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Weddings Good For Business

Recovery Since ’09 Good, Even As Spending Reduced

By Tiffany Rider - Senior Writer

February 12, 2013 - Nearly two million people get married each year in the United States, traditionally spending hard earned cash on hospitality for family and friends in celebration of what most dream for – true love. That spending has a trickle down effect across the hospitality and tourism sectors, benefitting local businesses and national corporations alike.

One source for wedding spending data is The Wedding Report, established by Shane McMurray in 2004. McMurray’s research, based on an annual survey of approximately 10,000 newlyweds, has been used by hundreds of publications to get a sense of where couples are spending and how much is being spent each year. He has seen the wedding industry highs before the Great Recession and its steady climb toward recovery.

McMurray told the Business Journal that despite its strength, the wedding industry is not recession proof. “I saw the industry take a dive back in ’08, ’09. People went from spending $28,000 to $21,000. They were cutting back. It was a hard time for business.” Looking forward, McMurray said he doesn’t forecast any massive growth in the wedding industry. “I don’t think people will spend again the way they did in 2007,” he said.

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While people continue to get married, couples are more conscious of spending by paring down guest lists and hiring folks offering wedding planning and photography services at lower price points. In today’s market, people are going to look at the value, McMurray said. Vendors had been getting away with charging so much, and people aren’t willing to pay those rates anymore.

“There is new competition offering lower prices,” McMurray said. “Some people are charging $500 to $1,000 for wedding photography. They used to charge $5,000, $6,000, $7,000. There are people who spend that much, but it’s less common [today].”

In addition to the economic downturn’s impacts on the wedding industry, the generations getting married today have different values and thoughts on what a wedding should be, McMurray said. Technology has influenced the way we listen to music and the way we view photos. Where to-be-weds used to spend on a band and wedding photo albums, today they are looking to have emcees play the couple’s music and to receive digital copies of photos.

“The only piece of the market that has been very stable, and even a growth piece of the market, is the wedding dress,” McMurray said. “One of the things that I saw over the past two or three years is that some of the high end designers are creating lower-level lines to reach other markets.” For example, fashion designer Vera Wang now produces a line of dresses for David’s Bridal, which incentivizes brides to buy a designer dress for a few hundreddollars more. According to The Wedding Report, the average spending on a wedding dress or dresses (reception dress) is $1,187.

McMurray said a trend a couple of years ago was having the ceremony and reception at the same location. That trend is reversing with the desire of today’s generation of to-be-weds looking for more unique – and separate – ceremony and reception locations. “I used to have a category of 10 types of places where you’re going to have a reception or ceremony just four years ago,” he said. “Now the list is expanding.” Bette Bloom has more than 20 years of experience working in the wedding industry. As general manager of the Long Beach Petroleum Club (LBPC), Bloom can confirm the fluctuation in wedding spending on a local level.

“Weddings in the early 2000s to 2008 were over the top – extravagant and financially lavish,” she said. “The LBPC was extremely busy with several weddings every weekend. It has been very evident the last few years there has been a tightening of budgets and more do-it-yourself weddings with family and friends becoming more involved.” However, Bloom said she has seen brides’ budgets increasing more recently, along with their vision for the wedding.

In Southern California, some couples choose to incorporate the waterfront into a ceremony or reception. Long Beach boasts a variety of venues with waterfront views – from its public beaches to attractions like the Queen Mary.

The City of Long Beach began tracking beach weddings in 2011 through a new permitting system established that same year, according to Jay Lopez, athletic field and beach permit coordinator. Lopez said the city identified demand for beach weddings and expanded his position to include issuing and tracking beach permits.

Beach permits are free for parties of less than 25; for 26 to 100 guests, permits cost $29 each and go up to $79 for events with 100-200 people. There is a $29 processing charge in addition to each permit fee.

Approximately 95 percent of beach wedding permits are pulled for events with fewer than 100 guests, Lopez said. According to data Lopez provided to the Business Journal, the city earned approximately $1,341 through issuing permits for 42 weddings last year – 15 more beach weddings than in 2011.

Lopez said he expects the number of permits issued to continue to increase. “I’ve had two wedding coordinators call me” so far this year, he said. “People are finding out they can have weddings on the beach and it’s becoming more popular.” Lopez has booked seven beach weddings for 2013 so far.

For views of the harbor, the beachfront and Long Beach’s skyline, the Queen Mary offers a wedding location that is considered one of the most romantic venues in the area, according to the ship’s director of sales, Quentin Roberts.

The Queen Mary has a permanent gazebo as well as a private chapel to support the approximately 175 weddings hosted aboard the ship each year. Weddings range from $50 per person to $150 per person, Roberts said. For a typical Saturday wedding, the bridal party would have a rehearsal dinner on the ship. The next day is the ceremony and main reception. The following morning could include a Sunday brunch before the couple jumps on a Carnival Cruise Line ship or heads off to their honeymoon by flying from the Long Beach Airport.

“If you think about it, when you’re planning a wedding, it’s not only your day,” Roberts said. “You are entertaining out-of-town guests. Family and friends are all coming together. A lot of times people are taking their own personal time to bring their families out to the destination. What a great excuse to get the family out to Southern California. You’re arriving at a destination. You’ve got restaurants, bars and things to do. Oftentimes people get married at the run-of-the-mill hotel and three years later you won’t remember where you were. But you will always remember the Queen Mary.”

Thirty percent of the ship’s total catering revenue comes from weddings. Ceremonies and receptions obviously have a positive financial impact for not only the Queen Mary, but for the city as well. Steve Goodling, president and CEO of the Long Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, told the Business Journal via e-mail, “The wedding industry is an economic driver for many of our hospitality partners.

“Each year, several thousand weddings take place at many of our member hotels, one-of-a-kind attractions, award-winning restaurants as well as city beaches and parks,” Goodling said. “In addition, our partners understand the cultural needs and sensitivities in our community and provide years of experience working with a wide range of special traditions and requests. Also, our central location in the Southland, within swift access from Los Angeles, Orange County and the Inland Empire, makes Long Beach an easy-to-get-to and affordable waterfront destination.”