Their trip was planned in a
whirlwind when a rare opportunity came up to get away for a week, just the two
And, they thought: Why not do it
now? Get married, that is.
So Josephine Kull and William
Swenson got on a plane in New Jersey and landed in sunny Cayman and did just
Local residents may be surprised to
learn that destination weddings are quite a big business here. As of 8 July,
346 visitors had been married in the Cayman Islands in 2010 alone. That’s
actually a bit off the usual number, as the Island registers about 1,000
destination weddings per year.
Some weddings make more headlines
than others. For instance, this past winter, Grand Cayman was abuzz with the
news that superstar baseball player Jimmy Rollins of the US team Philadelphia
Phillies was getting married to Johari Smith at the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman.
Guests included other well-known Phillies players, and the wedding made the
news, the Internet and blogs, placing Cayman firmly on the destination wedding
map. It didn’t hurt that an earthquake shook the Island while the entourage was
here, adding further drama to an already attention-getting event.
Rebecca Grinnals president of
Engaging Concepts, a company that provides strategic consulting to the wedding
industry, notes that Cayman is an ideal wedding destination for many reasons.
“It is easily accessible – just one
hour from Miami and with direct air service from many US major cities and
Canada,” she says.
“Cayman offers a variety of wedding
experiences for couples – from barefoot in the sand simplicity to island chic
to over the top wedding extravaganzas. There are a very wide range of options
for guests as well, from world-class attractions to fun in the sun, sea and
sand,” she added.
“We are seeing Caribbean Club do
some amazing weddings lately. Of course Grand Old House is a leader and has
been for years as are the Westin, Ritz-Carlton, the Wharf and Grand Cayman
Beach Suites among others,” she added, noting Cayman’s impressive coterie of extremely
talented photographers including Rebecca Davidson, David Wolfe, Aaron
Rebarchek, Patrick Broderick and Courtney Platt.
Not a new thing
And while Cayman’s destination
wedding industry continues to grow by all industry accounts, getting married
here is not a new phenomenon.
Vernon and Francine Jackson of
Cayman Weddings began performing weddings for Cayman residents and visitors
over 20 years ago.
“Vernon was a career civil servant,
and when he retired at 55. The government at the time asked if he might take
over performing weddings from Ernest Panton, who had recently passed away,”
says the Jacksons’ daughter, Joy Basdeo, who performed Josephine and William’s
wedding and who is a doyenne of destination weddings herself.
“They were the first local company
to be established as wedding planners. Vernon established the company upon
retiring from the Civil Service, and his wife, my mother, Francine joined him a
few years later.”
In the beginning, the Jacksons
performed local weddings, but soon realised that they were well placed to help
out tourists who were interested in getting married in Cayman, once local laws
were changed lifting a required residency period for nonresidents who wanted to
“My mother then became a civil
registrar, the first one in the Cayman Islands when the law was changed to
allow civil registers,” says Ms Basdeo.
“She petitioned the governor to let
me be her deputy, so when she was off-Island I acted as her deputy for fourteen
Everyone in the family got
involved, one way or another. Even today, Ms Basdeo’s wedding coordinator,
Peggy Moorehead, will be joining the family, with her upcoming marriage to Ms
Basdeo’s son, Brett.
“Before Ivan, my parents moved
their office to Centennial Towers in West Bay, and doing so it became difficult
to continue to do cruise weddings, so they gave up that aspect of the
business,” said Ms Basdeo.
When she herself retired from
government, Ms Basdeo started helping her mother, performing cruise weddings.
It soon became clear an office closer to the cruise dock was needed.
“When couples come off the cruise
ship they need to go somewhere to change and get ready,” said Ms Basdeo.
And by opening new premises in
George Town, by law Ms Basdeo was required to get another business license and
Simply Weddings Grand Cayman Wedding Celebrants and Planners was born.
The Kull-Swenson wedding was Ms
Basdeo’s 93rd of 2010, so it looks promising that she will match last year’s
tally of 165.
“I do weddings but also vow
renewals and wedding blessings, for people who may have had a civil marriage
but want a little ceremony as well,” she said.
She knows she fills a certain
“Of course, Celebrations are known
for their luxury weddings, and the Ritz has been doing those kinds of weddings,
but different people want different things, so we serve people who want a
simple, elegant and personalized ceremony.”
