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Wedding boom: Couples flock to Las Vegas to tie the knot as pandemic wanes

Updated July 7, 2021 - 7:42 pm

After 30 years of marriage, Don and Cindy Couse made the cross-country trip from New York to renew their wedding vows at the Graceland Wedding Chapel on June 21. Friends and family back home watched and cheered through Zoom during the 2:30 p.m. ceremony. This year marked another special anniversary for the pair. The two met some five decades ago in Albany, New York, in 1971 during kindergarten class and have had a bond ever since.

The trip was good timing for her and her husband, who are both 51 and work in IT.

Having never been to Las Vegas before, they thought it was the perfect spot to celebrate their decades together. “The ceremony was super lighthearted and fun,” Cindy Couse said. “We got a little sentimental, I wore my mother’s pearls.”

After over a year of quarantine, they were in need of a getaway. “Really, it was just great to be back out doing things,” she said.

Booming business

The couple is far from alone. Thousands of couples are flocking to Las Vegas as the coronavirus pandemic wanes and vaccinations rise in a wedding boom that has the local wedding industry in high demand. And with COVID-19 restrictions on large gatherings loosened in June, Las Vegas wedding chapels, venues and planners said they’re about as busy as ever.

Since spring, the number of marriage licenses issued and marriages filed in Clark County are on a torrid pace. The number of marriages filed in June jumped nearly 30 percent compared with 2019, from 5,737 to 7,451. So far, 2021 has had more marriages in every month compared with 2019, except for January. Marriage licenses in June were up more than 14 percent compared with 2019.

Venue operators have noticed.

Donne Kerestic, CEO of Chapel of the Flowers, said that his company “has definitely seen the growth” in ceremonies over the past few months. This year Chapel of the Flowers is up about 20 percent in business compared with business over the first six months of 2019, he said.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Rod Musum, vice president and general manager of Graceland Wedding Chapel, said he had to cancel nearly 2,000 wedding ceremonies. Now, just like the experience of Kerestic at Chapel of the Flowers, things are heading back to normal.

“It didn’t happen overnight, but as things started opening back up, we got a lot busier,” Musum said. “There’s a lot of demand for ceremonies. Our daily bookings are starting to surpass what we were averaging pre-COVID.”

Sedona and Brian Alcaraz were one of those couples. The couple got married in an outdoor garden chapel at Caesars Palace on June 5. Sedona Alcaraz grew up visiting Las Vegas with her parents. Brian had never been here. Sedona not only wanted Brian to experience Las Vegas on the biggest day of their lives but also to make memories with family and friends “on a fun note” after everything that’s happened over the past year-plus.

‘Busiest spring ever’

It’s not just wedding venues that are basking in the renewed demand.

Wedding-adjacent companies such as caterers, dress shops and wedding photographers are also getting a boost.

Kristen Solis’ photography business — Kristen Marie Weddings + Portraits — was devastated by the pandemic in spring of last year. Solis had about 20 weddings affected by the pandemic — roughly two-thirds of her clientele for the year. Solis said fewer, bigger weddings — the riskiest at the height of the pandemic — are where her company made money. Just a couple of cancellations hurt her bottom line in normal times.

Solis weathered the storm. Most of her clients rescheduled for this year or 2022. Now, she’s as booked as ever. “This has been my busiest spring ever in 12 years of business,” she said.

At first glance, one might attribute the marriage upswing solely to the pent-up demand Musum mentioned. But some say there’s much more to it than that.

‘One-stop shop’

Kerestic, the Chapel of the Flowers’ CEO, has a theory. Planning a wedding was already stressful enough pre-COVID. Now, he hypothesized, with the weight of a global pandemic on soon-to-be-married couple’s shoulders, they’re turning to the experts.

“We’re a full-service town. If you do it anywhere else, you now have to become a project manager, hire 14 different vendors, find a location, your minister, photographer, videographer, florist, DJ, limo driver,” Kerestic said. “I think it just became so overwhelming for couples that they’re like, ‘Let’s just go to Vegas,’ because it’s a one-stop-shop. They’ll do the whole thing for us.”

Clark County Clerk Lynn Marie Goya said she thinks the pandemic may have changed how people look at being in a relationship.

“I think it made people re-evaluate what’s important to them,” Goya said. “One is the financial and health benefit aspect of getting married. But also, you know if something terrible happens to you, you have somebody you can trust and rely on. There’s a solidity that being single doesn’t offer.”

Even with the current boom, there is room to grow. Las Vegas’ full, pre-COVID wedding clientele still isn’t completely back, thanks to persisting restrictions on international travel.

Goya said about 20 percent of the city’s clientele are locals and the other 80 percent are destination weddings and vow renewals. About 20 percent of that latter 80 percent, she said, are international couples coming to Las Vegas to get married.

While domestic demand is higher than ever, the Las Vegas wedding industry’s current international market is a smattering of what it was in 2019. Goya said she expects “another boom” once all international travelers are able to come to Las Vegas.

Las Vegas’ identity is tied to its wedding industry, Goya said. Long before huge resorts started popping up, she said, weddings sustained the city.

“We’ve been the wedding capital of the world for, like, 50 or 70 years,” she said. “I think it became so much a part of who we are that in some ways, we took it for granted. This last year and a half or so, Las Vegas emerged as a really safe, efficient, fun place to get married even during the pandemic. And I think that made people remember what made us the wedding capital of the world in the first place.”

Contact Dylan Svoboda at dsvoboda@reviewjournal.com. Follow @dylanksvoboda on Twitter.

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