New Las Vegas chamber is planning for more weddings

Photo illustration / Staff file and Shutterstock

The women chatter about weddings over cups of coffee and a box of bagels. They squeal each time someone comes up with an exciting idea they can get behind, like eager moms determined to map out ceremonial details for their engaged children.

But there’s no bride-to-be in the room to fuss over, no fiance to gush about and no wedding date for which to start planning.

The women’s mission is far larger than just one ceremony. They’re here to put Las Vegas back on the map as the wedding capital of the world.

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The eight women make up the Las Vegas Wedding Chamber of Commerce, a new organization formed to rescue the city’s love market from an alarming slump.

The ladies are a microcosm of the industry: Some are sales representatives for chapels, others work at resort wedding departments. A couple of years ago, the women may have considered one another competition. Not anymore.

In less than a year, they have become friends and have formed a coalition to meet with industry professionals and take their concerns to decision makers at the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, and perhaps even the Legislature.

The group agrees the time to act is now, because the number of “I do’s” taking place in the valley has dropped almost 40 percent since 2004. It’s a steep dive, considering the business used to generate about $2 billion for Clark County.

People began to wonder: Would one of Las Vegas’ most iconic industries disappear? The answer, at least from the perspective of the city’s wedding professionals, is a resounding “no.” What happens here, stays here, and the business of tying the knot is no exception, they say. It’s here to stay.

But love and history don’t pay the bills. The industry needed a plan to secure its future.

So last spring, wedding experts, including ministers and mom-and-pop bridal shop owners, began meeting regularly to brainstorm ways to boost numbers. They decided it wasn’t enough for the city simply to increase marketing efforts. (The Clark County Commission last year increased the marriage license fee from $60 to $77 to boost revenue for advertising.) They needed to unite as one official group. The conversations led to the creation of the Wedding Chamber.

“It made sense,” Clark County Clerk Lynn Goya said. “We need an organized voice for the wedding industry.”

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Members of the Wedding Chamber are meeting for at least the third time this month.

“OK, we need a website,” one says.

“Oh! Maybe we can put one of those donate buttons on it,” another suggests.

The women spew ideas, jotting notes and giggling among themselves.

It’s a good day for them. The previous night at the Bootlegger Bistro, they introduced the chamber to dozens of guests, many in the wedding industry. About 30 people joined the organization.

The success of the event makes the women even more determined to bring more weddings back to Las Vegas.

“We know we’re all in it together,” says Rochelle Clayton, the chamber’s membership chairwoman. “It’s not competition now. It’s coalition.”

The group faces an uphill battle. Competition nationally and internationally is growing.

Last year, Mexico, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic were the most booked wedding destinations, according to the Destination Weddings Travel Group.

“Mom-and-pop shops can’t compete with whole countries like Mexico,” chamber Secretary Ann Parsons says.

But Las Vegas’ worst enemy may be itself. Wedding professionals across the valley say the state and city do little to promote tying the knot here. Many resorts, including Caesars Palace and MGM Grand, don’t promote weddings on their website home pages.

“Everyone else has been going after this market,” Goya says. “We have just been taking it for granted.”

It’s a lost opportunity that will hurt the county and state, chamber members say.

“You can have a big or small wedding,” Communications Chairwoman Aimee Stephens says. “You don’t even need a passport to come here.”

“You can get married at Red Rock,” a woman exclaims. “Or the Linq.”

“We just introduced splash pool weddings,” Chamber President Kris LaBuda says.

“Really?” some of the women ask.

While prices for wedding packages in Las Vegas are similar to those in other locations, chamber members maintain the valley has much more to offer after the ceremony.

“Celebrity chefs: How many celebrity chefs can you choose from here?” Parsons asked. “You can’t get that at Sandals (Resorts). Sorry!”

The ladies burst out laughing.

Then it’s back to planning. The women admit the wedding market has changed since the city’s glory days. Vow renewals are on the rise, younger couples are waiting longer to get married, and same-sex marriage now is legal. All can benefit Las Vegas if stakeholders market and plan accordingly, the chamber members say.

“The business of love is not something that is going to go out of style anytime soon,” chamber Treasurer Ada Casanova said. “The way people commit has changed and evolved ... and our brand can evolve with that.”

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About noon, the ladies begin departing from the meeting. It has been a successful session, but there’s a long checklist of tasks they still must complete.

Some stay behind, including Goya. She and Stephens murmur to one another, outlining priorities that need to be addressed at the next meeting.

No doubt, the pressure is on, but the chamber has made a vow — for better or for worse.