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Shooting contributes to 26-year low in Las Vegas weddings

Updated January 25, 2018 - 6:56 pm

The number of people tying the knot in Clark County fell to a 26-year low after the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history tainted the city’s image and spooked lovers.

Now, local officials and wedding industry professionals are intensifying their 2-year-old marketing campaign to revive a sector whose economic impact on the local economy is estimated at $2.5 billion.

The number of marriage licenses issued last year fell by 3,139, to 78,186. Most of the decline came in the last two months of the year.

(Las Vegas Review-Journal)

New Year’s Eve, normally a busy period for chapels, may have attracted fewer couples last month amid concerns over Strip security after Stephen Paddock fired onto concertgoers from his hotel room on Oct. 1, killing 58.

“We were definitely impacted by the shooting,” said Clark County Clerk Lynn Goya. “There has been so much press around the event, as there should be, but it scared people.”

Many wedding chapels said they only had a few cancellations after the massacre. However, the phones for new bookings went quiet.

The ease of getting married in Las Vegas attracts many couples that plan their weddings just a few weeks out. The November and December decline may have been driven by those last-minute couples either delaying their Las Vegas marriage or choosing another location, Goya said.

Last year’s decline was the sharpest in four years. The number of weddings in Clark County had been declining for a decade, but stabilized over the previous three years at around 81,000 amid increased marketing efforts. The 2017 total is the lowest since 1991, when 74,582 couples said “I do.”

Greater competition

Clark County weddings peaked in 2004 at about 128,000 and have headed south since.

The financial crisis that rocked the global economy last decade may have stimulated other tourism-dependent states and countries like Hawaii, Jamaica and Mexico to promote destination weddings as a new source of revenue, Goya said.

Jamaica hosts about 50,000 weddings a year while Hawaii holds roughly 20,000, according to a presentation Tuesday night by Goya at the second annual state of the wedding industry address at Bootlegger Italian Bistro.

The increase in competition has come as the number of U.S. weddings remains stagnant at around 2 million a year, resulting in a smaller market share for Clark County, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The total decline in Las Vegas weddings had been offset by an increase in the number of foreigners tying the knot here. However, that segment, too, has declined over the past two years, Goya said.

U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., who addressed the industry Tuesday night, pointed out that the number of foreign visitors to the U.S. has declined in sync with foreign weddings and blamed the trend on President Donald Trump’s immigration policies and his spats with foreign leaders.

Currency woes

However, the decline in overseas couples exchanging vows may be more economic than political.

Weakening currencies have made it more expensive for visitors from the U.K., Europe, Canada and Mexico to travel to the U.S. Combined, they account for about 70 percent of foreign travelers to the U.S., according to data from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Over a half-year period starting from July 2014 to January 2017, a U.S. wedding would have become 67 percent more expensive for Mexican tourists, 40 percent more expensive for British visitors, 35 percent more expensive for Canadians and 30 percent more expensive for citizens in the Euro region, according to currency data.

That calculation does not include price increases for Las Vegas wedding services and hotel rooms that occurred over that period. Foreign currencies have rebounded over the past few months, making travel to the U.S. cheaper again.

Brides and grooms

City officials and industry professionals are not relying on the foreign exchange market to improve the situation.

New programs such as donating wedding ceremonies to armed forces members and erecting a pop-up marriage license bureau at the airport during Valentine’s season have generated millions of dollars of free media coverage for the local industry, Goya said.

Officials and business community created the Wedding Chamber of Commerce two years ago to combine their efforts to turn the tide. In 2015 Goya raised the price of a marriage license by $14 to $77 to create a steady cash stream of about $1 million a year for marketing the wedding potential of Las Vegas to a global audience.

The LVCVA spearheads the marketing campaign, targeting popular industry websites like The Knot.

The marketing will seek to widen the well-worn image of weddings in Las Vegas made popular by films such as “The Hangover” featuring inebriated couples, Elvis ministers and drive-thru chapels, said Aimee Stephens, communications chair for the Las Vegas Wedding Chamber of Commerce.

“Yes, we do have Elvis and drive-thru weddings and it’s amazing for those people that want that, but there is so much more on offer here.”

Investments

The industry employs as many as 10,000 people in Clark County — which include planners , ministers, photographers, makeup artists, florists, DJs, and caterers. Clark County Clerk Lynn Goya estimates there are about 100 chapels in the county.

A decline in the number of Las Vegas weddings hasn’t prevented wedding businesses from expanding or reinvesting.

Chapel of Flowers Chief Executive Officer Donne Kerestic said the company has pumped $2 million over the past three years to refurbish their decades-old chapels and gazebo. An outdoor chapel was converted to the Glass Gardens, an indoor climate-controlled facility with a glass roof that can simulate daytime, sunset or night time with the turn of a switch.

Vegas Weddings has also upgraded its facilities, according to Aimee Stephens, director of marketing and social media.

Creative Bridal Wear, founded in the depths of the financial crisis in 2009, will this month open a new store occupying 5,000 square feet, more than four times its previous size.

Contact Todd Prince at tprince@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0386. Follow @toddprincetv on Twitter.

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