Weddings are big business in Charleston, although nobody seems to know exactly how big.
The organizers of Charleston Wedding Week, which is going on now at five venues, counted about 5,000 wedding licenses in Charleston County alone last year. They didn’t note how many of those were from out of town but said they figure it’s a good number, based on their contacts with wedding vendors and planners.
“Weddings are a significant economic impact, from start to finish,” according to Della MacNicholas, director of development for Charleston Weddings magazine, which organized Wedding Week. “They are bringing numbers of family members and wedding guests to fill hotel rooms for multiple days.”
The fact that Charleston has a publication devoted entirely to weddings is an indicator in itself, she said. The magazine started in 2005 and has been growing along with the city’s popularity as a place to tie the knot.
Wedding Week is just one of several bridal shows held in Charleston each year. The Charleston Bridal Show and the Southern Bridal Show also draw scores of vendors and crowds.
This is the first time Charleston Wedding Week, sponsored this year by jewelry retailer Diamonds Direct, is a separate event from Charleston Fashion Week, which is held in March. It’s a sign of growth and also because January is closer to the time of year when couples are getting engaged and planning their nuptials.
The Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce and the College of Charleston’s Office of Tourism Analysis keep track of the economic impact of tourism, but none of them had any figures on the impact of weddings when contacted last week.
To put 5,000 weddings in context, though, tourism officials estimated 5.1 million visitors to Charleston in 2015, for an economic impact of $3.7 billion and 41,000 jobs.
What is clear is that hundreds, if not thousands, of those jobs involve servicing weddings. There are not only hotels and restaurants but space rentals, sound and lighting, music, photography, dresses, clothes, jewelry, makeup, flowers - the list goes on.
“Charleston is rife with wedding vendors,” MacNicholas said. “We are really a hot bed for weddings locally and destination brides as well. What I’ve really seen is an increase in the luxury wedding market here, as well as the number of vendors who have relocated or opened offices here in addition to other cities.”
A service called The Wedding Report counted 6,585 weddings in the Charleston area in 2015, with an average cost of $28,600. That means some of them cost less, and some a whole lot more.
“There are couples that come and have that beautiful ceremony on the beach and invest less than $10,000 on their wedding,” MacNichols said. "Then there is the other end of the spectrum where they’re spending $1 million plus on their event.”
The schedule for Charleston Wedding Week is on the event website at charlestonweddingweek.com.