How to get a slice of a billion dollar industry

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Local photographers displayed their work at Engage! 09

America’s wedding industry has undergone a complete transformation in recent years, with wedding planners and designers now achieving celebrity status and social media creating an interactive and constant means of communication between brides changing forever the way weddings are planned and executed. The good news for the Cayman Islands is that couples are now looking further afield when choosing a wedding destination.
Business Editor, Lindsey Turnbull attended and reports on a conference dedicated to promoting interaction between wedding industry professionals, Engage! 09 Something Blue, held at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, a regularly held luxury wedding seminar that is quickly becoming a must-attend in the diaries of those in the know.

It might be a hard sum to get your head around, but the wedding and honeymoon industry in the US alone is worth a staggering US$161 billion. There are around 2.2 million weddings every year, equating to around 45,000 each and every weekend. This is seriously big business which has, naturally, attracted a boom in recent years of wedding service providers, ranging from photographers, planners, dress designers, cake makers, stationery designers and even bloggers dedicated to discussing the minutiae of weddings.

Engage! 09 Something Blue is the third of its kind (and the first to be held in the Cayman Islands), a unique grouping of high end wedding service providers who are all top of their game, focused on sharing their knowledge and forging new connections with up and coming professionals keen to hear the stories of their success.

Having the event held at The Ritz-Carlton in the Cayman Islands provided not only a great venue for these professionals to gather, but it also gave local service providers the opportunity to showcase their own unique products as well as highlight the entire destination as the perfect getaway wedding locale. In the end, over 175 attendees representing 27 states in the US and 9 countries attended. There were over 75 bloggers, 25 members/editors of the top bridal media along with over 25 attendees who live blogged and live Twittered at Engage! 09 during the entire event.

Behind the Engage! 09 concept are two experts in the field of weddings, Rebecca Grinnals and Kathryn Arce, of Engaging Concepts, who are expert consultants to the wedding and honeymoon industry (with a particular speciality in destination weddings) and who have worked closely over the years with Cayman’s private sector partners as well as the Department of Tourism.

Rebecca and Kathryn, in partnership with the DoT and major local sponsors Tortuga Rum Co, Celebrations, The Ritz-Carlton and Cayman Airways, along with Picture This/Rebecca Davidson Photography, Octopus Events, Massive/Fireworks Limited, InTec Lighting and many of Grand Cayman’s finest restaurants, produced a seamless three days worth of events, which included informative showcase presentations by some of the biggest names in the industry (Darcy Miller, Editorial Director for Martha Stewart Weddings; Millie Martini-Bratten, Editor-in-chief, Bride’s Magazine; Sylvia Weinstock, cake maker extraordinaire and Preston Bailey, wedding designer to the uber rich and famous, to name but a few), as well as more intimate and interactive sessions, which allowed the attendees a real insight into the mechanics of the wedding business world.

Acting Director of Tourism, Shomari Scott explains: “The opportunity of hosting Engage! 09: something blue was truly the perfect storm of opportunity. Engaging Concepts had hosted two sold out, wildly successful ‘engage’ symposiums and the wedding industry buzz was at a fever pitch – with the call for ‘more’ days of sessions and time to network and interact with each other. CIDOT was supportive and fully open to coming on board as the ‘presenting’ sponsor for the event in order to attract the ‘who’s who’ of the luxury/destination wedding industry to experience all that Cayman has to offer in person.”

Getting the wedding low down
One of the most interesting presentations of the three-day event was the fact-filled insights provided by Carley Roney, co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Knot Inc, a lifestyle media company with a website, publications and television shows dedicated to providing advice for weddings, creating a first home and planning a family. In particular, www.theknotinc.com has transformed the wedding landscape as the leading wedding resource and most-trafficked online wedding destination with over 3.4 million unique visitors a month and more than 125 million monthly page views. Carley estimates that around 90 per cent of all American brides-to-be view her website for information, a testament to the highly influential reach of The Knot.
At Engage! 09 Carley revealed the results of her company’s recent real weddings survey conducted last year on 18,000 couples, providing a good insight into their mindset and thus a great starting point for anyone looking to find an opening into this growing business.

