions during this time was to expand Bono Events International to not only offer destination weddings and events, but also travel design services. I had realized that there was a central element of Destination Weddings over which I had no control or oversight — the travel element. Whether it be flights, transfers, room blocks, travel pre- and post-, I wanted to become a one-stop-shop company for my clients. It was then that I reached out to Kristin Chambers, the owner of the Virtuoso company TravelLustre, a collection of travel advisors. She had a training, mentoring and travel business development program that was just about to start. With the world in lockdown and all my events postponed or canceled, I had nothing else to do, so I decided to take on this training and dive into the world of travel design. It was the best decision I ever made.

Cut to early 2021. I received an e-mail from Kristin outlining a request from a lovely Bostonian couple, Derek Archila and Emily Landsman, interested in eloping that summer in Santorini. With borders still closed and travel still unpredictable, I was hesitant. Was it realistic to make promises about destination elopements? I spoke with many industry colleagues to see how they were handling these requests, and the best advice was to be fully transparent, ensuring that their cancellation policies and travel insurance coverages were top notch. Another invaluable resource and support was working in collaboration with local Greek experts, Maria Petsa and Eva Saringala from Eclectic Greece, who not only helped me plan the wedding and the elopement, but they also provided constant support and essential updates on Greece for me. Together, as summer approached, we were certain that we could make Emily and Derek’s dream destination elopement come true, even in the midst of a pandemic. 

I must admit that working with Emily and Derek was just what I needed; they were the most positive and hopeful couple throughout the entire process, with a very clear vision as to what they wanted. Emily and Derek are the owners of Della Terra Shoes, an ethical and inclusive brand continuously working towards sustainability. It was their dream to not only elope in Santorini but also do a branding shoot for their newly launched shoe line. Subsequently, they had plans to honeymoon in Greece and we proposed Crete, a large island that offers everything one desires from Greece, to avoid excessive island hopping. They loved the idea. Suddenly I was in the middle of a dream project, producing a branding shoot, an elopement and designing a luxury honeymoon to Greece.

Emily Landsman and Derek Archila at Canaves Oia

The newly wed enjoy the moment at their private terrace at Canaves Oia. (Photo Courtesy of Veronica Girotti from Mama Photo Studio)

It is fundamental in any project you do to assemble together the right team. When it comes to events and travel, collaboration is everything. I was so grateful to have our TravelLustre team and Eclectic to lean on for their travel planning. They helped us lock in the dreamiest of venues — Canaves Oia, with their panoramic balcony, which would become our main stage. Working within the Virtuoso network is also such an incredible and rewarding space to be in. What I love about TravelLustre is the team culture we have created, where we support and encourage each other through creative projects, rethinking traditional business models, and finding ways to capitalize on what has come from the pandemic and learning from these past (almost) two years. Teamwork and collaboration are the keys to future success in these industries.

Speaking of teamwork, it is also vital to assemble the right team for the wedding day. Veronica Girotti of Mama Photo is a brilliant Italian photographer I have been working with for a long time now, and I knew that I could trust her to deliver the most incredible photos for all the aspects of this project (wedding and branding), which not every photographer has the range to do. It was incredibly helpful to have a collaborator in Santorini that I previously worked with and had the best set of eyes to double check all of my work. The next task was to find a video crew, and we knew we had to partner with a local professional, as Veronica and I had never worked in Santorini before; we had never even been there. I knew we needed someone to show us all those secret spots and breathtaking corners of Santorini to make those magic shots happen. Fotis Kapetanakis & Maxos Kapetanakis — a family-owned video and photo team local to Santorini really impressed me from their very first interview. Their portfolio of work was exactly what Derek and Emily needed, but they also really knew the ins and outs of the island of Santorini, which made them the perfect choice. After that came the final selections, such as floral design (Betty Flowers), music (Artistic Productions & Sunset Notes), hair & makeup (Michalis Tsotras), and our lovely celebrant, Elizabeth Cass-Kanti, who performed one of the most beautiful symbolic ceremonies I have ever witnessed. 

I am very thorough in selecting each collaborator for all of my events. I always do extensive vetting and interviews before my selection. On the wedding day, I need to fully focus on my tasks and have an enormous amount of things to take care of, so you need vendors you can fully trust to work together as a team. This is imperative, and I was incredibly fortunate to have found this synergy with all the vendors for this project. 

Emily designs every piece in the Della Terra Shoes collection. It’s a pretty unique industry moment when the bride is wearing a pair of hand-crafted, hand-beaded and embroidered shoes that she designed herself. The shoes paired perfectly with her breathtaking dress from Vintage in Vogue Bridal, and because it was an elopement, I had the honor of helping Emily into her gorgeous gown. This was one of the most memorable and emotional weddings I have been a part of. Sure, we encountered hiccups and obstacles along the way, but Emily, Derek and I were awestruck by the beauty and energy of the event we managed to pull off during such a trying time for travel. It wasn’t easy reaching the moment of “I do,” but we got there, and in style. That night, after the cake cutting, I left the couple to enjoy their private terrace, and called Kristin. I wanted to share this moment of pure joy and satisfaction with her, a return to “normalcy” for us in the industry after over a year of complete standstill. “We did it!”, I exclaimed to her, as this was a collective victory for all of us involved. 

The day after the wedding, Mr. and Mrs. Archila checked out of Canaves and headed to Crete. Their first stop was at the beautiful property, Elounda Gulf Villas. Their romantic, sun-drenched week was spent relaxing on the beach and enjoying incredible day trips like exploring the ancient cave of Zeus or taking a gorgeous sunset boat tour around the Spinalonga island. They got to explore Knossos Palace and Rethymnon on their way to Chania, where they checked into Domes Noruz Chania. Exploring the Cretan villages, countryside and beaches were some of the most memorable parts of their honeymoon. 

 After months of lockdown, planning every detail for this event and honeymoon was pure joy and rewarding. I am so eternally grateful to Derek and Emily for choosing me as their planner, they will forever be the couple that motivated me out of the darkness. Working on this project brought me back to life and reminded me why I do what I do. With my very own eyes I get to watch how weddings cultivate pure happiness, how everyone involved gets to participate in sharing love. Thank you, Derek & Emily, and thank you to every single person involved in this, I am forever grateful. 

Since 2020, I have moved to the countryside of Umbria, outside Orvieto, Italy. Looking at my calendar for 2022 filled with destination weddings and many more incredible projects ahead, I am incredibly grateful for this comeback our industry is having. This pandemic was a huge reminder about the importance of love, of how fortunate we are when we can take moments to celebrate it and be together.

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