Destination weddings see growth despite recession

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - The midst of a recession might not seem like the best time for a luxury wedding at a Caribbean beach resort far from home but industry experts say a growing number of U.S. couples are doing exactly that.

General view shows tourists on the sandy beach of Olhuveli island in Maldives February 15, 2009 . REUTERS/Charles Platiau

A new survey by Destination Weddings magazine forecasts the market for such weddings will grow to $16 billion this year from $13 billion in 2008, extending a winning streak that has seen the market boom from just $3 billion in 2001.

Cathy Preece, who represents the Caribbean island of St. Kitts, said inviting a select group of family and friends to an all-inclusive beach resort can work out cheaper than a traditional wedding at home.

“Weddings at home tend to be larger,” Preece said Monday at a New York trade show. “Brides who are here have their mother who says you have to invite this person and this person.”

Destination Weddings editor Susan Moynihan said the average number of guests for a destination wedding has dipped to 48 from 51 in 2006, the last time it carried out the same survey, around a third of the size of the average traditional wedding.

She said the average budget for a traditional wedding has fallen by 7 percent to $20,398 in the past year because of the recession, while the average for destination weddings has risen 4 percent since the 2006 survey to $20,600.

The trade fair drew resort and hotel representatives and tourism officials from as far afield as Fiji and Hawaii, but Moynihan said longer distance destinations were suffering compared to Florida and others closer to the U.S. mainland.

The Caribbean accounts for just over half of international destination weddings from the United States, followed by Mexico with 21 percent. Florida is the top U.S. destination, followed by Las Vegas and Hawaii, which fell from the top spot.

Rebecca Grinnals, a consultant who advises hotels and resorts on marketing to the wedding industry, said many of them are focusing on getting more destination weddings as their business clients scale back.

“They’ve seen that these guests don’t cancel,” she said.

Editing by Michelle Nichols