Small weddings are big business

Despite the economic downturn of the past three years and gloomy predictions for the future, destination weddings appear to be immune to the global recession. In fact, this sector of the tourism industry is actually showing steady growth, says Acting Director of Tourism Shomari Scott.  

The growth of destination weddings has been a global trend as couples increasingly look for more economical ways to marry, with smaller weddings being the most obvious. Guest lists are inevitably smaller for couples choosing to marry away from home.

“That alone helps keep costs down,” says Scott, “not to mention that the intrinsic and natural beauty of an island destination like Cayman helps to control décor costs.”  

This was one of the themes to emerge at the recent Engage!11 Cayman Islands luxury wedding conference, staged by Engaging Concepts in partnerships with the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism, which took place 14-17 November.

The business-to-business summit brought together industry leaders such as Bryan Rafanelli (planner for Chelsea Clinton’s wedding) and Randy Fenoli, star of the hit TV show ‘Say Yes To The Dress’, as well as wedding designers, bridal magazine editors, photographers, wedding gown experts and more for four days of talks, discussions and an open exchange of ideas and information.

For Cayman however, it was also an important vehicle for showcasing the Islands as a destination of choice for luxury weddings.

“We believe that the very best way to share the amazing and strong Cayman Islands wedding and honeymoon story is to show, whenever possible, rather than simply tell it,” explained renowned wedding industry consultant Rebecca Grinnals, founder and president of Engaging Concepts.  

Engage!11 Cayman Islands was the eighth such event staged by Engaging Concepts and the third – and largest to date – to be hosted in the Cayman Islands. In addition to the key speakers who were present at the event, Engage!11 was attended by 245 “key influencers” in the luxury and destination wedding sector, hailing from the US, UK, Canada, Mexico and other Caribbean Islands.

“Bringing top tier speakers and key influencers in the wedding industry to Cayman increases the awareness of Cayman as a luxury wedding destination to this audience, and by extension to their clients, some of whom are celebrities,” said Grinnals. Only 30 per cent of those who attended the conference had visited Cayman previously. However, after seeing all that Cayman has to offer, she adds, all of them will “become significant brand ambassadors for weddings/honeymoons in the Cayman Islands.” 

“Although other Caribbean islands such as Jamaica, St Lucia and the Bahamas are also popular locations for destination weddings, those islands tend to focus more on all inclusive and ‘free’ weddings – which are only free for the couple and perhaps a handful of friends and family – whereas the Cayman Islands focus on more luxurious weddings that are customised and designed specifically for each couple and their guests,” she added.  

Cayman is well positioned to corner this end of the market, thanks not only to its natural beauty, but to the quality of wedding related services available locally. “The Cayman Islands has the talent to support weddings that rival those in any major US, Canadian or UK metropolitan city,” says Grinnals.

This includes not only event planners and photographers but resorts, tours and entertainment businesses, all of whom add to the attraction of Cayman as a wedding destination.  

Although the Department of Tourism does not have statistics relating to destination weddings in the Cayman Islands (this is tracked by the General Registry Department), according to The Knot Magazine’s 2010 Market Intelligence Survey, approximately 20 per cent of US couples planning to marry choose destination weddings.

The average number of guests for a destination wedding is roughly half that of a hometown wedding (77 vs. 148). The average spend on a destination wedding, according to the survey, is US$21,285 with one third spending over US$25,000 – not including travel expenses or honeymoon. 

“The economic impact [for Cayman] is significant and reaches much further than the typical businesses one might think of,” said Scott.

“In addition to wedding planners/designers and resorts and venues, the wedding market impacts countless other businesses large and small including marriage officers, hair and makeup artists, entertainers, beverage/liquor distributors, attractions, water sports and dive operators, transportation providers, condos, villas restaurants, floral and décor, cake designer and the list goes on.” 

Additionally, any visitor who comes to the Cayman Islands for a destination wedding is a potential return visitor, possibly a lifelong one. 

If Cayman is to see this market continue to grow it must continue to court the market, and the target audience, which is, by the very nature of weddings, ever-changing. “Service providers need to stay on top of trends and evolving needs of discriminating couples. They should also invest in their web presence to ensure it tells the most accurate and compelling story of why to marry in Cayman and how talented the service providers are on Island,” Scott explained. 

In the current age of social media, professional websites alone are not enough. The wedding industry is a very socially engaged one, says Grinnals and those that attended the recent conference were busily tweeting, blogging, sharing photos and tagging one another on Facebook before, during and after the event.

The figures speak for themselves: Two weeks after the Engage!11 Cayman Islands opened, 58 blogposts dedicated to Cayman and the event had been posted and the Welcome video screened during the opening session had been viewed 22,900 times.  

Engage!11 has used social media to market itself and the last two events sold out exclusively via social media and electronic word of mouth. Live tweets were shown on a large screen throughout the event and before the end of November, tweets had reached 385,598 people. 

Cayman’s ideal weather, scenery, proximity to mainland US and the quality of accommodation, restaurants and services combine to make it an exceptional destination for weddings, particularly at the luxury end of the market. It must however stay ahead of the game as far as marketing and an online presence is concerned if this sector of the tourism industry is to see 
continued growth.