Saying “I do” in Portugal
Portugal is increasingly a destination chosen by foreign couples to celebrate their marriage.
Its climate, food and drink trilogy forms the basis of national tourism and has, with some special variables, the ability to please not only wedding planners, but also brides and grooms.
Not living in Portugal, they know the country because they have heard about it or because it was their holiday destination before and they were seduced by the beauty of the landscape and the mild climate. After all, what attracts tourists also attracts more and more couples who, when decide to say “I do”, choose Portugal for one of the most important days in their lives.
From Douro to the Algarve, through Lisbon or the Azores, the number of weddings is increasing, meaning this is also an increasingly interesting business not only for wedding planners, but also for suppliers including hotels, venues, catering or photography.
The latest Ministry of Justice data for 2018 confirm this trend. These figures, which only concern civil registration - do not include, therefore, the couples who celebrated marriage in their homeland and who only made the reception in our country - have been rising.
If at the beginning of the decade the number of marriages of foreign citizens performed in Portugal was about 500, in just eight years this number has risen to 1,235 celebrations.
A trend that also keeps pace with the increasing number of tourists in Portugal, but with very interesting features, such as the length of stay, the number of guests accompanying the couple and the budget spent on these events.
While this is a growing business, there are also some challenges, such as dealing with multiculturalism, ensuring service exclusivity and personalisation, or making couples and guests feel at an intimate ceremony, even though they are thousands of miles from home.
Event Point International spoke to three companies that have been in the market for several years now and are optimistic about the future of this industry, but also aware of the need to preserve high-standard services.
How do you explain Portugal’s success as a destination for foreign marriages? Paula Grade, from White Impact, and Maria Luís Vaz Teixeira, from Mary Me, talk about hospitality and the quality of food and wine, both factors that attract thousands of tourists to Portugal every year. Optimum Weddings’ Dyana Dessar Simmons adds“the beauty of the landscapes and the huge venue variety, with different prices and features”. Being a foreigner herself, she also admits that the friendliness of the people she works with in organising an event is also a decisive factor.
If expectations are more or less shared, the origin of couples who choose Portugal to marry is quite varied. White Impact clientes mainly come from the US, UK and Ireland, while Mary Me works mainly with couples from the US and Brazil:“Our type client is foreign, is in his thirties and looking for a quality wedding destination that allows guests to have an experience over a weekend,” the manager mentions.
“Most of the weddings I organise are for Indian and Jewish couples, so they last for several days, including religious or traditional events. So they are looking to have everything they need to make their dream wedding happen,”says Dyana Dessar Simmons, stressing that it is often necessary to resort to specialised catering for these events to be successful.
Paula Grade reveals that couples looking for her company prefer the Algarve and among the most frequent requests are outdoor parties, which can be extended into the night. “They want to live an experience, the experience of a wedding on vacation mode,” she explains.
Maria Luís Vaz Teixeira says that couples “want to show the guests, during their stay, the reason that made them get married in Portugal”. And this is another wish that wedding planners are happy to satisfy: “We organise activities for the days before and after the wedding, such as visits to Port Wine Cellars, a boat trip, a night of fado, a day in a vineyard.”
The good relationship between the quality of products and services and the price is, for the head of Mary Me, one of the differentiating aspects of Portugal as a wedding destination: “We guarantee good prices, but excellent quality. In addition, most professionals speak English, which is rare in other European countries.”
Dyana Dessar Simmons brings to Portugal couples from the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada who, in addition to personalised and specialised assistance, seek “good weather, flexibility in the ceremony’s venue, excellence in service and luxury hotels”.“We work across Europe and for our customers what sets Portugal apart is the friendliness of the service and the tradition. And for many couples, there is Indian influence due to the connection with former colonies.”
Organising a wedding is something that always brings some challenges that, in the case of ceremonies involving foreigners can be even more challenging. Paula Grade ensures that the experience gained allows her to have a structured team “in order to overcome difficulties”, emphasising that her main care is“a constant contact with the customer”.
Communicating with all the guests, ensuring they have everything they need while in Portugal is, for Maria Luís Vaz Teixeira, a challenge, but also a point of honour. As far as special care is concerned, she mentions a deep knowledge of traditions, especially in the case of Indian or Jewish couples.
