Weddings: US planners are in demand

Updated: 2013-05-17 11:40

By Caroline Berg in New York (China Daily)

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 Weddings: US planners are in demand

Students attend a lecture at the Weddings Beautiful China wedding planner certification program in Beijing. Provided to China Daily

Getting married in the world's most populous country is big business. About $57 billion is spent annually on 10 million weddings in China.

The money goes for pre-ceremony photographs, limousine rentals, wedding gowns and honeymoons, while a tenth of the total expense traditionally goes to the wedding banquet, according to the China Wedding Industry Development Report. And about 50 percent of the couples getting married now turn to wedding planners to help organize the ceremony, according to the website of Weddings Beautiful Worldwide, which teaches how to be a planner.

When events and marketing professional Ling Ying decided she wanted to get into the wedding business, she looked to Weddings Beautiful Worldwide to study wedding planning and receive certification. Not only did Ling go on to found Weddings by Ling in Beijing, she also contacted Weddings Beautiful Worldwide CEO Gary Wright with a proposal that eventually brought his accredited program to China.

"The main reason why Ling felt it was so important to bring the program to China was because Chinese brides are now demanding better service and yet the industry as a whole was lacking a standard of excellence," said Raul Vasquez, president and an independent licensee of Weddings Beautiful China, and also Ling's husband.

Weddings Beautiful China is a joint venture with Weddings by Ling - a firm that caters to high-end Chinese couples, expatriates and Chinese celebrities. The program established its flagship location in Beijing in 2011. Another location opened in Shanghai in 2012 and a branch was launched on Thursday in Suzhou - a city known for its gardens and natural beauty.

Although smaller than Beijing and Shanghai, Vasquez said brides-to-be in Suzhou increasingly are requesting high-end wedding-planning.

"Wedding planners in that region need to step it up a notch if they want to get new business," Vasquez said. "This is where we step in to fill that void."

Weddings Beautiful China offers two classes: the certified wedding specialist course, which has made up 90 percent of total enrollment, and the associate bridal consultant course.

The certified course is taught in all of Weddings Beautiful Worldwide's divisions around the world, which include Africa, Australia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, the Philippines, Singapore and Taiwan. The two-week course covers the fundamentals of wedding planning, business management, marketing and social media, team work, project management and other "soft" skills to jump-start a career in wedding planning.

"[The associate bridal consultant course] is for those who just want to focus on the weddings part of the course and forego the business management part," Vasquez said about the second course offering. "This course is a perfect fit for those who cannot be out of town for more than a week, as students have to fly to our training facilities and stay for the entire duration of the course."

The consultant course option costs 9,000 yuan (about $1,460) and the certified course option costs 18,000 yuan. Accommodations and meals aren't included and classes meet daily.

For her, Ling believed enrolling in an accredited program such as Weddings Beautiful was "absolutely necessary" for success in capturing the luxury wedding demographic, according to Vasquez.

"She felt it would be in her best interest to learn from programs in the US, where the bridal industry is already mature with over 40 years of experience," Vasquez said. "The certification meant that she earned the respect of her peers in the US and serves as a reminder to all her brides that the minute they walk into her boutique firm, they will receive world-class service."

Weddings Beautiful's program, which includes 610 pages of content in its English version, was translated into Chinese. Whereas courses in the US are conducted online, China's are classroom based and introduce students to local vendors involved in weddings.

"The main thing about China you have to keep in mind is that the size of the market is so dramatic," said Wright, CEO of Weddings Beautiful, which was founded in the US in 1968.

"The institution of marriage is a universal thing, but we authorize our licensees to make changes to the curriculum based on local customs," Wright said. "It's the responsibility of our licensee not to do away with any traditions, but to enhance them with the Western influence."

Course contents are enriched through adding etiquettes to equip wedding planners with professional knowledge in various fields and also feature Chinese-style wedding practices, such as the red sedan, the couple bowing to one another, serving tea to parents and lively banquets.

Weddings Beautiful China has enrolled about 200 students and about 97 percent have received certification, according to Vasquez.

"The other 3 percent of students eventually realize wedding planning is not for them," Vasquez said. "For the most part, we are fortunate to have a very smart and dedicated group of students that come to us to learn, be inspired and build a network of industry contacts."

Average salaries for a wedding planner in China are between 3,000 to 5,000 yuan per month, if employed by a wedding planning firm.

"If you own your own business, you can earn significantly more," Vasquez said. "Most of our students possess an entrepreneurial spirit, so instead of looking for a job with a planning agency, what they really want are brides."

Vasquez said the program helps students market themselves to brides throughout China. The Weddings Beautiful China website has a "Find a certified course" feature where wedding planners are listed along with their portfolios and contact information.

The program also participates in large events where a few wedding planners are invited to exhibit with the program to provide additional exposure to their brands. Students are also offered opportunities to intern at Weddings by Ling.

"I would have to say there are a lot of wedding planning jobs in China, but our students are not motivated by these opportunities," Vasquez said. "They want their brands to deliver a higher standard of service, so they see this as an opportunity to create their own opportunities."

(China Daily 05/17/2013 page11)