By Chris Teale (Photo/Sarah Marcella Hallee for Visit Alexandria)
A collection of around 50 local vendors will come together next weekend as the city seeks to increase its visibility as a top wedding destination in the region.
The first annual Alexandria Wedding Showcase will take place February 19 at the Westin Alexandria hotel in the Carlyle neighborhood, sponsored by the Westin, Engaged! Magazine, Kimpton Hotels of Alexandria and tourism authority Visit Alexandria.
The event has been in planning for around a year, and Visit Alexandria officials said it will offer far more than a standard wedding fair.
“This isn’t a normal bridal show, in my opinion,” said Megan Hosford, destination sales manager at Visit Alexandria. “I’ve been to a lot, and been a vendor at a lot of them. We have so much rich content and information. There are going to be cooking demonstrations, there are going to be cocktail mixologists, we’re going to have an expert panel. So the stage is going to be full almost the whole time.”
In an email, event spokesman David Groobert said couples, families and wedding planners can visit the likes of bakeries, boutiques and caterers; dress and tuxedo boutiques; entertainment providers; florists; photographers; venue representatives; and transportation and other service providers.
Groobert said the event was scheduled early in the year to take advantage of the trend of couples getting engaged during the holidays, which he said is when approximately one in four betrothals take place.
Attendees will also be joined by local resident and television celebrity Monte Durham, co-host and fashion director of “Say Yes To The Dress: Atlanta” on the TLC network. Durham will be a featured panelist during the event, and also assist in its partnership with Brides Across America, a national nonprofit that has gifted weddings and wedding gowns to military and first responder personnel since its inception in 2008. At the Alexandria showcase, the Global Bridal Gallery wedding gown store will offer 10 wed- ding dresses to be donated to 10 brides through the Brides Across America program.
Hosford said it was important to offer this service, as it is in keeping with the overall feel of the event. In addition, $2 from each ticket sale goes to the nonprofit.
“This event was a community-driven event, and we wanted to give back to the community as well,” she said. “It was really important for us to make sure that we gave back to the community and had a charitable component, because Alexandrians like to take care of each other. That is a really important part of who this city is.”
Hosford said that research on wedding trends has shown that while the events themselves are getting smaller, people are still willing to spend big, especially for a destination wedding. She said that guests and the engaged couple are now much more inclined to make the event into a longer occasion beyond the ceremony.
“The people who come aren’t just going to the wed- ding,” Hosford said. “They’re going to the rehearsal dinner, they’re going to brunch, they’re going to lunch with their girlfriends, they’re staying a few nights later or coming early and they’re going shopping. Even though the hotel might host the wedding and the caterer might do the food and the flower shop might do the flowers, everybody in the community, all the businesses are receiving the dollars from these weddings.”
To take advantage of the changing trends, Visit Alexandria has continued to emphasize its wedding marketing initiative, which Hosford said is about building strong connections between local businesses as much as anything else.
“The initiative involved wanting to create a strong Alexandria wedding community,” she said. “One of the first ways to do that is to get all of our vendors together. Not only are we getting our community together, but we’re going to get them business…We’ve started to see our goal of creating this Alexandria community really come to fruition, and now it’s about strengthening that and making sure that everybody knows where to go.”
It all adds up to making Alexandria an attractive venue for weddings, especially in the highly competitive D.C. metropolitan region with its myriad options. Hosford said there is plenty to make the city unique.
“As a destination, we are very walkable, our cobblestone streets and chef-driven restaurants and local boutiques make us a destination that people want to visit,” she said. “It’s not a hotel-based wedding, there’s so much more that you get when you come to Alexandria, and it’s not all chains. These are local business owners who are very invested in what they do and they bring a unique thing and a local flavor to what they do.”
“Our destination for guests of the wedding, you’re going to a city that you can make a mini-vacation out of,” added Lorraine Lloyd, senior vice president of sales at Visit Alexandria. “Whereas a number of times you’ll go to a wedding in a town where the only thing there is the wedding, it’s really an amenity for the guests to be able to come to Alexandria and enjoy the wedding but also enjoy their weekend.”
Lloyd and Hosford said they expect to compile data on the success of the Visit Alexandria initiative and the wed- ding showcase next year.