UK hotels – and there are more than 45,000 of them – are investing millions of pounds into refurbishment and re-development projects, eager to cater for both increasing numbers of “staycation” holidays and legions of overseas visitors.
But they also have their sights set on commanding a larger slice of the UK wedding market – now worth a staggering £10 billion a year.
Unfortunately for the hotelier, competition has never been greater when it comes to staging what, for many couples, will be one of the biggest celebrations of their lives.
Today, the full wedding package can, on average, cost upwards of £36,000 with couples spending in the region of £12,000 on the day itself. However, the hotel reception, long favoured by generations of brides, does now not necessarily have the same appeal as before. Not to say that such gatherings will ever be cast aside, but with couples ever more ambitious – and adventurous – in their search for an unforgettable wedding experience, then the traditional hotel setting is often regarded as, well, traditional – and often that means out-dated.
“Today, there’s so much choice it’s overwhelming,” said Surrey-based wedding venue business consultant Kelly from kellychandlerconsulting.co.uk. “And choice doesn’t stop at John O’Groats or Land’s End – couples have the whole world to choose from nowadays!”
Kelly, who founded her original wedding planning business in 2003, said: “As far back as 2006, a survey revealed that almost a quarter of British couples who had married in the previous two years had done so overseas. And exotic locations such as South Africa, St Lucia, Mauritius, Las Vegas and Antigua topped the list.”
Location, of course, can make all the difference to a couple’s big day. And, today, everyone wants to be different. While some like their wedding celebrations to be held in refurbished barns, botanical gardens, church halls, even zoos, aquariums or theme parks, others (where budget is no object) opt for castles, stately homes, countryside manor houses and beach ceremonies in faraway places.
Kelly herself has planned wedding events at Tower Bridge – and once had to organise guests to meet on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral before whisking them off to a secret venue beneath London Bridge where they enjoyed a Russian-themed drinks reception and “circus” entertainment with fire-eaters, jugglers and magicians.
So in the face of such alluring competition, is it time for UK hotels to up their game in order to capture more of the ever-demanding wedding market?
Kelly, with a career of over 20 years in event management, certainly thinks so.
“Modern couples no longer feel restrained by tradition – they are looking for flexible weekend hire, exclusive use and bespoke options. To that end, they feel that hotels are often inflexible.
“Hosting weddings, however, is still a growth area and that is why it is important that established hotels must clearly demonstrate that they are modernising.”
Kelly, who married three years before setting up her business, added: “Hotels can fight back by selling their virtues: their experience, their excellent service and a dedicated in-house team ready and able to bring an event to life – and without stress.”
She said that hotels should also ‘talk up’ the reputation and standing of their tried-and-tested suppliers.
“And without a doubt they should emphasise the quality and range of their culinary expertise. They should certainly not force couples down the traditional three-course wedding breakfast route. Why not, instead, embrace the idea of food stations, food styling and interactive food and drink options like build your own burger, taco stations, rum bars and more?
Kelly said that hotels should also look to exploit the significant virtues of accommodation and their ability to host pre and post-days such as brunches and pre-wedding pampering. “By truly co-ordinating and helping couples to plan the whole event, staff can deliver a hotel experience that will long remain in the memory,” she added. “Especially if the hotel’s outside spaces lend themselves to a wonderful photographic backdrop and the ability to embrace the trend for al fresco that other types of venues are now making the most of.”
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