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Visitors Bureaus Launch Month Long Tourism Campaign

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(Credit: www.miamicharters.com)

MIAMI (CBS4)- In an effort to grab a bigger chunk of the nation’s $74 billion wedding industry, South Florida’s visitors bureaus are rolling out campaigns to boost the area’s reputation as a destination for popping the question, tying the knot and getting away post-nuptials.

The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau is launching a new nearly $500,000 effort with bridal behemoth The Knot to promote the area to the betrothed, kicking off in the next couple weeks and culminating with Miami Romance Month in June.

“The bureau has looked to even out the seasons,” William Talbert of The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. “There was a time in the summer the town closed down because there weren’t visitors and now our summers…we had a record summer last year. This is more to bolster and increase business during the summer.”

Talbert also said that the initiative will create more jobs.

“The weddings business is a big multi billion dollar business,” he said. “So at the end of the day while this is all exciting for weddings its about jobs in our community.”

Rolando Aedo, the bureau’s executive vice president-chief marketing officer, told CBS4’s news partner The Miami Herald that they would like people to come to Miami for all their wedding needs.

“You think about the whole life cycle of the process of getting married,” he said. “There’s the proposal, bachelor and bachelorette party, wedding or commitment ceremony, honeymoon and eventual anniversary and vow renewal. We’d like them to come to Miami over and over.”

And just like Miami Spice offers a three-course dinner at a discount rate and Miami Spa month slashes prices on mani-pedis, Miami Romance Month will include deals from hotels, restaurants, attractions, bridal shops and other wedding vendors throughout Miami-Dade, where 21,501 marriage licenses were granted last year.

“Every wedding is another bride,” said Jacqueline Volkart, general manager of the Ritz-Carlton Coconut Grove, which will participate. “We create guests for life usually.”

The tourism bureau – which boasts beaches as well as nontraditional venues like the new Herzog & de Meuron-designed parking garage on South Beach- is working now to encourage all interested parties to come up with romance-themed deals in June.

Vivian Del Olmo of J Del Olmo Bridal Gallery said it’s perfect timing.

“In June you know it was good to do the Miami Romance Month because it would draw some traffic to the stores during this month,” she said.

Special offers are likely to catch brides’ attention, said Carley Roney, co-founder of wedding planning site TheKnot.com.

“They can only go so over budget,” she said. “And they really have big wedding visions.”

The Knot, which says it is used by 8 of 10 brides nationwide, has registered 30,000 users in South Florida with upcoming wedding dates. Florida is the top state for domestic destination weddings, with 21 percent of the share. And the Southern Florida region, which stretches from Miami-Dade to St. Lucie counties, sits among the top 10 areas in the country where brides spend the most on their wedding – an average of $33,810 in 2010 compared to the national average of $26,984.

That matrimonial spending helped carry hotels through the economic downturn even as corporate groups abandoned South Florida for fear of public backlash. Tourism bureaus took note and are making a more calculated bid for the business.

Before this effort, Roney said, Miami hasn’t capitalized on all it has to offer.

“Miami has a lot of sex appeal to people. They know it’s a luxurious city, they know it’s a fun city, they know there is great travel to do there,” she said. “But I don’t think people really know there are amazing wedding professionals there as well, so it could be the all-in-one package.”

The national marketing push includes a revamped page within The Knot, Miami.Weddings.com, and another site, MiamiRomanceMonth.com. Both are expected to launch May 10.

Aedo said the efforts will also target gay visitors who want to hold a commitment ceremony in Miami-Dade. The promotion will feature two major events in June: a wedding showcase and contest called “Marry Me in Miami” (with its own website, MarryMeInMiami.com) that will give the winning couple a $150,000 wedding at the Biltmore in Coral Gables.

“We want everyone to think of June as the time to make commitments on all fronts,” Aedo said.

Broward County is seeking its share of wedding business with a marketing campaign in June called Greater Fort Lauderdale-DO. The Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau will have a dedicated site online, a wedding guide, a tie-in to the area’s luxury hotel collection and a flurry of promotional activity including giveaways and advertising. The bureau already is running wedding ads this year on Visit Florida’s weddings page and in publications including Bridal Guide and Destination Weddings & Honeymoons.

The new effort will highlight special packages, local wedding planners and offbeat places in the county to get married, including nature options like a full-moon wedding in a canoe or kayak. After its summer launch, Greater Fort Lauder-DO will be a sustained marketing program.

Although Miami-Dade will observe Miami Romance Month for only one month out of the year, Aedo said the push to bring more weddings-and-romance business to the area – and possibly lure customers away from the Caribbean -will last year-round.

Already an international wedding destination for its concentration of wedding-oriented shops and services, Coral Gables is playing a heavy role in the promotion. The final phase of “Marry Me in Miami” will unfold in a challenge between five couples on a closed-down Miracle Mile on June 22. The Biltmore and other Gables vendors are donating the grand prize wedding.

Mari Gallet, executive director of the Coral Gables Business Improvement District, said wedding-related business helped keep the area afloat during the recession because brides didn’t stop spending. The district is participating in the promotion with its own part of the main Miami website, guides to Miracle Mile bridal shopping and shopping spree giveaways during the month.

She said she hopes non-engaged couples will venture to the area as well as brides-to-be during the month long promotion.

“Maybe it’s a good time to get your significant other down here and drop some hints,” she said.

While Coral Gables, Vizcaya Museum and South Florida’s beaches are already well-known wedding destinations, Aedo said the effort will also highlight new lesser-known options like the parking garage at 1111 Lincoln Road and New World Center in Miami Beach.
One of those is Miami’s Jungle Island, which promotes itself as a unique wedding venue because of its animal-rich surroundings.

Andrew Juska, vice president of food and beverage, said he hopes Miami Romance Month will bring couples who are already thinking outside the traditional wedding box.

“We can really do the unusual weddings,” he said. “You can have a camel at your wedding.”

Vanessa and Steve-Brian Casios, who live in Orlando but have family in Miami, didn’t go the camel route when they got married at Jungle Island on March 19, but they chose the venue for their wedding with nearly 190 guests because the bride “didn’t want a regular ballroom.”

Despite some noisy squawking parrots at the beginning of the ceremony, Vanessa Casios said the venue – the open-air plaza for the ceremony, waterfall-area cocktail hour and ballroom reception – was “gorgeous.”

“The tropical atmosphere was really nice,” she said. Plus, Casios said, the venue sweetened the deal by throwing in an extra hour of bar service and the chairs the couple wanted.

Tourism officials are hoping that mix of tropical destinations and relative bargains will help their still-recovering industry emerge from the doldrums of the last couple years.

Roney said that while more than a third of South Florida brides said their plans were affected by the economy, the weddings still marched on.

“No matter what happens in the economy, the world keeps getting married,” she said. “I can see why the visitors bureau says ‘Yes, it’s great to have all the tourists. But I like the tourists that come and bring 105 guests.’ It’s a smart investment for an area to say we want more weddings.”

For more information on specials offers throughout June and to meet businesses that can assist with your wedding, visit Miami Romance Month’s upcoming Web site at MiamiRomanceMonth.com.

Additionally, visit Miami.Weddings.com, a go-to-source for finding Miami wedding vendors and getting Miami wedding ideas.

(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald contributed material for this report)

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