Although the peak wedding season is now over, an upcoming trade fair in Florence will keep brides-to-be, whether foreign or native, shopping around for wedding-related products and services the whole year long. At the Fortezza da Basso from October 29 to November 6, 2011, the Tutto Sposi trade fair is the largest of its kind in Tuscany. Suzi Jenkins looks at this million-euro industry, which is surprisingly not only unaffected by the economic downturn, but even in growth.
Marriages among Tuscans have been steadily declining since 1973, when they peaked at about 420,000, dropping to a mere 217,076 in 2010. Yet the wedding industry here is a continually expanding and apparently recession-proof industry. So, despite the fact that Tuscans (and Italians) are getting married less and less, the industry turnover continues to gain strength. How is that possible?
You don't need me to tell you that Florence is the most romantic backdrop for tying the knot, that the food is out of this world, or that the dolce vita is an integral part of what makes Tuscany so very special. The Tuscan wedding industry is one of the best established and oldest of the ?new' industries in Tuscany (see, for example, TF 46 and 126). Although there are rival destinations, apparently everyone else has discovered this, too. Getting married in Tuscany is thus immensely desirable and infinitely achievable on virtually every budget. Where the Tuscans have cut back, couples from many other nations in the world have filled the gap and are taking advantage of not only a superb location, but also a consolidated wedding infrastructure that performs like well-oiled machinery.
Wedding planning itself is a business opportunity. Wedding planning is apparently an industry with low barriers to entry. Many new planners appear each year, and just as many disappear the year after. It's a tough industry, with long hours and stressful days and nights, but with just those first few notes of Schubert's Ave Maria the wedding planner's heart melts: another great job well done!
Jacqueline Bradshaw (www.marrymetuscany.co.uk) has been a wedding planner in the Tuscan market for eight years. Based in Siena but operating across the region, she manages between 15 and 20 weddings per season, mainly for British, American, Canadian and Australian clients. Her clients, in the mid to high end of the market, spend on average 15,000-20,000 euro for their weddings, excluding accommodation, transfers and other extras. The couples themselves usually foot the bill, sometimes with help from parents or very close family members.
Based in Florence, Louise Holm Ferragamo (www.madebymade.it) has until recently been a casual yet passionate part-time planner for more than 10 years, assisting friends and relatives plan big weddings. She recently decided that going professional would be a great career move. She serves the luxury/VIP end of the market, where the tab for the wedding ranges from 60,000 euro to over 200,000. The events are often three-day affairs, with most clients being English, American, Chinese, German, Scandinavian and Italian.
Both wedding planners confirm that the recession caused them little pain. Bradshaw remarks, ?some brides try to pull off a Tuscan do-it-yourself wedding and then seek help, so it can become a 'rescue plan' of sorts, while others are simply reducing the number of guests that they bring, from an average of 50 in 2008 to just 35 in 2011.' Holm Ferragamo, who works just five or six events per year, notes that her clients seem not to have felt any financial pinch.
Consider, however, the local businesses that are directly and indirectly involved in these weddings, for here are opportunities for development. Both Bradshaw and Holm Ferragamo mention as many as 16 separate industries that benefit from weddings. It is true that some 'destination Tuscany' couples chose to import some services provided from the homeland, like their own photographers, but what might be lost economically through importing such services is gained elsewhere: the couple must provide accommodation, food, and transportation for them.
Jo?lle Edwards (www.joellemarie.co.uk), is a Florence-based planner who started organizing weddings and events in Tuscany and has since branched out on a national level, offering destinations including the Amalfi Coast and Liguria for average budgets of 30,000-60,000 euro. In addition to the legalities and paperwork for the marriage ceremony itself, Edwards explains that her role has progressively incorporated the management of an ever-increasing circle of suppliers involved in a ?wedding weekend experience' for all in attendance. This means she is often charged with arranging a mini-holiday for a group of 60-100 people in Italy for three or more days, covering an array of activities. A large part of the guests are first time visitors to Italy and want to make the most of it.
Predictably, Holm Ferragamo, Bradshaw and Edwards find that although they are used to the rather relaxed pace of local business, the go-it-alone brides and grooms often find it stressful, and a major part of the planners' role is easing intercultural relations and chasing lackadaisical suppliers for answers and confirmations. Inevitably, inconsistent and indescribably complex Italian bureaucracy is always a force to be reckoned with-but where there is a will, there is a way! Edwards remarks that ?this "can do" attitude is paramount to survive in this industry, in which working on behalf of both clients and suppliers to ensure a harmonious run of events on the big day, can be testing'. Another issue is the inflexibility of town councils in permitting weddings in sites other than their officially appointed venues; for example, many couples adore the idea of exchanging their vows outside, with a romantic city or landscape as a backdrop. Furthermore, manual labor is extraordinarily expensive in Italy, meaning that the planners often end up lending more muscle power to the event than perhaps they would like. Finally, many Italian businesses are often not prepared to work ?virtually' with clients; much preferring the physical presence of the client who can 'drop by,' they do not invest in even such simple technological tools as online catalogues of their products.
Looking ahead, Holm Ferragamo, Bradshaw and Edwards firmly agree that 2012 looks like a truly bumper year, with bookings already up in 2011. So, saying ?I do' in Tuscany is doing something very special for the wedding couple and for the local economy. Thank you, if you ?did!'
Some of the local businesses and industries benefitting from a 'destination Tuscany' wedding:
Printers (for invitations, day programs, dinner seating cards, menus and so forth)
Accommodation (castles, hotels, villas, B&Bs)
Dedicated website designer
Personal dresser (because Made in Italy is so much better!)
Beauty specialists (hairdresser, makeup artist, beauty treatments)
Catering services (including rental of furniture and equipment)
Restaurants (for meals and parties, including hen and stag nights, the day-after champagne breakfast, ethnic picnics, etc.)
Vineyards (for the event but also for wine, balsamic vinegar, cold cuts and cheese tastings--with many guests placing orders to be shipped home)
Florists (flowers of course, but also decorations in general)
Photographic and video services
Entertainment (live music, dancers, models)
Technical support (sound and lighting systems)
Transportation (car rentals, shuttle services, limousine services)
Wedding favors (chocolate, silverware, locally produced leatherwear)
Local services (translators, security, valet parking, hostesses, babysitting, cleaners)
Extracurricular activities (visits to designer outlets, guided tours to museums, excursions on horseback, bicycle tours, vintage car races, hot-air balloon trips and the like)
When to say 'I do'?
The long season for weddings in Tuscany is April to October, with the favorite months being May, June and September. Although couples marry on just about any day of the week, Saturdays and Sundays are most common, especially for Italian couples. Foreigners tend to be more flexible, with Friday being quite popular as the day to tie the knot.
Other popular wedding destinations in Italy include the northern Italian lakes (such as Garda and Como), Venice and the Amalfi coast. Abroad, southern France and even exotic destinations such as the Fiji islands represent potential rivals.