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The business of brides

Published: 
Thursday, June 7, 2018

Traditionally, June and July are the months for weddings in T&T.

About 7,000 people tie the knot here annually, with approximately 5,000 of those nuptials comprising a wedding and reception. Most local couples are still very traditional, preferring to be married in their respective places of worship but those who opt for a civil ceremony still do have a reception of some sort, whether a small gathering, dinner or luncheon-style reception.

But how viable is this country’s wedding industry?

Are blushing brides constrained to small affairs due to current economic challenges?

Simone Sant-Ghuran, managing director of www.trinidadweddings.com said the local wedding industry has existed for many years but recently it has become more cohesive—a positive sign of growth and development.

“T&T has always had a wedding industry. However, up until perhaps 15 years ago, I would say it was very fragmented. It was not as cohesive as it is now with many wedding vendors forming alliances, partnerships and doing collaborations of all sorts, both creative and business-based.”

Viability is measured by being able to make profits and survive in the long-term, she explained.

“As an industry ours will always be viable since we fall into life-cycle business—businesses that are related to births and deaths—so people will always get married. Hence there’s always going to be a stable customer base. The wedding scope and format is what can change,” she said.

Sant-Ghuran, who has been in the industry for some 14 years, has been a feature speaker at international wedding industry events in New York, Jamaica and Guyana. She is currently editor-in-chief of the Trinidad Weddings’ Wed-Zine, an annual wedding magazine which has been sold nationwide since 2010 and globally via digital download since its 2013 issue.

She has seen many wedding businesses fold but has also seen just as many survive and thrive. Survival and all the factors that come with it are key, she pointed out.

“Survival has sometimes meant changing one’s offerings, technology, marketing, or exploring niche markets within the industry. Survival is critical here as it’s usually an indicator of industry experience.”

A 2015 survey conducted by www.trinidadweddings.com found that 30 per cent out of 100 brides ranked industry experience as one of the major criteria for booking a wedding vendor.

Belt tightening for brides

With job losses and high cost it can be difficult to plan a dream wedding. In some cases, said Sant-Ghuran, weddings have become smaller and venues have moved to less traditional locations. Outdoors with beaches are very popular.

There has also been an increase in destination weddings as some couples prefer to go abroad to get married in beach-front ceremonies. This trend, she advised, can be more cost effective as it combines the honeymoon with the ceremony and, in some cases, going on a cruise to get married.

However, couples in high income brackets continue to shell out big money for the grand occasion, as décor alone starts at $40,000.

“For 18 per cent of our target audience that figure is their entire wedding budget,” Sant-Ghuran said.

Another challenge—high importation costs which are affecting many players in the industry.

Legislation needed

The lack of updated intellectual property legislation to govern and protect copyright needs to be urgently addressed, Sant-Ghuran said.

“The lack of barriers to entry into the industry, in other words, anyone can become a wedding planner or wedding vendor in an instant by printing some call cards, doing a one-day course and establishing a social media page.”

Currently there are no systems are in place to “patrol” the industry and ensure that only qualified people operate.

“So what we have are a number of amateurs operating who tend to undercut the established operators and, in a very worst case scenario, fraudsters who enter the industry and brides who are none the wiser.”

Development is key

Continued professional development for wedding vendors is critical, especially in an industry that’s trend-based and affected by changing technology and social media.

Sant-Ghuran said many vendors either don’t have the extra funds or don’t realise the need for continuous improvement.

“We need more wedding industry training and educational opportunities. We have tried to do our part in this by offering small group training in areas of interest and wedding vendor networking events but more of this type of effort is certainly needed,” she said.

Also important is a bride’s education about the industry, its operation, prices and practices.

TrinidadWeddings.com has started a series of workshops, Bride University, to help educate its audience about these issues.

Romance destination

There’s are many places to get married but none like Tobago to say “I do”, according to Dr Auliana Poon, managing director of Leve-Global.

She said marketing Tobago as a romance destination is critical at this time not only to place the island on the international map but to promote it as a wedding and honeymoon destination “Love is recession-proof and there is no better place to fall in love and say “I do” than in Tobago. Indeed, one off the largest travel information sites, TripSavvy, has stated that almost one-quarter (24 per cent) of marriages take place at a destination outside the country of residence; 340,000 destination weddings take place per year and the destination wedding market accounts for US$16 billion per year with an average budget spend for the wedding of US$28,000.

“All of this amounts to an awesome business opportunity for those catering to this market. In fact, Leve-Global estimated that just 0.1 per cent of the global wedding market could impact the Tobago economy—$2 billion a year in revenue for an island of just over 60,000 people,” Poon said.

An avid promoter of tourism on the island, Poon said Leve has a lot of potential to propel the island even further on the international scene, especially through T&T’s fashion and culinary industries.

“There’s no better place to get married than the Caribbean, than T&T and Tobago specifically. We have a lot of locations, options and, most importantly, we have every single ingredient that you need. You just need to bring love and we can supply everything else.”

Stakeholder partnerships, she advised, are critical in propelling this country’s tourism industry.

Last month fashion icons and culinary connoisseurs alike got a taste of Tobago like they have never had before at Leve 2018 at Villa Being in Arnos Vale, Tobago.

Organised by the Leve-Global group, Leve 2018 put Tobago in the forefront of a “must buy” market as Poon drew upon the aura and beauty of the island, creating an environment of quality excellence to promote a cluster of exceptional local brands in the fields of fine art, fashion, cuisine, culture, rum and rhythm.

Bridal market expenditure in the North American market is more than US$100 billion, so the event was designed to capture international publicity in the highest engagement season for romance travel just prior to the June bride phenomenon.

Leve’s theme, Love Is In The Air, showcased talented Trinbagonian fashion designers, culinary practitioners, accessories producers and entertainers to an international audience as an integral aspect of T&T’s rich and ethnically diverse culture.

It also promoted Tobago as a romantic Caribbean destination.

“Leve provides the perfect opportunity to showcase Tobago and it has a lot of potential to propel the island even further on the international scene, especially through the country’s fashion and culinary industry.

The Pigeon Point Heritage Park has also been promoting Tobago as a romance destination with approximately 100 weddings being hosted there annually. The funds are ploughed back into maintenance of the park.

Destination with diversity

Wedding guru Jacqueline Johnson agrees that Tobago is poised to become one of the top romantic destinations in the world, as it offers something for everyone.

Johnson was a guest at the Leve 2018 event and she got a first-hand view of scenic spots around the island.

“In terms of hospitality Tobago excel; in terms of the food, especially the farm-to table concept where the food is natural, Tobago has got that covered.

“You’ve got the beaches, you’ve got shopping in the markets, the rainforest. Tobago has so much to offer.”

Johnson is chief executive officer of the multiple award-winning portals Marry Caribbean, Caribbean Wedding Association and Global Bridal Group that offer the Internet’s most complete listings of destination wedding, honeymoon, travel and tourism resources.

Weddings on a budget

For couples with financial constraints Sant-Ghuran advises:

• Focus on the experience rather than having the expected over-the-top trimmings.

• Venues which have, in the past, locked couples into their preferred vendor list or instituted penalties for choosing a vendor away from that list may now have no choice but to become more flexible, as competition has increases for reception spaces.

• Couples will probably have to leverage to negotiate terms and conditions at certain properties.

• The more the economic climate is uncertain, the more inclined couples should be to get insurance coverage for their wedding.

Although policies vary, most will cover postponement or cancellation if one of the main parties—bride or groom—has an accident, illness or loss of life. Some policies also cover natural disasters and certain types of damage or losses incurred by the host if a wedding vendor goes out of business.

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