FEATURE: Wedding Venues

Weddings have forever been associated with churches, religious buildings and places of worship. However, reflecting the age we are living in, now is the time to be part of an emerging diversification. Bill Lumley Reports.

Wedding celebrations can provide a fantastic revenue stream for a bed & breakfast, according to WeddingDates UK sales manager Alix Matania-Allerton. She tells Luxury Bed & Breakfast: “There is always a need for wedding venues and people are always looking for them, often seeking something new and different. However, they need to be prepared and to understand that it will take a lot of effort. Short of buying a house, paying for a wedding is the biggest sum of money that most people will ever spend in any one go.”

WeddingDates provides web-based software and online marketing to wedding venues and suppliers across Ireland and the UK. It helps wedding venues and suppliers increase their wedding revenue by filling unsold inventory. The company works with top  wedding service providers across, with  a system that provides real-time revenue reporting and benchmarking for the sector.

“Some brides and grooms are relaxed and don’t need a lot of attention,” she says. “However, there are some out there that almost need to have their hand held. They have never done it before, never organised a big event, and they need somebody to be able to answer questions for them and give them some advice on what works and what doesn’t work.”

Whoever fills this capacity needs to be somebody that understands the venue as well, she says, because there is obviously no one-size-fits-all. “They need to be able to understand the logistics of the venue,” she says.

Her advice to B&Bs considering setting up a wedding reception venue is that the venue owners need to be realistic and honest with themselves about what would work and just as importantly what would not work at their particular venue. “There is no merit in a B&B venue setting an unrealistic number of weddings and other kinds of event if they are simply not set up for it,” she says. “They will be setting themselves up for a failure.”

The key is about looking at your venue, thinking what you would be happy with, and as a B&B owner, crucially, how much you are prepared to put into it. For instance, do you really want a wedding every weekend or is that going to impact the rest of your business? Or do you just want one a month? “Any B&B owners considering wedding facilities must be quite realistic with themselves as to what they are looking for,” she stresses.

Despite the strong appeal of both the opportunity to showcase your B&B and to generate revenue, before embarking on any such plans you must bear in mind that wedding venue businesses are relatively slow to grow, owing to fact that the lead time for a wedding averages at about 12 months. “You do get couples who are looking for a venue at short notice for example six months but generally it is about a year,” she says.

If you decide to develop your business to incorporate a wedding venue It is therefore all about getting events booked and knowing it will be a year or so before that first  one takes place.

The role of the wedding coordinator varies. Most venues will have a wedding coordinator or an events manager or similar, but most venues don’t have a wedding planner, she says.

“A wedding planner would be involved with absolutely everything to do with the wedding: help coordinate and liaise with all the suppliers and  literally be  involved in every single part of it. By contrast a wedding coordinator is specifically just for anything venue related such as menus and they tend to make suggestions on suppliers, but they wouldn’t be expected to get involved on that side of things.”

Matania-Allerton has been both a wed- ding planner and coordinator in the past and has therefore seen it from both sides. She says: “Some brides are very laid back and you hardly hear from them and every so often they drop in and let you know what is going on, while others – sometimes along with the grooms prospective mother in law – are very highly involved,” she says.

“Weddings can be a fantastic opportunity for venues particularly luxury B&Bs that aren’t the run of the mill kind of hotel and offer something a little bit different, but there is a great deal of work that goes into it. Where people might fall down is when they try to put too much on their plate and find themselves not able to deliver it.”

B&B owners must also decide in advance if they are going to be the one overseeing  the occasion the whole way through, including the show-arounds, answering the ques- tions and so forth. “You have to ask whether you are going to be the one  there on  the day doing the operations side of things or whether there is going to be a team in place that is going to help out and look after this.”

WeddingDates provides luxury B&Bs with a platform from which to promote their venue via the company’s website, www. wedding dates.co.uk. “We also provide B&B owners with technology and software that enables them to manage those enquiries, driving enquiries to the dates they want to fill, help them deal with the responses so  our software is designed for client management as well as lead generation through our website,” says Matania-Allerton.

Many luxury B&Bs are located in the countryside and therefore lend themselves to more of the festival style wedding. “This style of wedding is becoming quite popular, stepping away from the very traditional white wedding,” she says. “Of course, there will still be a high demand for that, but festival weddings feature teepees, food trucks and music. That is becoming increasingly popular.” Woodland weddings is another trend the company has been seeing surge  in popularity in the last couple of years, she adds. “For people with woodland on their land we can give them beautiful effects  such as lighting. Pinterest is essentially like wedding porn. You can look at weddings there forever – there are so many different options out there now. Pretty much any venue can be a wedding venue provided they understand their limitations.”

