Ciara Crossan – Wedding Dates’ Destiny in Good Hands

Wednesday, June 05, 2024. 2:17am

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WEDPRO by Wedding Dates

The highly successful website Wedding Dates was launched in 2008 by Cork native Ciara Crossan. Having started as a service aimed more at consumers, it has become a unique resource that’s of even greater benefit to hotels.

The noughties were still relatively early days in the evolution of businesses on the Internet and it was still quite novel to have something such as wedding services online.

“The original idea for Wedding Dates was for a wedding directory site,” says Ciara, “but the unique selling point was the availability, so I really had to bring the hoteliers on the journey with me.

“I remember going to the IHF annual conference in 2009 and I hosted a little workshop – all about social media and Facebook. I had a guest speaker talking about this to a large number of hoteliers. They were all going, ‘Nobody’s going to be friends on Facebook with a hotel! This is rubbish!’ And look where we are now 16 years later…”

It was the relationship forged then, that involved bringing hotels on that journey of evolution, that was very important in helping both her and the hotels to understand consumer needs in a fast-changing market, Ciara says.

And over the last 16 years, there have been many changes to the average Irish wedding. As ever, lots of the trends are coming from America, such as the rehearsal dinner and the Day Two barbecue. When she first started, weddings of over 200 guests were a normal occurrence. We’re now in the era of the boutique-sized wedding – a trend that was hardened by Covid. Couples are also getting married older than they used to and they’re paying for it; meaning that they decide the guest list, with much less input from parents than used to be the case.

Weddings are now two or three-day events, with Friday being the day of choice, rather than Saturday. The provision of wedding services has become more specialised and it’s not something that every hotel can or wants to do.

Wedding Dates’ main product is their WedPro system – a cloud-based piece of software designed for hotels to work smarter, not harder, in managing weddings and increasing their conversion rates from enquiries.

About 22,000 couples get married each year and each couple consults, on average, five different venues before making their choice. From the hotel’s point of view, the average conversion rate from visiting the hotel to actually booking the wedding is 30%. One in three couples walking through the door will book their wedding there.

“So if a hotel wants to do 100 weddings, they need to do 300 show-arounds,” says Ciara. “And to get 300 show-around appointments, you need to have about 1,000 enquiries.”

All of that translates into a lot of administrative work when one considers the various other ‘touch points’ that stem from that activity – follow-up emails and phone calls and keeping track of the potential clients’ needs and queries. Ciara’s cloud-based system steps in and fully integrates with hotels’ systems to look after much of that heavy lifting – something that most hotels aren’t capable of doing on their own.

“We’ve a company that started using WedPro and in the first year and they saved 200 hours on email administration alone.”

The statistical data that the system provides is another invaluable service that would otherwise not be accessible to hotels – ending up buried, as Ciara says, in email correspondence.

“We had a hotel that came to us, recommended by another hotel,” says Ciara. “They were coming from a zero base – they had three weddings on the books. It was a new venue launching. In the first three months working with us, they went from 3 to 36 weddings on the books.”

Software doesn’t perform magic, Ciara points out, but what it does do is to bring a new level of efficiency and organisation that translates into a very smart and prompt service to people making enquiries. The potential customers feel that love and they respond by giving their business to the hotel.

Value for money is another important factor in all of this. Ciara says that hotels that provide a thoroughly good service can charge more and people are willing to pay it when the service is very good and thoughtful and exceptional and the costs are transparent.

“A wedding is a big-letter day in people’s lives and they give a lot of thought and consideration to it,” says Ciara, “and so much of why people choose one venue over another is not about price. It’s about how the person makes them feel when they walk through the door of that hotel; it’s the human connection.”

The business continues to evolve and expand according to the needs of the industry. One area where Ciara spotted a gap in the market is in the area of training for wedding coordinators. They have even set up an ‘academy’ for training wedding coordinators and events staff, Ciara says:

“A lot of people fall into this business and there’s not a lot of good quality training out there, so we’re trying to fill that gap – to really bring that best practice for coordinators.”

For now, Wedding Dates is continuing to work on a few exciting developments.

“You have to keep innovating and changing,” says Ciara. “I get bored easily! One of our exciting areas is the use of AI. We’re looking at using AI creatively to use emails and data and feed them into WedPro using an auto-feed, as well as using AI to perform data analytics on our data going back 16 years.”

Despite all advances in trends and technology, however, weddings are a reliable constant business, Ciara says:

“Since we’ve been in business, I see that people got married in the recession and in the boom; in good times and in bad. It doesn’t matter what life brings… People will always want that special day.”

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