The stats on weddings
Although the recession was already looming when the survey was conducted (from 1st January through to 31st December 2008) the cost of the average wedding in the States had increased, year on year, from US$27,882 in 2007 to US$29,334, and one third of those polled were spending US$30,000 or more on their wedding. The most expensive weddings were out of the North East and the Pacific at an average of US$40,000.

Almost half the respondents went over budget and after the venue (33 per cent of the budget), couples spent the second largest portion of their budget on the photographer. Wedding gowns were seeing a reduced budget, down 22 per cent from 2007 and the cake was also seeing a reduction in budget, down 19 per cent on 2007. Interestingly, an impressive 90 per cent of grooms were actually involved in the planning process.

44 per cent of the wedding was paid for by the bride’s parents, while 12 per cent of the wedding was paid for by the groom’s parents and 12 per cent by the couple themselves. In 12 per cent of weddings the couple paid for the entire event while that same figure was applied to couples who did not pay a cent for their wedding.

The average number of guests was down from 2007 (148 as opposed to 153 in 2007) with a trend for younger brides to have larger weddings.

64 per cent of weddings were termed semi-formal, 20 per cent black tie, 12 per cent casual and 4 per cent “other” (Carley wondered if they were perhaps conducted in a bikini). But while weddings might be getting more casual, they were also lasting longer. 84 per cent of couples held rehearsal dinners, 83 per cent had wedding showers and 45 per cent made their weddings a three-day event.

25 per cent of weddings were themed (from Star Wars to Old Hollywood to Dr Seuss to the Red Socks, the limit was only the couples’ imagination, it appears).

Carley explained that The Knot had conducted a follow up study in February of this year to see how the recession had bitten into the industry and found that the wedding industry, although robust and growing, was not immune from the downturn, with 40 per cent of couples making adjustments to their wedding plans in light of economic constraints. Those cutting their budgets were doing so by about 15 to 20 per cent and were scaling back, not cutting out. Must-haves still included the honeymoon, which was seen as crucial, while videographers and wedding planners were vulnerable “extras” that were expendable. Couples were trimming guest lists and embracing more of a DIY attitude (making invites and place cards, etc)
Couples were split when it came to the most favoured venue – 43 per cent chose a place of worship, 35 per cent chose outdoors; 65 per cent indoors.

An ideal destination
Turning to destination weddings (i.e. weddings taking place 200 miles or more away from the couple’s home), Carley said a growing number, around 20 per cent of couples, were choosing a destination over their home in which to get wed.

The appeal of the destination wedding was that couples tended to spend less overall, as they scaled back the number of guests dramatically for such a wedding. The average budget for a destination wedding was US$21,285 (not including the engagement ring, travel or the honeymoon) which, Carley emphasised, was US$21,285 potentially spent on-island per wedding.
37 per cent of destination weddings took place in the Caribbean, 23 per cent in Mexico, 17 per cent in Hawaii and 9 per cent (and rising) in Europe. Carley said that they could also see a move towards further flung destinations such as the Middle East and Africa. These weddings tended to be casual, outdoors and last longer in general than weddings at home.

Make the connection
According to Carley, connecting with brides was straightforward – she urged attendees to use the internet every step of the way. A huge 98 per cent of brides used the internet as a source of information when planning a wedding although bridal magazines were also an important source, with 84 per cent of brides reading them avidly. 75 per cent of brides used family and friends as information sources while books and events were sourced far less frequently.

Social networks such as Twitter and Facebook were extremely important for brides-to-be, as Carley said: “The bride can use them to pummel her bridesmaids into doing things for her on a regular basis!”

She said these two-way communication vehicles between small groups of people were becoming essential components of the wedding planning scene and were the biggest applications on Facebook, noting that 400,000 brides had mini Facebook pages for their guests to view as the wedding details progressed.

Social networks have caused an extra-ordinary change in the wedding planning business,” she said. “It has become a social experience in its own right. Expectations are getting increasingly higher putting a huge demand on service providers but it also has the effect of keeping the industry vibrant and is helping to change the business.”

Read more about what the experts in the wedding industry had to say in next month’s Journal. In particular – how to use social networking to your advantage within the industry.

 

Engage-Carley-and-Darcy

Carley Roney, co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Knot Inc with Darcy Miller, Editorial Director for Martha Stewart Weddings

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