How to attract the wedding crowd
Weddings are big business. In the UK alone, the market is worth more than £10bn a year according to Hitched W.I.F.E. And while some accommodation providers market themselves as classic wedding venues, others are finding ways of incorporating the business in a less obvious manner.
Guest entertainment and creative keepsakes
Clive Cummings owns Abbaye de la Bussière, a five-star hotel he converted from a 12th-century Cistercian abbey in the Burgundy countryside. He says he never actively marketed his hotel for weddings, even though the property includes an atmospheric crypt. “I don’t have a wedding package,” he says. “The ones I do are more quirky. We sit down with the bride and groom and ask how they would like their day to be run.”
Although French law makes it difficult for non-residents to marry, that doesn’t deter the Abbaye’s international guests. “People tend to have the legal part at home, and then they have a blessing in our crypt here,” says Cummings. For large parties, he asks them to take over the abbey on an exclusive basis to prevent disruption to other guests.
Cummings offers ways to keep guests occupied while the bridal party has photos done. “We have bicycles and we’ll bring a guide in to take the guests out. We’ve got a wine cellar as well, so sometimes we’ll do a wine-tasting for the guests.” If a bridal party isn’t staying at the hotel, Cummings can set aside a room for preparations before the reception.
Little treats can add to the occasion, and have more than a memento value. “We do additional things for brides and grooms – from embroidered towels to corkscrews,” he says. “We’ve got lovely Burgundy stone coasters with the logo engraved on it, with glasses as well. It’s also a reminder for the following year to come back for their anniversary.”
Making the most of a property’s unique selling point can bring in profits too. For Square Nine, a five-star hotel in Belgrade, the emphasis is on small, intimate weddings with menus prepared by the hotel’s Michelin-starred chef, along with a rooftop terrace.
Dina Veljovic, Square Nine’s Director of Sales and Marketing, says: “In Serbia, a wedding usually isn’t a wedding unless you have least 200 guests. But we are more for exclusive, smaller weddings – up to 100 people, ideally 70, for a wedding dinner or lunch.”
The hotel maximises its spaces for weddings, which can start in the Lobby Bar before dinner at the Square restaurant and its garden, and then finishing with drinks on the rooftop terrace. A service that’s proving popular is pre-wedding cocktails. “It’s something between the church service and the wedding reception, which can be held somewhere else,” explains Veljovic. “During cocktails, the bride and groom will often be off somewhere having their photographs taken.”
Square Nine offers discounts for block bookings, and the bride and groom will usually get an upgrade to a suite, giving the bridal party space to get ready before the event. The guest relations team is also on hand to organise sightseeing itineraries and visits to nearby wineries.
Maximising your network
For self-catering accommodation, couples taking a more DIY approach to weddings can be a potential market. Julie Kilpatrick of Mains of Taymouth, a country estate and golf course with 43 self-catering cottages in the Scottish Highlands, points out the importance of being part of a local wedding network.
“We tend to work in conjunction with venues which don’t have accommodation and we provide accommodation for their guests, and that from a profit perspective is much more lucrative," she says. "Quite a few local wedding planners know about us, as do photographers.
“We give the bride and groom a list of recommended suppliers. We have people we’ve worked with in the past who we know are professional and won’t let them down. It’s networking – building up relationships over the years.”
While bridal parties often arrange wedding ceremonies nearby, Mains of Taymouth also has wedding venues on site, including a lakeside Hobbit House and a large cottage that sleeps 12. On-site activities including golf and horse-riding keep weddings guests busy and often result in repeat business.
Kilpatrick adds: “We get a lot of return business celebrating anniversaries. Wedding guests who’ve come to Scotland for the first time return independently as holidaymakers. It’s a small and friendly place, with a personal touch. I think it’s because of that we get a lot of returning customers. That’s what we aim for.”
Update your facilities and services on the Extranet
- When local laws make it difficult for non-residents to marry, hoteliers can still profit by hosting blessings and receptions
- Offering wedding guests activities while the bridal party is busy can be part of the package
- Wedding mementoes can be reminders to return for anniversary celebrations and beyond
- Networking with local wedding planners and suppliers can both help you find guests and expand your package offering