The pace of hotel wedding bookings in the United States has not slowed this year despite rising inflation or possible lingering COVID-19 concerns.
For the past couple of years, couples have put their celebrations on hold, either rescheduling them multiple times or canceling them outright when the delta and omicron variants spiked. Today, inflation is skyrocketing.
The annual inflation rate in the United States rose to 7.5% in January, its highest level since February 1982 and beating market forecasts of 7.3%, “as soaring energy costs , labor shortages and supply disruptions associated with high demand are weighing,” according to the United States. Notes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
However, Matthew Wheeler, regional general manager of Topnotch Resort in Vermont and High Peaks Resort in New York, said couples aren’t necessarily cutting back on wedding celebrations now due to inflation concerns. Instead, they might have fewer attendees because they want a more intimate experience, especially at a time when social distancing has become a widely accepted practice.
“When we start worrying about inflation or people tightening their belts, I always remind myself that it impacts the whole spine; everything moves up or down,” he said. he declares. “They may choose a different type of venue, but they’re still going to get married, they’re still going to party, they’re still going to invite people over and eat and drink. It’s ultimately about understanding what customers are looking for. really for the start of the conversation.”
Jeannie Green, director of sales and catering at Kessler Collection, said the demand for weddings at her hotels matched demand before the pandemic.
On average, the 12 hotels in the portfolio would each host 25 weddings a year, with most occurring in the summer months, she said.
Based on bookings since the start of 2022, Green said hotels are close to hitting that average of 25 weddings. Kessler Collection’s Grand Bohemian Hotel Asheville in Asheville, North Carolina alone has already had nine weddings.
Many couples have postponed their wedding date to this year, and the omicron variant that appeared at the end of 2021 did not cause any further setbacks.
Inflation doesn’t stop couples either.
“I asked my team this question, and they don’t see it. [as a barrier]”, Green said. “I had a hotel that’s cut a fair bit financially, but for the most part they’re so excited they can get married that despite the fact that the [cost of something] is higher.”
Not only is the pace of wedding bookings stabilizing, but so is the size, she added. Standard sizes range from 100 to 200 guests.
“Between their guest list and their expenses, we’re back to pre-pandemic,” Green said, adding that hotel weddings have begun to level off since the fourth quarter of 2021.
The size of weddings that would typically book at Wheeler’s two properties – part of Spire Hospitality’s management portfolio – is said to range from 130 to 160 people, but now it has become bifurcated. He said he now sees a trend of weddings ranging from 150 to 220 people and another number of weddings ranging from 75 to 90 people.
One of the reasons for these larger celebrations is that families cannot come together so easily at the start of the pandemic, he added.
In terms of handling the wedding rescheduling process for the past two years, Wheeler said her team was able to accommodate everyone.
“The closure happened quite early in the season in 2020, so we weren’t fully booked for 2021 yet. We were able to accommodate everyone. Of all the weddings we had scheduled, maybe one a ended up canceling outright,” he said. .
Brittney Jones, vice president of sales, marketing and revenue management at development, investment and management firm Raines, said pre-pandemic marriage blocks made up about 5% to 7% of her mix of activities. His team expects that percentage to be a few points higher this year.
“In our high-demand transitional leisure markets, we cap the group at around 20% to 25% on peak season weekends, offering 10-bedroom courtesy blocks to weddings,” she said.
And even more than in 2019, people are calling asking for additional blocks of rooms, ranging from five to 10 rooms, she said.
“We were able to push the rate even further for this second block, and [guests] don’t question it. We don’t see any pushback, they just take what they can get,” Jones added.
She said it’s only natural that wedding sizes have decreased in 2020 and 2021, but in 2022 and spring 2023, that size is also returning to pre-pandemic levels at her properties.
Wheeler said her team would typically book weddings at her two properties 12 to 18 months later. The difference this year is not necessarily that customers are booking further, but it is that they are booking faster.
For couples looking for fall weddings this year, Wheeler said his properties don’t have the capacity to do so.
His teams are broadcasting messages now and his hotels are accepting wedding bookings for 2023 and beyond, which he says will fill up quickly.
“What I’m hearing is that the energy was more frenetic last year; people were rushing to plan a wedding for 2022 and they were bumping into properties that were already sold,” he said. . “Couples are considering their options, perhaps reassessing their priorities in terms of how they want to spend their budget.”
Jones said the reservation has changed since pre-pandemic at his hotels. In 2018 and 2019, the window was as far as 12 to 24 months. Now it’s back.
“We’re definitely seeing bookings that are in the year for the year. I think people are a little nervous booking too far out,” she said. “Our average lead time today, and since 2021, is around six months…but we’ve even seen a lead time of just three months.”
Prospects for weddings this fall are coming to her properties quickly, and some are booking Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays because Saturdays are sold out, depending on the property. Some pairings even grow into spring 2023 at this point, she said.
The top three priorities for couples this year for their celebrations are bar options, flower arrangements and music, instead of laser-focusing on sit-down dinner, Wheeler said.
“People are ready to party, they’re still drinking Aperol Spritz, craft beer,” he said. “The more formal elements, like spending time and energy focusing on the pouring wine…people walk away from it; it’s seen as suffocating.”
Couples want to make a statement with flowers, he said, like creating ceiling installations over dance floors. And almost every couple who books at his properties invests a lot of money in big bands or DJs.
“Now more than ever, the macro question is how have people’s budget priorities changed? Are they more willing to spend a higher percentage of their money on restaurants or on travel than before because ‘they attach more importance to it?'” he said.
Green said couples booking at his properties don’t discount food and drink, nor do they ask for discounts.
In terms of supply chain issues, Wheeler said his teams fought hard at the start of wedding season.
“We knew this was coming. We had to be flexible with menu pricing and also be upfront with customers who may not be aware of supply chain issues,” he said.
Last summer, his teams saw the price of net go up to $45 a pound, so they bought what they could early on.
Despite the relaxation of COVID-19 guidelines across the United States, couples planning weddings are still aware of the risks, Green said.
Some couples may choose to have a basket of more decorative masks waiting for guests upon arrival.
“We share our standards or guidelines that we follow in our hotels. Social distancing, we encourage; however, there is no longer that mandate… it’s back to standard table seating,” she added .
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