After the winners of the 2014 Roraima Airways Wedding Expo ‘Race to the Altar’ were announced on the evening of Friday March 7, the lucky couple could not conceal their elation. The ultimate prize, an expenses-paid wedding, had attracted a number of keen and hopeful couples, the various pieces of the overall prize having been sponsored by at least a dozen local business houses.
The ‘Race to the Altar’ may be what Roraima’s Marketing Manager Shamane Davis describes as “good fun” but none of the couples could deny that they were earnestly hoping to be named the winners. Young couples, these days, are drawn to dream weddings, never-to-be-forgotten events. These days, those can cost an arm and a leg so that many couples opt to delay the gratification rather than to settle for less.
Even a modest wedding can leave behind both fond memories and a bill so hefty sometimes, that it may take at least a few years to liquidate. This means that couples sometimes have to start their married lives with considerable debt hanging over their heads. That, perhaps more than anything else, is what makes Roraima Airways’ ‘Race to the Altar’ event a signal one for couples who enter.
Roraima Airways Chief Executive Officer Gerry Gouveia said the challenge for the event is to ensure that the prize wedding fits, as far as possible, the dreams of the winning couple. “We genuinely set out to have the lucky couple win a prize that means something to them. If the winners are a couple that might have been waiting for years for that opportunity to become man and wife then that means all the more to Roraima,” he said.
On the evening that the winners of this year’s ‘race’ was announced, representatives of some of the private sector sponsors who had donated the various pieces of the prize were at the Duke Lodge to witness the announcement. The organisers had managed to recruit some of the more prominent local business houses to the event. Companies like Prestige Event Planning, Kings Jewellery World, John Lewis Styles, Nalini’s Hair Salon and China Trading are among those helping to make the prize wedding a special moment for the winning couple. The wedding reception is being hosted by the Roraima Duke Lodge and at the end of their event-filled day the couple will be whisked off to the Princess Hotel where they will stay in the Honeymoon Suite. Afterwards, Fly Jamaica will pick up the cost of the couple’s honeymoon trip to Jamaica. It is, by any stretch of the imagination, a prize well worth winning.
Stabroek Business raised the issue of what a wedding might cost with Sharda. She had gotten married in December and was only able to afford her wedding on account of the generosity of her husband’s father. She estimated that her own wedding cost somewhere in the region of $1.3 million, though she conceded that it included no night in the Princess Hotel and certainly no romantic honeymoon in Jamaica. Accordingly, she reasoned that the ‘Race to the Altar’ prize must be worth quite a bit more than what her own wedding cost.
“Weddings,” Sharda said, “will take as much as you give them.” She singled out wedding dresses, receptions and rings as “high-priced items” that can “put real pressure on your budget.”
All of this is not to say that the strictly cash-conscious couple might not simply opt for a smart but less than extravagant dress and suit and a visit to the Registrar’s Office to tie the nuptials. But this is not the favoured route these days.
Clive Sampson should know. He has been in the business of weddings for more than twenty years. Before returning to Guyana to establish the Second Street, Alberttown-based Shantelle’s Exotic Creations, an enterprise specializing in the planning and execution of weddings, he had made a mark in the same sector in the United States.
Sampson is an experienced event planner and his local enterprise offers the full range of wedding accoutrement including clothing, decorations, invitations, souvenirs, decorations and bouquets. Additionally, the establishment handles wedding menus and even offers a hall for wedding receptions. Sampson agreed that the growth of the wedding sector including the emergence of ‘one stop’ enterprises offering wedding services is a reflection of lifestyle changes in Guyana. It appears that more and more young couples are prepared to treat weddings as what Sharda calls “lifetime events,” one-off occasions on which they are prepared to spend considerable sums of money even if it means placing themselves in longer-term debt.
Davis agrees. “You can actually see the intensity in the couples who are hoping to win the ‘Race to the Altar.’ When you begin to talk with them some of them actually confide in you that they had had to delay their wedding plans simply because they could not afford to get married.”
Davis said the delayed wedding plans were more a matter of couples not wishing to settle for less. She said it is often a matter of keeping up with the Joneses. “From our particular vantage point we see the intensity, we see how much the couples want to win and there are cases in which it is clear that the couples know just what it would mean for them were they to win,” she added.
This year’s winners of the ‘race’ will be required to do little more than show up. Their prize embraces the full range of requirements for a wedding from invitations, photography and videography to apparel, cake, drinks and an up-market venue, The prize list made available to Stabroek Business appears to exclude nothing.
What Roraima Airways has done is to persuade a number of specialist service enterprises to provide the various items. Roraima has not only made available the Duke Lodge Hotel for the reception but is also providing music and transportation for a wedding that caters for 50 guests.
A wedding executed by Shantelle’s and attended by 150 guests could land the ‘lucky couple’ a bill as high as $1.735 million. Sampson’s shopping list for the bride and groom includes a pair of rings priced at $150,000, a wedding dress and bridal accessories costing $60,000, a groom’s suit at around $65,000 and a complete video and a collection of still photographs at $100,000. But that was only the beginning of a hefty bill. A reception at Shantelle’s De Impeccable reception hall inclusive of a meal and drinks for 150 guests would set the couple back in excess of $1 million. There is no mention of hairdressing, makeup and transportation costs and there is no honeymoon abroad here either. Those features are all part of the ‘Race to the Altar’ prize package. Little wonder that the winners of that prize will be smiling all the way to the altar.