Local officials are looking at ways to regulate wedding tourism in the Pemberton Valley after a recent report shed light on an industry that's poised for significant growth.
In May, the Pemberton Chamber of Commerce commissioned Larose Research & Strategy to undertake a study on the valley's destination wedding sector.
What was found came as something of a surprise.
"It's something that's been evolving and growing over the years but I didn't realize it was quite to that extent," said Pemberton Mayor and SLRD director Mike Richman.
Destination weddings in Pemberton last year resulted in $5.1 million in direct annual expenditures and approximately $8.5 million in total economic output — at a clip of $100,000 per wedding — proving the industry to be a major boon to the local economy. The 80 weddings held in 2014 also provided an estimated 77 jobs to the community.
Many businesses surveyed in the study also spoke about the importance of keeping that economic windfall within Pemberton, with some suggesting any wedding held in the community be required to provide a "net benefit" to the local agricultural sector by sourcing produce and meat from Pemberton farms.
A centralized database listing all of the local wedding suppliers and service providers would also go a long way towards that goal, suggested Whistler Wedding Collective photographer Anastasia Chomlack.
"Pemberton has absolutely every single thing necessary to have the perfect wedding and I think problems come when people use vendors outside of Pemberton and the Sea to Sky corridor because that's when mistakes are made, illegal barns are used and things aren't communicated to the townspeople," she said.
The industry appears to be on the cusp of a boom, with over a third of businesses polled saying the sector could grow by more than 20 per cent in the next five years, while an additional 27 per cent indicated it could grow by more than 50 per cent in that time.
"This is my fourth year planning weddings in the Sea to Sky, and over that time I've gone from planning zero per cent of my weddings in Pemberton to 40 per cent," said Robin Savage, wedding planner with Blue Violet Events. "The wedding industry is very much trending towards the outdoor barn environment. Whistler venues are amazing and rustic, but don't really offer that sort of do-it-yourself venue, so a lot of clients are looking to Pemberton to fill that option."
The valley has attracted so much interest from potential clients, in fact, that many venues struggle to keep up with demand and are regularly forced to turn down weddings.
But the very reasons Pemberton is so attractive to many brides-to-be are the same reasons why officials want to ensure the industry doesn't grow too fast for its own good.
"We don't want the summer to be this wedding circus," said the Pemberton chamber's Cindy Filipenko "We want to keep the environment here that attracts people to have their wedding. People come up here because it's a slower pace, it's pastoral, and I like to think we are one of the most beautiful communities in British Columbia."
Like any industry that undergoes a period of quick expansion, there are growing pains, and now the SLRD is exploring ways to regulate a booming industry that has led to some concerns in the community.
Chief among them is the emergence of uninsured wedding venues, which has Pemberton Meadows resident Jill Giese calling for legislation to be put in place.
"It's a regular occurrence to have 150, 200 people at one of these farm sites that aren't insured," she said. "The risk of an accident with no insurance is really a scary situation."
Among the other common concerns raised in the report was the level of noise emanating from weddings, with some businesses suggesting limiting the number of weddings per year and establishing a minimum distance requirement from residential areas. Area C Director Russell Mack confirmed a noise and nuisance bylaw is currently being devised by staff that will mirror the one in place in Pemberton.
The SLRD will also form a committee in the coming weeks to look at how to better regulate the sector that will be made up of elected officials, district stakeholders and members of the local wedding industry.