Oui, I Do

Opportunities for growth in New Orleans as a destination wedding market
Illustration by Tony Healey
Jennifer Gibson Schecter was once a tourist in New Orleans herself and is now proud to call NOLA home. She also writes the Wednesday Tourism Blog on BizNewOrleans.com.

Jennifer Gibson Schecter was once a tourist in New Orleans herself and is now proud to call NOLA home. She also writes the Wednesday Tourism Blog on BizNewOrleans.com.


 

We Americans seem to be losing some of our rituals. The casual way we approach important things, the prioritization of pop culture and the dwindling numbers practicing a formal religion leave many of us without cause or desire to mark milestones. But the wedding, even if non-religious, even if it’s a third go-round, remains a ritual that brings together a community…and it costs money to feed those people.

According to wedding industry leader The Knot, the average cost of a wedding nationally in 2018 was $33,391. With money like that being invested in a couple’s big day, there is a real opportunity to use the allure of New Orleans as a destination for weddings and bring those dollars here.

Three Little Words is a local boutique wedding-planning company that specializes in helping out-of-town couples create their dream New Orleans wedding. Owner and wedding planner Sam Capone says approximately 60 percent of her clients live elsewhere and are planning destination weddings in New Orleans.

“It’s unique and interesting that the wedding industry here is majority locally owned small businesses, and also majority women-owned,” says Capone. “Your average couple is hiring at least 10 different businesses and sometimes a lot more.”

Destination weddings can be especially advantageous for hotels. Capons says most of her destination clients want to plan their events and stay in the French Quarter, so she works closely with hotels there to create room blocks for an average of 150 guests. Because destination weddings typically have events planned over the course of several days — often including welcome receptions before the wedding and a formal brunch the day after — guests are staying in hotels for three nights or more.

“There’s a surprising amount of guests who stay at hotels and not AirBnB,” says Capone. “People are coming here for a special occasion in a special city, so they don’t mind spending the extra money to stay at the hotel with the wedding party.”

The romance of New Orleans is a draw for couples, and others in the industry are working to attract more weddings to our city. The Rev. Tony Talavera, renowned as the officiant at the French Quarter Wedding Chapel, created The Louisiana Wedding Association to promote New Orleans and other Louisiana locations as premier destinations for nuptials.

Talavera says nationally there were 500,000 destination weddings last year, but Orleans Parish hosted only 4,000 of them.

“If we increased the number, that means more money,” he says. “[Couples] bring a lot, and they bring people, and they come back. So that would increase economic impact exponentially.”

Talavera has worked to make weddings in New Orleans easier for out-of-town couples. In 2003, he lobbied state lawmakers to reduce the 72-hour marriage license waiting period to 24 hours in Orleans Parish under Senate Bill SB565. Then, in 2018, House Bill 747 made the 24-hour waiting period the law statewide.

For comparison, quickie wedding capital Las Vegas issues approximately 2,000 wedding licenses each week, but New Orleans issues 74. I, for one, think drive-thru windows are for daiquiris, not weddings, but there are definitely economic benefits to increasing the number of weddings that occur in New Orleans.

New Orleans and Company, New Orleans’ destination marketing and economic development organization, has recognized this as well and has dedicated an entire section of its website, NewOrleans.com, to wedding-planning resources. They even offer complimentary wedding-planning assistance for out-of-town couples and were honored by The Knot with a Best of Weddings 2019 award.

Wedding planner Capone sees the draw of New Orleans every day.

“I tell couples, when you go online and search invitation acceptance rates, they are 80 percent for local weddings and 50-60 percent for destination, but I tell people to plan for 80-90 percent for New Orleans destination weddings,” explains Capone. “People want a reason to come here and because of that they are going to take extra days off of work to extend their stay and take time to explore the city.”