Vail Valley wedding business having a busy summer season

Vail’s Donovan Pavilion is hosting at least two weddings every weekend this summer. The valley’s wedding business, long a staple of the summer economy, has bounced back to pre-pandemic levels.
Donovan Pavilion/Courtesy photo

Weddings have always been a staple of the summer economy in Vail and Eagle County. This summer seems to be a return to that form.

The business all but shut down in 2020, the summer of COVID-19. In fact, local photographer Shane Macomber said he shot more weddings that summer — 10 — than were held at the Beaver Creek Chapel.

While the valley’s tourism business in 2021 returned in a big way, the wedding business was a bit more hesitant.

Laurie Asmussen’s company manages the Donovan Pavilion in Vail. Asmussen said people last year “still had a concern” about possible COVID closures. “It’s hard to plan six months or a year out” with that kind of uncertainty, Asmussen said.

This summer is different. Donovan Pavilion hosts at least two wedding events every weekend, along with some weekdays.

A bit behind ’19

That level of activity means Donovan Pavilion will meet its budget for this year. But, Asmussen added, Donovan is still just a bit behind its 2019 numbers.

Countless couples over the years have celebrated their marriages in Vail Village and elsewhere in the valley.

Gillespie Photography/Courtesy photo via Party Girl Events

Pastor Tim Wilbanks is president of the Vail Religious Foundation, which operates the Vail Interfaith Chapel. Wilbanks said based on his schedule, the chapel in 2021 was about back to its normal number of weddings. This year is better, even in the midst of an extensive renovation program.

Many of those weddings are for people who became engaged fairly recently. But, Wilbanks said, he performed a service in August for a couple that had delayed their nuptials by two years. That couple isn’t alone.

“I’ve got several (weddings) on my books who have delayed until 2023,” Wilbanks said.

Stephanie Fleck owns Party Girl Events. Fleck said her summer is going well.

“It feels like we’re back to normal,” Fleck said, adding that she’s not feeling a boom, but just normal busyness. That means organizing a wedding about every weekend, “about the same” as the year before the pandemic.

“It’s so nice to be back into the groove of things,” Fleck said. Still, she said, some of her normal venues aren’t as open as they’ve been in the past, perhaps due to being short-staffed. The vendors, from caterers to musicians, that have stayed in business are like many other businesses and having a hard time finding help.

Longtime local wedding planner Joanne Moore agreed there have been challenges with the increased business and changes at traditional venues.

Moore noted that Vail Resorts no longer offers its winter venues for weddings. That’s left some couples unhappy, she noted. 

Couples sometimes venture outside the resort villages, such as this couple celebrating their vows at Camp Hale.

Autumn Catia/Courtesy photo via Party Girl Events

There have been other changes around the region. One couple that had wanted a wedding in Aspen ended up moving their event to Florida.

Challenges in the industry

The pandemic and the comeback have added challenges to an industry that was hit hard by COVID-19. For one thing, the couples who waited have put a big strain on the nation’s wedding industry. Nationwide, weddings will approach 3 million this year, Moore said. A normal year will see about 2 million events. And there’s still a lot of business coming.

Moore said her 2023 calendar is already starting to fill up even before the traditional engagement season between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day, when nearly half of all couples agree to tie the knot.

Even those engagements have become an event for many couples.

Fleck recently has begun organizing engagement events for those who want to pop the question.

Many of those proposals are “over the top,” Fleck said, adding that she’ll coordinate locations, musicians, photographers and videographers and others.

Many of those couples decide to hold their weddings in the Vail Valley. Those destination weddings come with high expectations, for everyone. Meeting those expectations is why the valley’s wedding business is what it’s become over the years.