Even in tough times, Vail wedding bells chime
VAIL, Colorado – Love can bloom even in tough times in Vail, Colorado.The wedding business, long a key part of the Vail Valley’s summer economy, is bubbling along this year. Parties may be a little smaller, and couples are shopping for deals, but people are still coming to the valley to say “I do.”And, in a down economy, some local lodges say they’re hosting more wedding parties than last year.The Lodge & Spa at Cordillera recently reported its bookings had tripled this summer over the last few years.In Vail, it’s Holly Hawkins’ job to book wedding business into the Sonnenalp. And business this summer has been pretty good, at least as far as bookings are concerned.”The majority of my weddings were booked a year ago,” Hawkins said. “People are still coming, and still spending money.”But, Hawkins said, the Sonnenalp is taking reservations it might have declined just a year ago.The hotel recently hosted a wedding and reception for just 50 people on a Saturday. That’s a small party for a weekend, and one that might have been asked to pick a different day not long ago.”This year we’ve really tried to fit everyone in when they want to come,” Hawkins said.
While people are coming, many are looking for ways to economize. Hawkins said she’s had requests this year for alcoholic punch fountains instead of open bars, something she hasn’t seen in some time.JoAnn Moore, owner of Mountains and Meadows, a local wedding-planning business, agreed that people are still willing to spend for a once-in-a-lifetime event. Moore said she planned a wedding not long ago in which the parents of the bride had their home in foreclosure.”They didn’t cancel, but they did want to know how to stretch out payments to the vendors,” Moore said. “Everybody was willing to work with them.”And, Moore said, people are closely watching the budgets they set. Brides are coming in with smaller parties, she said. And some are scheduling their weddings and receptions on weekdays, when rates are a little lower.On the other hand, Moore said a “destination wedding” – in which the couple and the wedding party come to Vail instead of getting hitched in someone’s home town – can actually save money for a family.Moore said she’s doing a wedding now for 350 people. “The bride’s father said, ‘I’m spending the same as I would at home, and that would have been 400 or 500 people,'” Moore said. But brides are trying to stretch their dollars, Moore said.”They may not be hiring me for the full service,” she said. “I’m doing more vendor referrals, and the brides are lining them up instead of me.”
One of those vendors is photographer Michael Rawlings, who said his summer’s shaping up to be a pretty good one.”I’ve had two (weddings) in June, two in July, one so far in August and maybe one in September,” he said. “I’ve gotten inquiries about weddings in September and October, too.”Rawlings said that’s an improvement over his wedding work last year, something he credits mostly to a new, improved Web site for his business, but he’s still behind the nearly 20 weddings he shot in 2005. “That was almost too many,” Rawlings said. With his business coming back after a couple of down years, Rawlings said he’s seeing the changes in how weddings are booked.”I don’t think they’re as big this year,” he said. “I shot a wedding in June that went from 100 to 50 people.”But Rawlings said his clients aren’t asking for discounts as much as they’re requesting different kinds of photo packages.”I’ve included some things and rearranged some other things,” he said. “I think clients are getting a little more for their money, and I’m always willing to negotiate.”And, as long as people still get married, there will be people willing to help them put on and record the event.”When corporate business is down, we still have weddings,” Moore said. “Weddings are almost – I said almost – recession-proof.”Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Are we seeing more bears because there are more bears on the valley floor, or because we’re all spending more time at home? It could be a bit of both.