Out-of-towners can expect more competition for hotels and rental homes as wedding guest lists get closer to pre-pandemic levels
by Allison Pohle, The Wall Street Journal, February 16, 2022
Big weddings are back, and the nuptial boom of 2022 means couples and their families are facing big bills for celebrations. Their guests will have to pay up, too.
Wedding parties are booking hotel blocks at record rates for longer periods, hotel executives say. Couples are holding events with larger guest lists, reverting to form after a wave of smaller pandemic gatherings, planners and venue managers say. Some are holding multiday events to make up for lost time with friends and family. Guests may want to start saving up now, thanks to both the number of weddings this year and the high lodging rates in many popular markets.
An estimated 2.5 million weddings—the most since 1984—are expected to take place in the U.S. in 2022, according to market-research firm The Wedding Report. Wedding industry professionals cite pent-up demand from rescheduled celebrations over the course of the pandemic, along with new bookings.
“Now that they’re able to celebrate, they’re going to go big,” says Lydia Pierce, director of special events at the Red Rock Casino in Las Vegas.
In 2021, guests spent an average of $660 to attend out-of-town weddings if they traveled by car, and an average of $1,270 if they traveled by plane, according to a survey from wedding-planning website the Knot.
Wedding Report CEO Shane McMurray says guests should expect to spend at least 10% more this year because of inflation and travel demand.
“Room rates this summer on weekends are going to be higher than they’ve ever been,” says Jan Freitag, national director of hospitality analytics at commercial-real-estate data provider CoStar Group. People attending summer weddings are both competing for hotel rooms with other wedding guests and leisure travelers expected in big numbers, he says.
Couples can negotiate discounted room blocks for their guests by guaranteeing a certain number of hotel bookings. But because occupancies in leisure destinations have been strong, hotels aren’t always giving as many discounted rooms, hotel managers say.
Prices for short-term rentals are generally higher, too. These rental rates hit records last year, according to short-term rental analytics firm AirDNA. The average daily rate for properties already booked in the second quarter of this year is 7% higher than last year, according to AirDNA.
Marriott International Inc. is seeing a rise in wedding-related groups for 2022 at its resort hotels in the U.S. and Canada, a spokeswoman says. Hawaii, San Diego and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., are the markets with the greatest year-over-year increase in bookings. Bookings at Hawaii hotels are up nearly 300%, she says.
Hawaii had some of the tightest restrictions on gatherings, leading to many scaled-back or postponed weddings in 2020 and 2021. Now wedding businesses are welcoming a slew of new bookings, says Joseph Esser, president of the Oahu Wedding Association.
The average size of a wedding last year was 105 people, according to survey data from the Knot. This year, the site projects 129 guests, nearly equal to 2019’s average of 131.
Wedding planners also say they’re booking more large-scale events. The Red Rock Casino would book a couple of weddings with 200 to 400 guests in a typical year, Ms. Pierce says. This year it has booked more than 10.
North Carolina’s Outer Banks saw strong demand last year from both leisure travelers and weddings, says Miha Slegel, sales manager at the Hilton Garden Inn Kitty Hawk. This year, Ms. Slegel says, the hotel property, which includes the Kitty Hawk Pier House, will have as many as one-fifth more weddings than they did before the pandemic, including ceremonies on weekdays.
Some families and guests rent houses and stay in the area for an extended stretch around the wedding, she says. Available rental homes in the area are more scarce now, pushing couples to ask for larger room blocks than they had in the past.
“There are days I wish I would have 200 more rooms in this hotel because I need more,” she says.
Guests used to book hotel rooms a few weeks before a wedding, says Abby Rodriguez, director of catering for the Warwick Melrose–Dallas hotel. Now they are booking months in advance, and the hotel has started quoting higher rates, she adds.
Hyatt Hotels Corp. properties are enjoying their strongest wedding-block bookings ever, according to Asad Ahmed, a Hyatt executive who oversees commercial services for the Americas. Guests are staying longer, turning the events into small vacations, he says.
The ability to work remotely means guests can spend extended time in the destination, continuing a pandemic-era trend. Noah Zouine, 25 years old, says he plans to turn two of the four weddings he is attending this year into extended trips. Mr. Zouine, a biostatistician in Milwaukee, is a groomsman in a wedding this September in Beaver Creek, Colo. He plans to work remotely in the days before the wedding and has budgeted for extra lodging costs. He plans to use credit-card rewards points to offset the trip’s cost, which he estimates will be around $1,500.
Analysts also expect airfare to rise in the coming months. The travel app Hopper predicts domestic airfare will increase 7% every month through June, reaching 2019 levels by April.
Interest in destination weddings abroad is up, too, planners say. Destination Weddings Travel Group has noted a 44% year-to-date increase in destination weddings booked, according to Jen Avey, the group’s vice president of marketing.
Like last year and years before, Mexico is the most popular destination. Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic is also seeing a jump in popularity this year, she says.
Write to Allison Pohle at [email protected]