Off-season weddings are gaining popularity, and hotels are capturing guests by offering extras and upselling.
GLOBAL REPORT—With all of the pricing data and comparisons now available online to consumers, they are more knowledgeable than ever on how to negotiate with hotels.
And couples planning their weddings are no different.
They have learned that by booking a wedding in the off-season winter months, often they can save on food-and-beverage and soft costs, receive better pricing on hotel rooms for their guests, and have more "extras" and upgrades thrown in from catering and event managers.
"People are smart, and have so much information available to them at their fingertips," said Keith Chouinard, director of sales and marketing at The Chanler at Cliff Walk in Newport, Rhode Island. "They know there is a value to having a winter wedding in a destination like ours in the Northeast, and airports, spas and hotels are all less crowded."
He has seen the number of winter weddings go up by 20-25% over the last two years, because clients are savvier about pricing. The 20-room property offers a 40-50% reduction in site rental fees, including items like chairs, linens and china, Chouinard said. Food and non-alcoholic drinks are reduced by less, around 10%.
Off-season celebrations also require some out-of-the-box thinking, according to Krista Ostrander, director of sales at The Reeds at Shelter Haven, a 58-room property in Stone Harbor, New Jersey, which is part of the popular Jersey Shore summer destination market.
"Couples are looking more for unconventional locales and something different, like having a wedding in winter,” she said.
She said she’s seen a 50% spike in cold-weather nuptials over the past five years.
F&B prices that would normally cost $197 per person in the popular months would be $149 in winter, Ostrander said. Rooms can also be had at deep discounts. The hotel, which can host up to 220 people for a wedding, will also do more suite upgrades for guests in winter, she added.
"Couples know that their dollar will go further in winter," she said. "They can afford to add extras like raw bars, craft beers, wine upgrades and s'mores bars."
In addition, bridal couples know that they will be able to get the times that they want for a party during the winter, said Pamela Baldwin, director of sales and marketing at the 257-room Gurney's Newport Resort & Marina. The overall prices are 20% less for off-season affairs. Room rates are 25-30% cheaper, added David Smiley, resort manager.
"Couples are not just saving money themselves; their guests who will be staying at the property will also have the benefit of lower room rates," Baldwin said.
Winter weddings can save couples 10-15% and that includes upgrades and extras, said Robert Rauch, CEO and founder of RAR Hospitality. Photo booths and special dance floors may be added in, for example, and there can be reductions on F&B-related discounts—such as cake-cutting costs. However, the F&B itself is not really discounted.
As a price comparison, a winter affair would cost in the low $40,000s, versus $50,000 in prime season, Rauch said.
"The difference between a winter wedding and an in-season wedding is like comparing a Saturday night versus a Sunday night wedding," he said.
And, at the historic Equinox Golf Resort & Spa in Manchester, Vermont, winter weddings can cost 25-35% less than they would during the busier summer months, noted Alexandra Zullo, director of sales and marketing. The 199-room property also offers reduced room rates and facility fees in the winter.
Off-peak season also can give brides and grooms a better shot at luxury venues that may be out of their price range in the popular summer months. At the 17-room Glenapp Castle in Ayrshire, Scotland, the price for exclusive use of the castle for a wedding is £10,950 per night, which is reduced to £7,500 in the winter months, said Jill Chalmers, the property’s managing director.
"The property has seen an increased interest in winter weddings from couples who want to take advantage of the non-peak season pricing with the luxury … service and quality," Chalmers said.
In addition to the numerous cost savings, winter weddings are also attracting couples who like the "look" of the season, according to Paula Fenner, director of catering and conference services for the 407-room The Adolphus hotel in downtown Dallas
"We are finding more December weddings. I think brides are now more open to holiday-timed weddings, so they can take advantage of our holiday décor," she said.
Similarly, Glenapp Castle has Christmas decorations and twinkly Christmas lights heading into the holiday season, so weddings also have this added décor at no extra cost, Chalmers said.
And even though colder climates could limit outdoor activities, guests coming from other areas for a family member's or friend's wedding can still make a mini-vacation out of their trip, which couples getting married also take into consideration when planning winter nuptials, Chouinard said .
"You may not be able to swim outdoors or go for a sail, but there is dining, mansions, museums, nightlife, and special events to take advantage of—with fewer crowds," he said. "Winter weddings offer advantages all around."