The number of marriages in Alaska saw a predictable drop in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down large parts of the economy, but local businesses are confident as things return to normal so will the wedding industry.
“Like everything else in Juneau 2020 was really bad, 2021 looks better but still not great and 2022 looks like it’s going to be a normal year,” said Maryann Ray, owner of Alaska Concierge which caters to small weddings in Juneau.
Ray said she usually does about a dozen weddings a year but in 2020 had only two, and those were local couples. About half of Ray’s clients are tourists attracted to Juneau as a wedding destination, she said, as the city has several attractive locations and offers specialties like whale watching weddings or glacier weddings.
People typically plan weddings at least a year in advance, Ray said, and while there were a number of cancellations in 2020, the number of reservations for this year and the next are already rising.
According to the Department of Health and Social Services, there were a total of 4,770 marriages in Alaska in 2019 and in 2020 there were 4,151. The number of marriages in Alaska has been trending downward according to DHSS data, but the difference between 2019 and 2020 is the most significant yearly drop since at least 2003. DHSS spokesman Clinton Bennett noted in an email the marriage numbers for 2020 were provisional and subject to change.
June through August are the most popular months for marriages, according to DHSS data, and while there was a significant drop from 2019, August 2020, actually saw 11 more marriages than the year before.
Some people were determined enough to get married in Juneau they came as independent travelers after their cruise ship voyage was canceled, said Tim Stewart, owner of Alaska Weddings. Stewart said about 80% of his customers are cruise ship travelers, and when cruises were canceled some couples switched their plans and flew to Juneau.
“They were bound and determined to get up here,” Stewart said. “Many of them wanted to get married on a glacier.”
In 2019 Alaska Weddings performed 82 weddings, Stewart said, and in 2020, initially had 81 reservations but only ended up performing 17 weddings, about half of which were local couples. But the couples that came as independent travelers enjoyed their visit in Juneau, he said, and the business was going to encourage more couples to come and stay in Juneau rather than come for a single day on a cruise ship.
“A lot of our couples end up being rushed,” Stewart said of his cruise ship customers. “We’re going to work on encouraging people to take advantage of what Juneau has to offer.”
Both Ray and Stewart were confident the wedding business would pick back up again because Juneau was such a popular location for weddings.
Wedding photographer Kally DiMarzio of Flynn Fotography said across the board, the number of weddings she worked wasn’t down, just different.
“All weddings that were intended to be large gatherings changed their plans and eloped,” DiMarzio said in a text message Thursday. “I had two weddings total that switched from 2020 to 2021. Other than that most people just changed their plans.”
Total number of occurrence marriages by year according to Alaska DHSS
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.