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It’s hard to miss on a Friday night: Dozens of women, some dressed in matching clothes, others outfitted with pink feather boas, sashes or cowboy hats, travel in packs into bars on Nashville’s Lower Broadway.
With high spirits and the occasional shrieking, it’s clear the women are here to celebrate, and Music City is their temporary playground.
Bachelorette parties — and their sometimes less-noticeable counterpart, bachelor parties — are flocking to Nashville on the weekends for pre-wedding festivities. The city has become a top destination in recent years for these groups, who travel from across the U.S. and are lured by the city’s laid-back vibe, free live music scene and party-friendly activities, such as bicycle-powered bar crawl the Nashville Pedal Tavern.
“Destination (bachelor and bachelorette) parties are on the rise,” said Jamie Miles, managing editor of TheKnot.com. “People are having smaller bridal parties and they are spending more and more money on their wedding as a whole, so it’s not uncommon to plan a destination party to somewhere like Nashville, Miami, New Orleans or the Caribbean.”
The economic impact of bachelor and bachelorette parties ripples across industries, from airlines to hotels, restaurants and retail stores. It’s even led to the launch of new businesses in Nashville, including concierge services that will plan a group’s entire trip.
Butch Spyridon, CEO of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp. (NCVC), said bachelor and bachelorette parties are an important segment of Music City’s booming tourism industry, which last year raked in nearly $5 billion in visitor spending from a record-high 13.1 million visitors.
Although the NCVC doesn’t track data specific to bachelor and bachelorette parties, Spyridon said the groups typically stay in downtown area hotels for two or three nights and spend generously at restaurants and bars.
“I can tell you that (the parties come to Nashville) year-round and they come from all over the country and Canada. …It’s a big driver of the weekend business and it’s pure leisure,” Spyridon said.
The cost to attend the parties can be pricey: Nearly one-third of bachelor and bachelorette party-goers spend more than $850 on travel-related costs alone, according to a survey released in April by Priceline.com. Meanwhile, 45 percent of survey respondents said they skip the event altogether due to high travel costs.
Huntsville, Ala., resident Megan Shelton had her bachelorette party in Nashville this month. Shelton, along with her five bridesmaids, used vacation rental website VRBO to rent a floor of a West Nashville house. They went line dancing at Wildhorse Saloon, went to honky tonk bars, ate at Pinewood Social, had a photoshoot downtown and visited Opry Mills.
The group used Nashville-based customizable concierge service Bach Weekend to help plan the trip.
“We’ve all been to Nashville before because we live so close to it. It was so much fun. I really liked using that company, too, because you could get an inside scoop on what’s a waste of time and what’s good to go to,” Shelton said.
Robbie Goldsmith launched Bach Weekend as Bachelorette Nashville in 2013. The company — which now operates in Miami and New Orleans — has doubled its business every year. Bach Weekend planned 27 parties in Nashville in 2013, 43 parties in 2014 and 70 parties so far this year, Goldsmith said.
Bach Weekend will plan a group’s entire trip aside from travel and housing, including dinner reservations, brewery tours, spa packages, photoshoots, golf and more. Goldsmith — who called Nashville the second most popular bachelor and bachelorette destination outside of Las Vegas — said many of his customers are within a seven-hour drive of Nashville, but he is starting to see more groups from New York, New Jersey and even Canada.
“(Nashville is) really laid back. Most people (visiting) love country music or love a vibe where they walk down Broadway, wear casual clothes, don’t have to get crazy dressed up and love the aspect of Broadway and the honky tonks, where there are no cover charges and there’s live music at every one,” Goldsmith said.
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Joel Morley launched a similar service called Nashlorette in April. His goal: to promote local businesses and show visitors there is more to Nashville than Lower Broadway. Nashlorette organizes activities such as winery tours, moonshine tours, concerts and a figure model drawing class for bachelorette parties.
One of Nashlorette’s most popular packages, a Tennessee wine tour, is a five-hour excursion that includes a limo ride to local wineries, food and refreshments. The price tag: $599 for an eight-person group.
Another popular activity for bachelor and bachelorette groups is Nashville’s Pedal Tavern, a 16-person bicycle-powered bar crawl that is often filled with rowdy groups and can be seen spotted around downtown.
Angie Gleason, general manager of the Nashville Pedal Tavern, said roughly 80 percent of business comes from bachelor and bachelorette groups, and the company’s 10 pedal taverns book out months in advance.
“The first couple years were a little quiet and then in 2012, it just seemed like everything just blew up in town. We’ve had to add at least two bikes a year just to accommodate all the groups and requests, and we still have people constantly on waiting lists trying to get in,” Gleason said.
The Chrome Bar owner Alethea Austin said her studio’s private pole dancing classes draw groups of bachelorettes every weekend, year-round. Her studio on Lafayette Street can accommodate 12 private parties in a weekend, and Austin said she often has to turn parties away due to high demand.
Benjamin Goldberg of Strategic Hospitality said the impact of bachelor and bachelorette parties is felt at many of the businesses in the company’s portfolio, including Paradise Park Trailer Resort, Merchants Restaurant, Pinewood Social and the Patterson House.
“I think that there’s obviously a massive influx of bachelor and bachelorette parties coming to Nashville, and I think every business has been a beneficiary of this happening,” Goldberg said.
As for whether there are negative outcomes of being a top destination for these parties, Spyridon said he hasn’t noticed many, aside from hotels having to address room occupancy issues and being left with messier rooms.
“It’s not bad behavior, but it may be overserved behavior. …Good people, good intentions, might overserve themselves a little bit and you know, have some lapses in judgment, but overall no major issues,” Spyridon said.
He added that bachelor and bachelorette parties are “free marketing” for Nashville, bringing a new audience to the city.
“We know that the more people we can introduce the city to, the longer we can extend our run because people just want to come back,” Spyridon said.
Reach Lizzy Alfs at 615-726-5948 and on Twitter @lizzyalfs.
By the numbers
Bachelor and bachelorette parties, according to The Knot’s 2014 Real Wedding Study:
•77 percent of brides have a bachelorette party
•75 percent of grooms have a bachelor party
•8 percent of couples have a combined party