Great trek to say 'I do'

Hundreds of overseas couples are making the great trek to South Africa to tie the knot—thanks to the favourable exchange rate.

“The world is becoming more globalised and destination weddings are becoming more popular all over the world. The market for destination weddings in South Africa is expanding at a rapid rate,” says Richard Holt of Wedding Concepts, a coordinating company. Holt says the majority of his clients are from the United Kingdom and central Europe, especially Germany.

Similarly, Aleit Swanepoel of Aleit Wedding Coordination says that “70% of [its] clients are from abroad, with the bulk coming from the UK and some from Germany, the United States and the Netherlands”.

Sally Haines, owner of Weddings Abroad, a coordination company in Cape Town that specialises in destination weddings, says that of her international client base, 70% come from the UK, 20% from Germany and 10% from the US and number are “growing [from] the Scandanavian countries such as Finland”.

Swanepoel says destination weddings bring about R25-million a year into the country. She says that, despite bad press, “the rand/pound exchange rate ensures that South Africa will remain a very popular wedding destination and UK couples do not find the distance or jet lag an issue.

Others simply read about the beauty or feasibility of hosting their special day here. You can have a celebrity wedding in South Africa for the same price as a mediocre wedding in the UK.”

“Each wedding has on average 100 guests flown in from overseas. Each of these guests spends up to R30 000 on accommodation, transport and entertainment while in the country, so the contribution to the economy is great,” says Holt.

Speaking about the income brought in by overseas wedding parties to her business, Haines says: “We turn over about R3 to R5-million on weddings in a year on the larger weddings and smaller weddings [add] another R600 000. A full-service wedding will be about R200 000 minimum.”

Coordinators would not say that overseas couples spend more on their weddings than locals. “One thing is for sure: when people want to get married no expense is spared. This is one area people find money to spend,” says Haines.

“We believe that local and international clients should pay the same amount. If you look at the market as a whole, yes, the overseas clients do have more money to spare for pre and post-wedding events and usually have more lavish celebrations,” says Swanepoel.

But there is consensus on where couples prefer to tie the knot. “The Western Cape is the most favoured destination,” says Holt.

“The Franschhoek wine region for the bigger weddings is, and has been for some time, the wedding destination. We do many weddings on Table Mountain, at Cape Point, on Cape Town beaches and in West Coast villas. More people come to destinations such as Hermanus, Tulbagh and Gansbaai,” says Holt.

Swanepoel says the Cape’s “gorgeous beaches, majestic mountains, picturesque vineyards and beautiful city locations, with Table Mountain as a backdrop” are the reasons for the region’s popularity.

She says that plans often incorporate something uniquely South African into the festivities. “After all, they have travelled so far. Two seasons ago we served ostrich as a main course to more than 1 500 guests at various weddings. Couples like to have African music at some point during the celebrations, for example a marimba band during pre-dinner drinks and/or Zulu dancers as a surprise item during the course of dinner. Most couples, however, play it safe with their decor and do not go kitsch African. Wooden African statues serve as gifts to guests quite often, but no leopard print.”

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