She noted that her clients like the
fact the ceremonies were actually written by her father.
“He is a romantic,” she said.
“Having those ceremonies it very
special for people.”
Cayman benefits in many ways
“A destination wedding impacts not
only the resort, hotel, condo, or villas where the couple and guests are
staying,” said Ms Grinnals of Engaging Concepts.
“It also impacts the venue or
restaurant and a multitude of on island service providers including wedding
planners and designers, florists, cake bakers, invitation designers,
attractions, restaurants, hair & makeup services, spa, watersports, taxis
& rental cars and the list goes on and on!”
A destination wedding does not just
have to be about where the couple getting married are from, as bringing guests
from overseas can have just as an important impact on Cayman’s tourism product.
Amber Williamsen and John Ramsay
chose to get married at the Caribbean Club in May. Their lovely wedding,
planned through Jo-Anne Brown’s Celebrations and photographed by Aaron
Rebarchek, was an elegant affair that will assuredly remain a memorable event
for all who attended.
“John and I met here and are both
from different places, so it was an obvious choice for us to get married in
Cayman,” said Ms Williamsen.
“Overall, I must say we couldn’t
have been happier with our decision to hold the wedding here in Cayman.”
And though they currently live in
Cayman, the bulk of their 100-plus guests did not.
Travelling from Texas, Louisiana
and Georgia, among other places, many guests took the opportunity to extend
their stay into a proper vacation.
“Most stayed at Caribbean Club, a
good bit at Sunshine Suites, and then some people scattered at BeachComber and
Island Club,” said Ms Williamsen.
But the benefits to the Cayman
tourism sector extended far beyond that. Throughout the week, many of their visitors
took part in wedding activities which included a boat cruise on the Sundancer,
and a number of evenings of dinner and dancing at local restaurants and
nightclubs. The couple even hired local musicians on different nights.
“When we went on the boat trip to
the Stingray sandbar, the weather was quite choppy. But we had a big boat, so
we ended up being the only ones out there. When we got to Rum Point, it was
actually closed and they opened it for us as suddenly there were 100 people
there on a day they thought they were not getting any business,” said Ms
“The next day we had a local style
barbeque at the Cracked Conch, where we served things like conch fritters and
jerk chicken, and we had Suite Elite provide the music,” she said.
“It was such a great way to give
our guests a taste of Cayman life. It was the first time many of our guests had
been to the Caribbean (or outside the country for that matter) and many of them
said they plan to return to Cayman or make it an annual trip.”
Strategies for tough times
The challenging economic times may
be having an impact on the types of destination weddings Cayman is seeing.
While some of her cruise wedding
clients are still asking for all-inclusive packages, even booking as far as 18
months in advance, Ms Basdeo says other clients are definitely restrained in
She has had a lot more requests for
her company’s low-frills option, with couples opting, like the Kull-Swensons,
to hop on a plane or cruise ship to Cayman for a simple wedding ceremony, then
celebrate with family and friends when they get home.
“I believe destination weddings
were down 30 per cent last year according to my calculations,” she said.
But Ms Basdeo, who seems to be as
tech savvy as many teenagers, believes in the power of the internet, and she
says her two Facebook pages and her blog definitely drive business her way.
And she’s not the only one
harnessing the web.
The Cayman Islands Department of
Tourism is promoting weddings in the Cayman Islands through its www.CaymanVows.ky
Another new website, called Crystal
Blue Wedding Studio developed by local wedding planner Danielle Cococcia, uses
real wedding stories to provide links to a multitude of wedding resources and
vendors in Cayman.
Ms Grinnals concedes that while no
business is truly recession-proof, weddings are one of the very few business
segments that remain a bright spot.
“This is because, despite the
economy or natural or man-made disasters – weddings rarely cancel. We have of
course seen couples re-prioritise their spending and cut back on items that are
not as important to them,” she says, suggesting the ability to control guest
lists at destination weddings is an easy way for couples to manage costs.
“They are becoming very savvy
consumers and are shopping around for destinations/resorts/venues and service
providers that offer incredible service, unique experiences, high levels of
quality and also deliver value.”
The Future of Tourism for more on Cayman’s tourism industry