A pair of entrepreneurs hoping to prod the state into promoting Maine as a destination for weddings paid for a study that shows weddings in Maine generated nearly $1 billion in economic activity.

The study, “Marry ME,” by the Maine Center for Business and Economic Research at University of Southern Maine, said direct spending on weddings totaled $205.9 million and the rest of the economic activity cited in the report reflected “ripple effect” spending in the state by companies and individuals who supply services to weddings.

“The scale of the wedding industry and its contribution to the Maine economy has gone largely unnoticed,” said Ryan Wallace, director of USM’s Maine Center for Business and Economic Research, which is part of the Muskie Institute of Public Service.

Korinne Leonardis and Elliot Townsend got married at the William Allen Farm in Pownal last August. Photo by Nadra Edgerley

The overall value of Maine’s goods and services, or its GDP, is roughly $60 billion, with tourism accounting for $6 billion of that estimate.

Last year about 37 million people visited the state. The report found that about 1 million of them were in Maine to attend weddings. While here they spent $346 million during their stays. That spending, in turn, generated $40 million in local taxes and $32 million in state taxes.

Heidi Curry said she and a photographer, Nadra Edgerley, paid about $15,000 for the center to conduct the research.

Curry runs William Allen Farm in Pownal, where her 200-year-old barn provides a site for rehearsal dinners, weddings and receptions and a Sunday brunch for out-of-town guests before they head home. The barn and grounds go for about $7,000 a weekend and she rents it out about 25 times a year, from May to late October, she said.

Curry and Edgerley met with state tourism officials about a year ago, asking them to step up their marketing of Maine as a wedding destination for out-of-state residents. Although tourism officials were receptive, Curry said, she and Edgerley knew that hard data would strengthen their case.

“We felt that no one was out there advocating for Maine as a destination wedding location and trying to attract more business for the state,” she said. Even though the wedding business in the state has grown in the past five years since she started her business, Curry said, she feels there’s room for even more growth.

“It certainly has taken off far greater in the last two or three years than ever before,” she said. “You can’t plead your case unless you have the information to back it up.”

USM also has recognized the trend. The university is incorporating weddings into its Tourism and Hospitality program.

“Maine is a great place for a destination wedding because it has a perfect backdrop for an outdoor ceremony with natural beauty and rustic charm,” said Sara Ghezzi, a faculty member in the tourism and hospitality program.

WEDDING SPENDING

According to Insider, an online research and lifestyle site, Maine is a fairly popular choice for destination weddings, at least compared to other northern New England states. The site said the state hosted 9,706 weddings in 2018 – the Marry ME study reported 9,697 – at an average cost of $26,211 in 2018. That compares with 9,341 weddings in New Hampshire, at an average cost of $33,612, and 5,321 in Vermont, carrying an average cost of $30,257. There are about 2.5 million weddings a year in the United States.

About a third of Maine weddings unite out-of-staters, according to the site.

Laura Yeitz, a research analyst at the Maine Center for Business and Economic Research and co-author of Marry ME, said the numbers on economic impact and jobs attributable to weddings are conservative.

“We were definitely surprised by the size” of the wedding industry in Maine, she said. The report did not take into account some related activities, such as rehearsal dinners, honeymoons or bachelor and bachelorette parties, Yeitz said, so the true economic impact of weddings and related events is almost certainly higher.

Portland is a growing destination for those pre-wedding parties, Visit Portland, the city’s tourism bureau, has found. The websites for Visit Portland and Visit Maine also feature links to planners and other services for weddings.

Yeitz said the economic impact of visits for weddings is large because wedding guests tend to stay overnight, meaning more spending on hotels and restaurants.

She said about 1 million people a year come to Maine for weddings, about 4 percent of the number of overnight visitors to the state annually. Couples in the Northeast — mostly from other states in New England and New York – are the prime marketing target for anyone pitching a destination wedding in Maine, Yeitz said.

“The economic impact from weddings is huge” in Maine, agreed Chris Fogg, chief executive officer of the Maine Tourism Association.

And, he said, it can lead to repeat visits.

“We’d love for people to come to Maine, get married and come back for every anniversary,” he said.


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