The Algarve (mainly Vilamoura and Carvoeiro), Cascais, Sintra and, more recently, Porto region, are places where Optimum Weddings has organised ceremonies. For Dyana Dessar Simmons, the biggest challenge she faces in this type of event “is to provide enough accommodation for everyone at the same location or at least as close to the venue as possible.” She says hotels do not always make it easier for wedding planners to work, adding that“We should all work as a team, so that weddings and other events are as smooth as possible for the couple and families.” Legal requirements, catering and the weather in some months of the year are, in her opinion, other sensitive topics that always require a lot of care.
The food quality is, for Paula Grade, what most surprises the foreign couples who marry in Portugal.
Dyana Dessar Simmons says that her customers especially appreciate the friendly attitude and care of locals and suppliers. And of course, they are enchanted by the beauty of the Portuguese coast and the way the traditional and the modern blend together.
“Our clients are always fascinated by the rest they can have during their stay, especially on their wedding day, as we make sure that everything goes as customers want. They are surprised by the event itself, in which everything flows and I know that we have a leading role in accomplishing that”, Maria Luís Vaz Teixeira highlights.
The evolution in the foreign wedding planning sector has been matched by a growth in the quality and quantity of companies that work closely with organisers. Paula Grade emphasises that, since she started working in the area,“the number of good suppliers has evolved a lot”. She confessed to have good expectations for the coming years and considers this sector can boost tourism in many aspects.
Maria Luís Vaz Teixeira highlights the way people came to understand the wedding planner activity:“When I started my company nobody knew the concept. Today we can say that everyone already knows the concept and sees the need for this service.”Although she thinks that in Portugal there is still a lot of work to do.“Some venues and other Portuguese suppliers are not used to working with us yet and end up not valuing our work and how much we are making their work easier”, she regrets.
Dyana Dessar Simmons, used to organising weddings in various countries, highlights the growth of Portugal as the chosen destination for this type of event, as well as the growth in the number of specialised suppliers.“All of this makes Portugal the perfect destination and an easy place to suggest. The variety in the type of venues available allows us to create a different experience for each wedding we plan.
The Optimum Weddings manager says she has had no difficulty working in Portugal.“So far it has met our expectations and those of our customers. Since we started promoting this destination that it has gone well and every year we meet more suppliers and great venues and discovered new surprises to offer our customers.”
This satisfaction with what Portugal has been offering is, for Dyana Dessar Simmons, reason to be optimistic about the future of this sector in Portugal, stating that this whole process is still at the beginning.
However, she stresses that it is important to maintain a strong connection between tour operators and wedding planners.“We should be invited to know and experience venues and services, as this is how we work together and people like me can promote Portugal as a destination that is like home.”
The factors that differentiate Portugal from other destinations are, for Maria Luís Vaz Teixeira, one of the secrets that needs to be explored: “We are competing with Italy and Greece, which still lead destination weddings, but we have advantages that are being discovered, such as prices and easy access from any airport. ”
The head of Mary Me also reinforces the economic weight of this sector in order to warn of its importance and the relevance of offering good value for money, thus avoiding alienating potential customers.“Every wedding we organise is not just a wedding. There are at least three days of events, with dinners in restaurants or event venues and recreational activities. Not to mention transport and travel”.
In her opinion, “tourism will reflect this sector’s growth, because we are talking about customers with high purchasing power, who come early, visit other cities and are check-in at luxury hotels.”
Turismo de Portugal has been keeping a close eye to this growing interest of foreigners in getting married in Portugal, and is also working to promote Portugal as a wedding destination.
White Impact / Algarve Wedding Planners
Paula Grade and Karina Sousa have been planning foreign weddings for 12 years, and if initially this was a small part-time business, today it has grown into a company made up of a team of international experts specialising in luxury weddings.
Portugal is one of the destinations where Optimum Weddings, with offices in the Costa del Sol and London, has been organising luxury weddings. From the Maldives to Greece, Seychelles or Disneyland, the company takes multiculturalism as a flag, organising many weddings for Judaism and Hinduism followers.
Founded in 2013 and based in Porto, Mary Me started planning ceremonies in Northern Portugal, but has already expanded its activity throughout the country, working with local partners. With a large experience in celebrations in the Douro Valley region, the company has 90% of foreign customers, mainly Brazilian and North American.
© Hélder Couto Photo | Mary Me
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