Wedding industry posts declining numbers
With nearly 30 chapels and wedding venues catering to a wide array of tastes and pocketbooks, South Shore is nationally recognized as a nuptial destination.
“Classier than Reno or Las Vegas,” said Suzanne Nielsen, president of the Lake Tahoe Wedding & Honeymoon Association. “And significantly cheaper than the Bay Area.
Take that reputation, combine it with Tahoe’s natural beauty, Nielsen said, and you clearly have a niche in the national wedding industry. Despite these advantages however, the combined number of marriage licenses issued through Douglas and El Dorado counties has declined steadily since 1994. Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority Director Terry LeBan attributes this loss to a decline in marketing efforts.
“There was a big media campaign when we first started selling licenses up here around 1994,” LeBan said. “It was written about and advertised extensively, creating a lot of awareness of South Lake Tahoe as a wedding and honeymoon destination.”
Although Nielsen has difficulty pinpointing the exact reason for the decline, she said the Wedding & Honeymoon Association is taking aggressive marketing steps toward turning the trend around.
“Tahoe really is a perfect wedding and honeymoon destination. I think for the first time, we are in a position to come up with some really creative, innovative ways to get the name out there,” Nielsen said. “But truthfully, for all the fine work we do, we are limited in the marketing dollars we can spend. However, I think the wedding industry itself is on the rise, getting married is fashionable again, and that of course is in our favor.”
One of South Shore’s unique attributes, Nielsen said, is the low cost of ceremonies, receptions and all the sundry wedding trappings, coupled with the name recognition of a relatively well-known resort destination. South Shore appeals to a new trend in the wedding industry, she said, where more and more couples are seeking a quick, uncomplicated and relatively inexpensive wedding ceremony.
“Couples choose Tahoe for what they can see. The green trees, blue skies and the lake,” Nielsen said. “But they also come here to rid themselves of a lot of headaches. There’s kind of a mental preconception of running away to Tahoe to get married. People expect it to be less expensive and a lot easier.”
Ron Darby, minister and co-owner of Love’s Lake Tahoe Wedding Chapel, has been watching this trend develop since he was ordained nearly 10 years ago. He estimates an average of seven to 10 couples walk in each week for a spur-of-the-moment ceremony. It is not exactly elopement, he said, just a new approach to old traditions.
“We call them ‘walk-ins.’ A couple will come up for the weekend and because of our location next to the licensing office, we are the first stop. It’s kind of a spontaneous decision for a lot of couples,” Darby said. “Nowadays, more often than not, they want something that is quick and non-confining. A lot of times I think it’s out of tension and fear. I think they feel that if they rush in and out, they will get rid of that feeling in their stomach more quickly.”
Darby said he nevertheless still takes the time to sit down with couples and discuss the value of marriage, the ceremony and all the details. He even takes the time to write a personal dedication to the family and friends of the couple, in an effort to integrate them into the ceremony and make it more lasting and memorable.
Both Darby and Nielsen agreed that most couples getting married at South Shore are from out of town. Darby estimated that 60 percent of his business comes from Northern California, about 5 percent from Nevada, and the rest from all over the country and even the world. Age groups are very diverse, he said, ranging from 17-year-olds with marriage permission from the courts, to 75-year-olds renewing their vows. About 50 percent of the couples, according to Nielsen, are getting married for the second time and women are rarely keeping their maiden names.
“I know turning the trend around will happen one step at a time, but I think we are finally coming up with some real creative ideas,” Nielsen said. “It’s all about getting the name out there again.”
Although the number of wedding licenses sold has been declining, Darby said his business has been thriving – a fact which he attributes to Love Chapel’s family-oriented approach to marriage, location, and good old-fashioned word-of-mouth.
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