Martha Stewart's destination weddings

Queen of entertaining partners with resorts on branded destination weddings.

Planning a wedding can be a chaotic mess of appointments, deposits and endless decisions. But fans of Martha Stewart now have a new option. The guru of homemaking and entertaining (and former inmate No. 5170-054) is selling packages to give brides and grooms an impeccably stylish, colour-co-ordinated wedding day. It all takes place on a tropical island, to boot.

Stewart’s venture launched in January, as a partnership with Sandals, a privately held company with resorts in Jamaica, St. Lucia, Antigua and the Bahamas. The partnership aims to cash in on the growing trend of “destination weddings,” where the bridal party and guests fly to a tropical location for their nuptials.

Martha Stewart Weddings and the trends consultancy the Futures Co. say that destination weddings are increasing in popularity, with 31% of brides between the ages of 21 and 30 planning to tie the knot away from home – that’s up from previous estimates of 10% to 20%. In Canada, the website estimates that 7% of Canadian couples are planning a destination wedding, and they expect these numbers to grow. That’s a small slice of a giant pie: industry watchers estimate that couples in Canada spend over $4 billion on more than 156,000 weddings each year. The most recent U.S. numbers show that American weddings cost a total of US$71.7 billion in 2008.

Extravagant weddings in exotic locations might seem like a luxury during a tough economic climate, but in fact, they’re usually cheaper than a wedding at home. That’s part of the reason destination weddings have increased in popularity, while traditional weddings fell by 4% in 2009. Tracey Manailescu, vice-president of the Wedding Planners Institute of Canada, says that destination weddings are a hit with guests, too. “It’s your closest friends and family,” she says, noting that the average “big” wedding at Sandals resorts is only about 52 people. “People see it as a vacation. They can travel and have the experience with you.”

And it’s an experience guests pay for themselves. While the happy couple will usually foot the bill for their wedding party’s stay at an all-inclusive resort, other merrymakers will pay their own way. The average destination wedding usually winds up costing the couple $7,000 to $15,000, where they might have spent the average of $27,000 to get married locally.

A Martha Stewart wedding ranges from free with a six-night stay for the most basic package, to US$6,000 for the most luxe, plus $280 to $665 per person per night. The bride and groom pick a theme, such as “Vision in White” or “Seaside Serenade,” and the resort takes care of everything from the cake to the bouquet.

Sandals already does about 13,000 weddings annually, and the company hopes the partnership with Stewart will further increase its market share. Stewart is a logical partner, as she is well established in wedding world. She spent the past 14 years building Martha Stewart Weddings – a sub-brand that encompasses a radio show, a line of wedding supplies and America’s bestselling bridal magazine (which publishes an annual destination wedding issue). Her Martha Stewart Home Collection brand of products is the top seller on Macy’s bridal registry.

The partnership is showing promise. Sandals has already seen a 20% increase in wedding bookings this year. While the Northeast and Midwest U.S. are its biggest market, business from Canada is up. If this venture is a success, maybe Stewart’s ambitions will lead her to notoriously tacky Las Vegas, the destination wedding capital of the world. Could be a good thing.