Business sense behind the skydiving wedding

ALASTAIR PAULIN
Last updated 09:33 18/02/2013
Jan Schlesner and Susann Lasch
MIKE BEEDEN

GIANT LEAP: Newlyweds Susann Lasch, in white, and Jan Schlesner kiss during freefall immediately after getting married in the skydive plane above Motueka.

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Alastair Paulin

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Love is in the air. Falling in love. Leaping into marriage: the puns and the headlines virtually wrote themselves for my story about the German couple who got married in a skydive plane above the Abel Tasman National Park last weekend.

The image of the couple, clad in custom-made black (groom) and white (bride) jumpsuits kissing during freefall with Motueka arrayed below them, was irresistible.

It was taken by Abel Tasman Skydive's ace mid-air photographer, Mike Beeden, and was so strong that I splashed it large on the front page of the Motueka Golden Bay News on Thursday, a perfect Valentines Day image.

I wish I could say that was intentional but the truth is that I had forgotten it would be Valentines Day until the day itself, which I suspect marks me as just as romantic and forgetful as most middle-aged married men.

Perhaps I'm saving my romantic inspiration until May, when I will celebrate my 20th wedding anniversary. If so, I'm in the right place. Motueka's High St may not scream "romance" but Motropolis, that wider, somewhat idealised, even romanticised version of the community that I freefall into every fortnight, is a dream destination for lovers.

That was what "The Dream Maker", Terri Everett told me anyway. Terri is an event planner who piggybacks on her Sea Limousine business to plan weddings in the area, with an emphasis on the Abel Tasman National Park. She helps couples pull off their dreams by co-ordinating with all the suppliers for the big day, from caterers to celebrants to hairdressers to photographers.

One client was an American couple who planned to get married in Christchurch but whose plans were shaken by the earthquakes of two years ago. Advised to change their plans, they moved to Nelson and with 24 hours' notice, Terri helped make their special day unforgettable, with a barefoot ceremony on Fisherman Island's Paradise Beach.

The bride, Caitlin Jemison, described it as "a magical day, set in one of the most breathtaking places in the world".

"It surpassed our wildest expectations of what a ‘perfect wedding' could be."

Adele Island is another popular wedding spot, with a sandspit that stretches into the Astrolabe Roadway. I visited that beach recently when I spent a day in the Abel Tasman with a group of tour agents, seeing how Motueka markets itself to tourists.

As we explored tidepools and admired the views back towards Kaiteriteri, I imagined what it would be like to the happy couple dropped off on the tip of the sandspit and walking along it to the waiting wedding party or a photographer. It is fair to say that like most men, I did not spend any of my childhood dreaming of my ideal wedding but I have been reliably informed that many women do, and if you were of the barefoot on the beach persuasion, I could not imagine a more perfect setting.

Terri came along to the preparations for the skydive wedding of "Jan und Susi" because she was catering for their kayak trip in the Abel Tasman a couple of days later and she was curious to see what was happening.

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Although the event seemed unique - it was the first for Abel Tasman Skydive and, said owner Stuart Bean, the first in New Zealand, as far as he knew - Terri said the special-event, themed wedding was a growing trend.

"This is just the start," she said. "This area is going to become the centre for these types of weddings."

Of course a Kaiteriteri-based wedding planner would say that but she was convincing on why it was a likely development. She is putting together a dream wedding competition, where the lucky couple will win a package worth more than $20,000. The idea for the businesses involved is that the exposure for their goods and services from a promotion will bring more clients inspired by what they have seen.

I thought she was smart to have spotted the niche and to promote it in such a big way. She could also see the synergies in bringing people to the area and we compared notes on the two types of tourism operators: Those who are focused only on their own business and suspicious of efforts to boost tourism in general, and those who can see the value in trying to make the overall tourism pie larger.

I had got the gospel of boosting overall tourist nights from the chief executive of Tourism New Zealand when he visited Motueka a couple of years ago. The goal was to get visitors to stay for one more night, by recommending your "competitors" so tourists would see how many good things there are on offer. In that sense, sending tourists to another attraction is not giving away business but boosting the promotion of your region so that Motueka, for example, goes from a one-night destination to a two or three-night destination.

Despite how much you and I may love Motropolis or even Nelson, one glance at the map makes it clear that we are a tourism backwater compared to Rotorua or Queenstown, geographically isolated and not really on the way to anywhere. Anything that makes us a destination, for a wedding, an adventure race (the Kaiteriteri Beach Adventure Race is in a couple of weeks), a conference or a festival (such as the highly successful Adam Chamber Music Festival) rather than a stopover is a good thing for our region.

The best part of it is that having such events and drawcards around us makes this a more exciting place to live for those of us lucky enough to live here.

So enjoy the Opera in the Park tonight. I'll see you at Taste Nelson (if I can still stand after the Nelson Mail Team Triathlon on March 2) and if you have any bright ideas on how to make my wedding anniversary romantic and memorable, sing out.

- Nelson

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