Vail area wedding business is back in a big way after the pandemic

Vail’s Donovan Pavilion has long been a popular spot for weddings and receptions.
Donovan Pavilion/Special to the Daily

Love is one of Eagle County’s underappreciated economic drivers. Specifically, people who get married bring bunches of guests — and money — every summer.

The wedding business took a COVID-mandated break in 2020. This wedding season — roughly June through October — is already busy, between canceled events from 2020 and ceremonies that were planned for this year.

Longtime local wedding planner JoAnn Moore keeps a close eye on state and national trends. Moore said that in the couple of years before the pandemic, the U.S. saw roughly 2 million weddings per year. For 2022, that number is expected to surpass 3 million.

There’s plenty of local business this summer, but there are only so many venues, caterers, musicians and officiants to go around.

Laurie Asmussen manages Vail’s Donovan Pavilion, long a popular wedding or reception spot.

“We’re just trying to fit in events that weren’t able to happen last year,” Asmussen said, adding that activity this year has been “really great.”

While Donovan is popular, it can only host so many events. The rule is one wedding per day. That came from a double-booking date a few years ago in which those attending the first wedding didn’t want to clear out for the next event.

New and improved

Those who hold events at Donovan this year will find the space has been renovated and improved, with a new, more efficient and quieter heating, ventilation and air conditioning system. Improvements also include a new prep area for caterers, storage areas and a room that gives brides a bit of privacy before the event.

Stephanie Fleck owns Party Girl Events. Fleck agreed there are only so many events that can be done in one weekend.

Fleck said a wedding this summer is usually the result of a lot of planning. In some cases, the wedding is the result of a lot of patience. Fleck has been working since 2018 with some clients.

That can mean some adjustments. Fleck said one bride’s tastes had changed between first plans and real plans for this summer. That required different décor, a different venue and different plans for transportation.

The wedding was shifted to the lawn of one of Vail’s big lodges, so transportation for guests was no longer needed. But the couple had already paid a deposit to Turtle Bus, so the wedding party went tubing the day before the big event.

At Turtle Bus, Emma Wodlinger said the company has been busy this summer with both transportation and tubing trips. People hire Turtle Bus for bachelor and bachelorette parties, tubing trips and transportation from the wedding site to the reception.

Turtle Bus is going strong, but that’s not the case for a number of wedding vendors.

Moore said a number of those companies didn’t survive the pandemic. Some caterers have lost their kitchen space, and there are photographers, musicians and others who found full-time jobs when the event business deflated in 2020. Then there’s the fact that prices are rising for just about everything.

Wedding planners try to balance that reality with another reality: Brides want what they want.

(Wedding) bells and whistles

“They want all the bells and whistles,” Moore said. With that in mind, Moore said she’s encouraging couples to be patient.

In a phone interview, Moore said she’d just completed a pre-ceremony event at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs.

“The bride lit up,” Moore said. “It was her being patient. If you wait (a year), you can do all the bells and whistles.

For those who wait, the reality of a Vail area wedding is hard to top.

Father Brooks Keith of the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration performs several weddings every year.

“I’ve done some of the most poignant and emotional services of my career in the past year,” Keith said.

In one ceremony earlier this year, the brother of the bride, who lives in Hong Kong, surprised his sister two hours before the ceremony.

“No one knew he was coming except the parents,” Keith said. This season overall has been a lot of fun, he added.

And, Keith said, weddings are a tremendous economic driver for the valley.

“Once you’ve been married here, you’ll come back,” Keith said.

Asmussen said she sees a lot of people come into Donovan to reminisce, and, in some cases, show the place to their children.

“They’ll say, ‘This is where Mom and Dad got married,’” Asmussen said. “It’s so cute.”