- The Washington Times - Friday, May 23, 2003

HONOLULU — K.C. and Shannon Bradshaw, standing on an empty white-sand beach as the waves softly rolled in and the sun peeked out from over the Pacific, exchanged leis and wedding vows before an intimate crowd of family and friends.

The simple yet spectacular setting during sunrise at Oahu’s Sandy Beach gave the couple from San Jose, Calif., their fantasy wedding.

“Getting married in Hawaii was a dream come true,” Shannon Bradshaw said. “I always dreamed of being Cinderella, and that was my Cinderella moment.”

For thousands of couples every month, Hawaii’s romantic sunsets, lush tropical gardens and pristine beaches provide an idyllic backdrop for a wedding. And state tourism officials are for the first time compiling data that give a glimpse of just how vast and lucrative the nuptial business is in Hawaii.

The Bradshaws were among the 51,288 of Hawaii’s 1.6 million visitors who reported coming to the islands to marry in the first three months of this year, according to Department of Business and Economic Development and Tourism statistics.

“The great news is the wedding and honeymoon market is big and it has been growing and expanding,” said Tony Vericella, president and chief executive of the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau.

Although domestic visitors outnumbered international visitors 2 to 1 through March, there were many more weddings involving foreign visitors, mostly from Japan. About 8 percent of foreign visitors, or 39,943, reported coming to Hawaii to get married. That compares with 1 percent, or 11,345, of mainland visitors here for that purpose.

Weddings translate into thousands, even tens of thousands, of dollars for hotels, houses of worship, retailers, wedding planners, florists, caterers and a variety of other businesses.

Tourism officials said couples who get married in Hawaii tend to be affluent, stay for their honeymoon and return for vacations or anniversaries. They also bring family and friends to the islands. Japanese couples average about seven or eight wedding guests, while couples from the U.S. mainland bring more.

“If ever a couple is going to spend some dollars, it’s going to be on their wedding and their honeymoon because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Marsha Weinert, executive director of the Maui Visitors Bureau.

But the Bradshaws say their simple and unforgettable wedding was affordable, partly because there is so much competition in Hawaii’s wedding business. Shannon Bradshaw talked to about 10 wedding planners before selecting one.

She chose Barry Maier, owner of Aloha Beautiful Hawaii Weddings, who said many couples like Hawaii because it wraps everything into a single experience.

“They put everything into one,” he said. “They get a beautiful, romantic trip they’re dreaming of, and they put their wedding together as well.”

Jody Houck, a recent visitor from Baltimore, said she would have loved to have a Hawaiian wedding when she got married 16 years ago and is considering Kauai for renewing her vows on her 20th anniversary.

“It’s so beautiful and the surf is gorgeous,” she said. “The whole setting is very romantic: the surf behind them, the flowers, the orchids, the leis. It’s very different from what you would get on the East Coast.”

Scenery aside, every wedding has subtle touches of Hawaiian culture, whether it be wearing leis, a tropical floral bouquet, a ukulele replacing the traditional organ or the groom shedding the tie and tuxedo for formal Hawaiian attire.

Although the war in Iraq, fears of severe acute respiratory syndrome and the slumping economy in Asia have taken a toll on Japanese and other foreign visitors coming to Hawaii for weddings and honeymoons, business from the U.S. mainland remains steady.

Marketing efforts are expanding, with hotels looking to enhance wedding services and facilities.

“As a whole, the romance market is going to be very lucrative for Hawaii,” said David Uchiyama, spokesman for Starwood Resorts & Hotels, which operates 13 hotels in Hawaii.

Mark Barnes, of the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort, said weddings this year are at the same pace as 2002, when the hotel had more than 200 weddings.

Oahu’s Kahala Mandarin Oriental — a luxury, oceanside hotel with a ballroom and three outdoor locations for weddings — held about 600 wedding ceremonies and receptions last year, said Eric Kwan, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing.


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