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Winning the Wedding War

The wedding business is changing, is your hotel stuck in the 20th Century?

Friday, February 28, 2014
Steve Pike
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When most people think about weddings, they think about tradition. The bride, the groom, the ceremony, the reception.

“Those used to be called ‘box’ weddings,’’ said Tammy Tyson, director of catering at the Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa in Hollywood, Fla.

To successfully compete for today’s weddings business, Tyson said, it’s important to think out of that box. And more hotels and resorts are coming around to that way of thinking.

“There is no such thing as ‘wedding tradition’ anymore,’’ Tyson said. “Tradition is whatever (the bride) decides it to be. So it’s a lot more free and fun in planning a wedding.’’

How’s this out of the box? The Sheraton Beach Fort Lauderdale Hotel offers an underwater ceremony complete with mermaids; The Westin Beach Resort & Spa in Fort Lauderdale in which the bride can borrow up to $100,000 of diamond jewelry.

If a bride wants to seriously create an event to remember, it’s often with the after party, which these days is a lot more than meatballs, cheese plates and a wedding cake. At the W Fort Lauderdale, for example, the after-party can be catered by renowned Chef Stephen Starr, whose Steak 954 is the hotel’s signature restaurant.

“It’s restaurant quality food at your event,’’ said Cesar Wurm, director of sales and marketing at the W Fort Lauderdale. “We’re not the only hotel that does it, but we’re in a small percentage.’’

Being in that small percentage, Wurm said, makes a big difference in gaining weddings business.

“That’s part of the once in a lifetime thing,’’ Wurm said. “People know they’re going to get good quality food, so it’s very important for us.’’

As are the wedding after-parties in general.

“The after-parties are huge,’’ Tyson said. “About 60% of the weddings at the hotel have some sort of after-party, with things like a DJ, open bar and junk food. There always is junk food involved.’’

Sliders and fries aside, a wedding is still a once-in-a-lifetime event (hopefully) for the bride and groom, but for many hotels and resorts, they’re an every weekend – if not every day - event. That’s good for business but puts pressure on a property’s wedding and catering staff have to be at their best at all times. One miss could cost the property thousands of dollars in future business as weddings attract potential guests from the wedding party and friends and family.

“We look every single event, whether it’s a gala, wedding or corporate event as a perspective client sitting in that room,’’ Tyson said. “We’re are own best advertisers. If I do something special at gala – maybe a dessert buffet that’s unusual – a bride and groom are going to see that and want it.’’

A wedding “definitely brings back families for vacation and creates awareness,” said Lydia Redmond, wedding specialist at the recently renovated Ritz-Carlton, Naples in Southwest Florida. “Maybe not for themselves, but they’ll go back home and tell friends about the wonderful experience they had at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples. I’ve booked quite a few events just on referrals from other guests. In terms of our catering budget, weddings are extremely important - upwards to 40 percent of the catering budget, especially at the beach resort.’’

Between The Ritz-Carlton, Naples and its sister property – The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort about five miles away – Redmond oversees and manages approximately 100 weddings per year, mostly at recently renovated Ritz-Carlton, Naples property.

“The weddings we do at the golf resort, for the most part, tend to be more local clientele – people who live or who have grown up in the Naples market,’’ Redmond said. “But most of the weddings we do are at the beach resort. We could have multiple weddings on weekends, but we’re very alert to making sure everybody has feeling of exclusivity. Everything is timed out. We never have two ceremonies on beach the same day unless one is 10:30 am and the other around 5 p.m.’’

It helps when a property has several locations options. The Ritz-Carlton Naples for example, has a two-story Beach House that overlooks the Gulf of Mexico; the Artisan’s Room that looks out on the center courtyard; several ballrooms; and of course, the beach.

Mission Inn Resort & Club in Howey-in-the-Hills, Fla., about 40 minutes north of Orlando, has three venue options – Plaza de la Fontana courtyard near the hotel; the Legends Courtyard near the resort’s El Campeon golf course; and the Marina that overlook Lake Harris, one of many Central Florida lakes.

“We have 1,500 acres, so we have a lot of space to do multiple weddings in one day,” said Shannon Tarrant, weddings sales manager at Mission Inn. “But we’re adamant that the weddings don’t crisscross.”

Many of those wedding, Tarrant said, become secondary business for the family-run resort.

“We talk to (wedding) guests when they’re here about what we do with meetings and golf outings,’’ Tarrant said. “It exposes us to a lot of people, especially locally in the Orlando market, to people who might know we are here. We even get a lot of business meetings and corporate groups out of our wedding business.

“And lot of our wedding couple back for their anniversaries. They might not come back every year, but they come back for their first and maybe five or 10 years down the road.”

Like most properties, the Biltmore hotel in Coral Gables, Fla., offers a variety of wedding packages. But each wedding has one common theme - the hotel’s classic Mediterranean architecture, which, along with the bride, dominates the landscape.

The resort – set in the middle of one of Miami’s more historic neighborhoods – does approximately 120 weddings annually – from small intimate weddings to total blowout, South Florida extravaganzas. With each of the spectrum covered, the resort recently created a package that caters to mid-size weddings with wedding specialist assigned to that part of the market.

“It encompasses everything that size wedding needs in kind of a ‘one stop shop,’’’ said Natalia Plasencia., associate director of catering at the Biltmore. “What we have found is a lot of these are second weddings for people who don’t want the hassle, so we make it easy for them. And by bringing in someone special to work with them, they don’t feel like they’re being treated differently just because the wedding is smaller.’’
Credit
Steve Pike
Hotel Interactive Editorial Division

Bio: Steve Pike is an award-winning golf writer and author who helped define golf business reporting in the early 1990s as the first Golf Business Editor for Golfweek magazine and later at Golf World and Golf Shop Operations magazines for Golf Digest. Pike further pioneered this genre at the PGA of America and Time Warner as the golf business writer and editor for PGA.com. He started in newspapers more than ...
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