Every time Anna Pohl goes to work, she helps fashion the most important day of her clients’ lives.
Sometimes that could be as simple as baby-sitting wedding chairs on the beach so they’re not stolen. Other times it’s spray painting sand dollars to match a reception’s decor.
On Friday, it meant taking pictures of a food tasting at the Ritz-Carlton for a bride overseas.
Pohl owns Bradenton-based Day Planners, where she specializes in destination weddings from Clearwater to Boca Grand.
While other industries in Florida have struggled to rebound from the recession, destination weddings have kept full throttle -- bringing an economic boon to thousands of area businesses from hotels to restaurants, florists and even limo services.
But for Pohl, it’s still all about seeing that smile on a bride’s face as she walks down the aisle.
“It’s just great to be in a business where you get to share that special moment with people,” Pohl said from her Ware’s Creek home, where she runs the company. “If you’re not thinking about the couple, and keeping focused on their special day, you don’t need to be doing this anymore.”
Originally from Austin, Tex., Pohl moved to the Bradenton area about a decade ago to continue a career in event planning.
As the case with many of her clients, climate was the No. 1 draw.
Pohl spent time running events for the Ringling Museum. She worked for five years as catering and events director for Mattison’s. She even was on the payroll of the Downtown Development Authority -- organizing events including the first Pittsburgh Pirates pep rally, the farmers market and free movies in the park.
Then as the economy bottomed out about three years ago, and other professionals were looking for any bit of job security they could find, Pohl went out on a limb. She decided to go into business for herself.
“Even in the worst economy, people get married,” Pohl said. “It’s a wedding. It’s a happy time. Sometimes they’ll hire someone like myself to save some money.”
Pohl relies on word-of-mouth referrals and her popular online blog to get the word out. It’s worked.
Since branching out on her own, Pohl has seen revenues climb each year. She’s now one of the most recognizable figures in Southwest Florida’s niche wedding industry -- earning a number of national honors including the Bride’s Choice Award for wedding planning.
Pohl attributes her business success to location as much as anything, with Anna Maria Island right down the street, and both Tampa Bay and Siesta Key just a short drive away.
About 90 percent of her customers are from out of the state or country.
“It’s a cottage industry, but it really is a regional business,” Pohl said. “This destination offers couples everything under the sun.”
Destination weddings have become one of the largest drivers of tourism in the Bradenton area.
A typical destination wedding will bring about 50 visitors down for an average of five days -- each renting rooms, shopping and dining out, according to the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce.
The biggest feeder markets have become Canada, Europe, Ohio, Chicago and New York.
The weddings not only pump millions of dollars worth of direct spending into the local economy, they also open the door to more retirees and families to settle here permanently.
“It’s big business,” said Ed Chiles, who owns three restaurants on Anna Maria and sits on Manatee’s Tourist Development Council. “They see this one of a kind, laid-back place, and they come back. It’s great marketing.”
To capture the growing market share, the Anna Maria chamber has coined the island as the beach wedding capital of Florida.
The organization even sponsors an annual wedding festival to showcase area vendors, which alone brings hundreds of young couples each year to scout the destination. The island’s next wedding festival has been scheduled for May 6.
Destination weddings bring at least $10 million in annual income to island hoteliers alone, the chamber estimates.
“Weddings are extremely important for us,” Chamber Vice President Deborah Wing said. “We have people from all over the world come, and our businesses cater to that.”
Josh Salman, Herald business writer, can be reached at 941-745-7095.