Also growing in popularity is exclusive  use and the ability to secure a whole venue just for the wedding party and their guests. “Luxury B&Bs and boutique hotels are a perfect fit for this because they are not 100- odd bedrooms and they fit with that market really well. Having all the people taking part in a wedding taking over the accommodation, having the venue for yourself for the day or even the weekend, has great appeal.”

She recalls working in a boutique hotel with 37 bedrooms, a spa and a beautiful garden. “Exclusive wedding parties be- came our most popular option. It does take some managing: you need to be sure you are going to get the revenue in, that you aren’t going to block off a weekend when you would have gained more  from individual guest accommodation, but generally that’s not going to happen if you are booking a wedding.”

People usually want a two-day package with access to the space where the wedding is taking place, she adds. “They will probably want help setting up  for example tables and chairs. Depending on how involved they want the venue to be, they could do it themselves or it  could be  part of a dry hire option where they pay for the venue and then get a catering company to come in and do everything else. It depends very much on the facilities at  the  venue and whether they have in house catering.

“There are limitless options with wed- dings. It’s a fantastic job to do but it is very demanding,” she says.

TOP TIPS

  • Get some really strong imagery. “t’s all very well putting together a lovely brochure and telling people about what you can do but if there are no images in it then it is not going to draw prospective couples in,” says Matania-Allerton.
  • For new venues that haven’t really got that portfolio of images yet is to get in touch with some local suppliers – florists, cake maker, photographer. “Get together for a day and do a staged wedding shoot. Often suppliers will do so for free because of the associated promotion and the fact that they will be able to use the images for their own promotion- al purposes. It’s a great way to get to know other people in the industry in your area and therefore to get recommendations. There are huge benefits to getting to know other local suppliers, so definitely be a part of the local wedding community.”
  • “Couples are generally expecting a response to their initial enquiry within 24 hours. Sometimes you can get away with 48 hours, but if you are going to get into the wedding industry be prepared to spend time answering emails. It is a very fast-paced industry, and brides, grooms, mothers-in-law won’t be particularly impressed if they have to wait days for a response to something,” she warns.

SELLING THE WEDDING VENUE

Ronan Kelly is CEO of Bespoke Choice, which provides software that showcases a wedding venue. He tells Luxury Bed & Breakfast that he has noticed a rise in the number of B&B owners moving into the provision of wedding hosting facilities. “It’s not as daunting as they might expect it to be,” he says. “They can ensure they have a full house every night of wedding. The technology is there now to help manage these weddings. It’s not as rigorous a task as it used to be.”

The software is not just there to showcase the venue, but also the food it can offer and any other wedding related facilities it may provide.

There are still challenges busy B&B owners face when they need to  handle  both the task of keeping their guests happy and help accommodate a separate wedding party, he says.

“The key challenges the software helps with are the ability showcase their venue on line and being able to attract customers in and ensure they have the appropriate facilities there for the customers,” says Kelly. “They need to be there for example with Wi-Fi and smart TVs, and to be visible, whether through wedding booking websites as well as their own website. They really need to get web-  site savvy,” he stresses. “If a B&B is hosting a wedding, our software will help showcase their venue to potential clients and help them to tailor it the package online.

“The software is perfect for use by the owners and managers of luxury B&Bs and boutique hotels. This is a very big growth market for us.”

Many alternative venues are emerging in the wedding world, with couples choosing these rather than the traditional hotel venue. There has been a growth in the number of glamping site or a marquee for example attached to a B&B, he says. “This is where our software comes into its own. They wouldn’t have to buy a big system such as those used by hotels, and it allows the whole wedding booking process from start to finish. It allows the customers to go in and see the site, to take a tour of the site, to go through any interactive package and simultaneously manage the back-end such as manage couple enquiries and any follow-ups.

“It makes life a lot easier for the B&B owner or innkeeper as they don’t have to worry about managing that event. The system looks after it all,” he explains.

Kelly advises any B&Bs looking to make  a move into hosting weddings is to take the trouble to do the necessary research and essentially check whether there is a valid market there. “From then look for the technology that is out there, as it can make life a lot easier than trying to do it with diaries or function sheets.

“It’s all about showing off what you have online and attracting the modern customer. So, search for technology like my system but there are other technology systems out there that help to show off your venue and make them more attractive to the modern custom- er,” he concludes.