Sarah Feldberg
Sarah Feldberg

At its peak in 2004, Las Vegas hosted more than 128,000 weddings, asserting its claim to the title of wedding capital of the world.

Clark County Clerk Lynn Goya points to the “Britney Spears effect.”

“She got married in January that year, and the next year [the number of weddings] was down.”

Never mind that Britney’s marriage lasted only 55 hours (yes, hours) before it was annulled. The attention from her 5 a.m. nuptials at A Little White Wedding Chapel apparently drew other couples to the city to tie the knot.

Eleven years later, while weddings are a $2 billion industry in Clark County, the number of marriages performed in Las Vegas has dropped by a third. In 2015, 82,000 couples got married in town, and while the per capita rate for Nevada — 37 weddings per thousand residents — still dwarfs the international average of five to 10 per thousand, Goya sees the potential to grow that total dramatically.

To do so, Goya and members of the city’s wedding industry launched the Las Vegas Wedding Chamber of Commerce this month. The organization is dedicated to promoting weddings in Vegas, assisting industry businesses and giving couples considering the city for their celebration all the information they need to make a decision and plan the event.

“Our wedding industry is uniting,” said Kris Labuda, the board president of the new chamber and manager of wedding services for the Flamingo, Linq and the High Roller. “We’re really proud of what we have to offer, and we haven’t been shouting it from the rooftops over the last 20 years.”

To spread the word, the chamber is working closely with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority to develop a marketing plan, as well as compiling a directory of vendors for prospective brides and grooms. “A place where they can find the vendors they need and a wide variety,” Labuda said. “We want to make sure all the options available in Las Vegas are known to them.”

That means moving past the perception of the city as a destination for eloping or Britney-style middle-of-the-night affairs. While some chapels are open 24 hours a day — and yes, Elvis would be happy to officiate your ceremony — the Marriage License Bureau, where couples get the paperwork to make it official, now closes at midnight. For pairs who want a more upscale experience, many casinos offer lavish wedding packages that can cost thousands of dollars.

In the Strip wedding industry, Labuda said, “We know the amount of work that we put into our weddings. The average correspondence is 40 times or more.”

Most of the couples that she works with start the planning process seven months out. That said, the Flamingo hosted a wedding for 265 guests booked with five days’ notice.

“That’s the beauty of Las Vegas,” Labuda said. “We can accommodate that.”

The chamber’s task is spreading that message of accommodation, preaching the gospel of the wedding capital of the world for high-maintenance brides, low-budget couples, second weddings and same-sex marriages.

Gay couples are already having a positive impact on the local wedding industry. Though Vegas didn’t start issuing licenses to same-sex pairs until the Supreme Court ruling in late June, in 2015 they accounted for more than 6% of all Vegas weddings.

Goya is optimistic about growing the number of nuptials in the valley back to its early 2000s high. Already, weddings are up in 2016, and while it might not happen immediately, she believes the chamber is poised to have a major impact.

“I’m confident that we’ll get back up to that 130,000 weddings per year in a period of …” she paused for a second to mull the time frame, “four years.”

And if the numbers don’t increase that quickly? Well, Britney Spears has extended her Planet Hollywood residency for another two years. Perhaps the third marriage will be the charm.


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