Wednesday, July 15, 2015 | 2 a.m.
For more than 70 years, the little white chapels that dot Las Vegas Boulevard have been as inseparable from the city's identity as the towering casinos that line the Strip. What started with easy places for a quick marriage have evolved into a multimillion-dollar industry, which at its peak played host to one out of every 20 weddings in the United States.
But wedding bells have been ringing less often in Las Vegas recently — nearly 47,000 fewer couples were married here in 2014 than were a decade ago, even though record numbers of tourists have flocked to the city. In 2004, the number of weddings performed in Clark County peaked at 128,000. Last year, only 81,000 took place.
"(Weddings) have always been there, but maybe taken a little for granted," said Ann Parsons, marketing director for Vegas Weddings, which operates a downtown Las Vegas chapel. “There really hasn't been much advertising for matrimonial tourism."
The decline has been widely recognized within the local wedding industry, as increasing competition for fewer nuptials forced many chapels out of business, but the threat hadn't received broader attention until Clark County Clerk Lynn Goya took office in January and became alarmed.
"I looked at 30 years of data," said Goya, who oversees the county's marriage license bureau. "When I saw that there was such a decline I said, 'We need to do something.'"
Goya has asked the Clark County Commission to pass plans for a $14 increase in the cost of wedding licenses, with the proceeds to be used to market the industry to engaged couples — and their families.
The increase, which along with a new $3 technology fee would bring the cost of a license from $60 to $77, is expected to generate about $1.1 million per year that can be spent on advertising. The commission is scheduled to vote on the fee increase at its Tuesday meeting.
The potential for a concerted marketing effort is generating excitement from local wedding planners, florists and caterers. Currently, promotions are handled on a chapel-by-chapel basis, with no single group promoting Las Vegas' entire wedding industry.
Joni Moss, a wedding planner and founder of Nevada Wedding Association, said the city isn't in danger of losing its crown as the world's top wedding destination, but it is facing increased competition from places like Hawaii and the Caribbean.
It's also up against a national trend of people being married less often and at older ages, she said. Nationwide, the yearly number of marriages performed declined from 2.3 million in 2004 to 2.1 million in 2014.
Las Vegas’ wedding industry aims to grow in several areas, including vow renewals, international weddings and newly legalized gay marriages.
Despite the decline, Las Vegas hosts more weddings than any other city in the country, thanks to a wedding industry adept at tailoring ceremonies to customers’ preferences — whether those are for a luxury blowout or a quickie drive-by from an Elvis impersonator.
"People want (their weddings to be) unique,” said Moss. “They want to get married outdoors at Red Rock Canyon, in a helicopter or on the High Roller. Stuff you'll only find in Vegas. Where else can you get married by a volcano?”