Cayman embraces wedding tourism

They are getting bigger, more elaborate, are recession-proof and are likely to bring their visitors back as repeat guests. No wonder Cayman is saying ‘I do’ to destination weddings.

And although the number of visitor weddings taking place in these islands has not grown in the past year, there seems to be an across the board increase in the size of weddings and in wedding spending in general.

The Department of Tourism, which has focused heavily on marketing the romance market in the past few years, is pleased with the results.

Director of Tourism Pilar Bush said, ‘The DoT is very excited to hear from wedding industry private partners in all segments of the business that they have experienced an across the board rise in numbers of guests attending weddings, as well as increase in average spending per wedding as destination weddings are getting larger and larger.’

Although in general from 2006 to 2007 there was a slight fall-off in the number of visitor weddings in the Cayman Islands, Ms Bush puts this down to being largely attributable to the decrease in cruise visitor arrivals over the year.

2006 had 770 registered visitors’ weddings, while in 2007 there were 748 visitors’ weddings.

And although the DoT had been looking for growth of 6 per cent in visitor weddings from ’06 to ’07, it is pleased with the results of efforts in the romance market with weddings increasing in size and scope.

Ms Bush said, ‘We know that the work we have done to build the brand and share the message that the Cayman Islands is an ideal destination for weddings of style and distinction and that the quality of service providers on our islands is second to none, is paying off now and well into the future.

‘We have never set out to do the most weddings in the Caribbean, but instead stand for high quality weddings that delight family, friends and wedding guests of all ages and attract a very targeted, well aligned visitor to Cayman’.

Indeed, Director at the Reef Resort in East End, Tom McCallum is pleased with the way weddings are growing at his property.

‘We are seeing a continued strong increase in the number of weddings we have and the average number of guests has significantly increased. Our typical wedding now has 30 guests, or we can have as many as 90 guests,’ he said.

He added that destination wedding visitors are spending more money on their weddings and in general while they are vacationing here.

With a dedicated wedding concierge and a policy that guarantees the couple that only one wedding per day will be held at the resort, critical dates in the calendar get booked up for weddings there quickly.

Communications Director with the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman Melissa Ladley said, ‘Destination Weddings represent a critical component of our growth strategies for 2008 and beyond.

‘Not only are we seeing the average number of room nights associated with weddings increase, but we are also seeing higher demand for unique, full weekend packages that go beyond the traditional ceremony and reception.’

Ms Bush noted that the DoT plans to continue to invest in this market.

‘We have created a very strong niche in the marketplace, a real point of differentiation among Caribbean competitors and we do not plan to give up the leadership position that we have worked so hard to achieve.’

The Cayman Islands is also seeing the results of integrated efforts paying off. The recent STYLE network television special filmed on Little Cayman, ‘My Destination Wedding with The Knot’ has aired over 25 times and will continue to do so for up to five years. The successful six-episode television series filmed on island in 2006 following wedding planning company Celebrations Ltd. continues to air on The Travel Channel to a worldwide audience. ‘These efforts are far reaching and incredible exposure for the entire destination,’ said Ms Bush.

And the three separate islands can only serve to enhance this romance market.

‘Add to this the fact that we have three distinct islands which means we can speak to three very different types of brides and are not limited to ‘one message’ when it comes to romance. This point of differentiation has not been lost on Sister Island properties and many of them are now working harder to speak to the wedding and romance market as well as the traditional dive market.’

Another wonderful boon for the romance market is that weddings and honeymoons are one of the few recession-proof market segments. ‘We saw that after Ivan one of the few markets that did not cancel was the wedding and honeymoon market – they are incredibly loyal and dedicated consumers,’ said Ms Bush. ‘They make travel decisions based on their hearts – not their wallets or other external economic or environmental factors.’

Ms Ladley of the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman said, ‘The luxury segment of destination weddings has seemed to be immune to the economic gloom in the US to date. Our wedding planning professionals are receiving dozens of inquiries each week.’

According to a forecast from Kiplinger, a leading business forecaster, the sluggish US economy will not stop lovebirds tying the knot this year, and doing it in style. The article quotes David Wood, president of the Association of Bridal Consultants as saying, ‘People tend to get married whether they have the money or not, whether they have a job or not, whether they get a promotion or not.’

Another big plus with the wedding market is that most likely the wedding guests are truly incremental visitors to the Cayman Islands. ‘. . . we have a powerful opportunity to turn them into repeat visitors based on their experience in attending the wedding,’ said Ms Bush.

According to Condé Nast Bridal Group: American Wedding Study, 92 per cent of couples plan to go back to their wedding/honeymoon destination.

Another plus is that destination weddings are getting increasingly elaborate. ‘We know that there are destination weddings in Grand Cayman that have occurred and will be occurring that exceed six figures – and that is not including the cost of rooms and guest travel,’ said Ms Bush.