How coronavirus could reshape the wedding industry

As wedding season approaches, planners and venues are contemplating a bleak spring of financial loss, as well as the pandemic's lasting impact on their business

From the venue to the flowers to the dress to the catering – a lot is involved in planning a wedding. And it all comes at an infamously hefty price.

On average, Canadians spend a whopping $31,000 on weddings, according to a 2019 survey by The Knot. And with roughly 10,000 “big days” taking place per month in the country, there’s no denying the size of the wedding business.

So with wedding season – which falls in late summer and early fall – fast approaching as the COVID-19 pandemic worsens, the industry is set to take a colossal financial hit.

Toronto-based elementary school teacher Tiffany Nakhal is among the brides-to-be forced to call off a wedding in recent weeks.

“When the pandemic was starting to make the news, we weren’t that concerned,” says Nakhal, who had booked a destination wedding in Maui this May. “Then there were increasing restrictions on international travel. My fiancé and I became very concerned about the health of our guests who would be travelling. We felt the right thing to do was to postpone because it looked like things weren’t going to get any better any time soon.”

She had been planning the wedding for well over a year and the cancellation is a setback in more ways than one.

“It feels like our lives are on hold for an indefinite period of time,” Nakhal says. “We can’t get married, we can’t move to Vancouver where we planned to relocate, we can’t start having kids and we probably won’t be able to find jobs there for a while.”

Many vendors have adjusted policies and are offering refunds or postponements at no charge, but not all couples have been so lucky. Several brides and grooms NOW spoke with said they’ve lost thousands of dollars when cancelling venues and accommodations.

While all of Nakhal’s vendors offered postponements, vacation rental company VRBO has refused to adjust its cancellation policy, offering a 50 per cent refund for accommodations instead. Including flights, she and her partner will lose up to $3,000.

The pair must commit to a rescheduled date soon or risk losing up to $6,000 more. If any of their vendors are forced to shut down due to the pandemic, that number could grow three times as large.

Many couples are still waiting before deciding to reschedule in hopes that things change in May. The choice, however, could be out of their hands as venues are being forced to close for the remainder of spring and, likely, into early summer as cities and provinces declare states of emergency.

Other celebrations have had to cancel as well – first communions, confirmations, bar/bat mitzvahs and other religious ceremonies.

“It’s devastating,” Melissa Samborski, a planner with events agency One Fine Day. She’s had clients postpone to May through fall and into early spring next year.

Samborski and her team have spent the last two weeks rescheduling hundreds of flights and hotel rooms. “Our livelihood depends on weddings and celebrations to take place at a constant pace,” she explains. “We plan events on an average of 16 to 24 months out. We are trying to work six to 18 months into the future now, which is very unclear for all of us.”

“It’s been a very trying time for our industry,” says Lynzie Kent of Love by Lynzie, an event-planning and design agency. “Postponements are pushing our calendar – optimistically – by two quarters and – pessimistically – by an entire year. The wedding industry in Canada is seasonal, so I think, on the low end, we’ll lose an entire quarter of revenue and, on the high end, all of our 2020 revenue will be pushed to 2021 leaving vendors in the event industry without earnings this year.”

As a result, many event-based businesses are already scaling back staff in order to pay rent and are considering cutting other operational expenses, which could push some businesses to close.

Livestreams, elopements and scaled-down affairs

There is an upside: many of these businesses will be motivated to reassess their planning strategies moving forward. Weddings might even become more budget friendly.

“This dip in sales and events will allow a lot of companies in the wedding industry to revisit policies that need fine-tuning so they can come back stronger when this bypasses,” says Kent, whose other company, the Pop-Up Chapel, focuses on smaller, low-hassle and non-traditional weddings. “We’ll see a tendency toward smaller groups, having guests tune in virtually to weddings and events and smaller event and wedding budgets after this economic downturn.”

In fact, the planners NOW spoke with said their clients have shifted to live-streaming nuptials from living rooms in the last few weeks, with plans for a post-pandemic reception. Others saw a rise in elopements just before Toronto was placed under a state of emergency as a way to avoid risking the health and safety of guests.

Either way, as difficult as it might be to reschedule, the sooner, the better. Florists and caterers will be able to save on product, while couples will have better luck finding new dates that work for them.

More desirable dates are likely booked already in 2021, so many couples with long-term plans should look to the off-season and even weekdays, which will guarantee an earlier postponement date and better luck keeping vendors.

“Guests in 2021 will be so excited to finally be able to attend a mass gathering that they won’t care if it’s a Monday or Wednesday,” says Kent, who is recommending that couples start a website or newsletter to keep guests posted as plans change.

The crisis is also a good reminder to always have a contingency plan when it comes to planning a major event: Have a back-up date and consider cancellation insurance. And if you haven’t already booked a photographer, consider ones – like Wedding Revolution and True Love Photography – offering discounted packages for couples who’ve had to reschedule due to the pandemic.

Still, even if you’re more the eloping or who-needs-a-ring type, there’s no denying that a wedding is a massive emotional and financial investment. A lot of work goes into planning one and, naturally, re-planning one.

While brides like Nakhal have taken to Facebook’s COVID-19: Wedding Disaster Support Group to commiserate, planners have joined a WhatsApp group text to cheerlead each other. 

As the pandemic continues, Kent advises maintaining a little bit of perspective.

“Try to remember that everyone is in the same boat and that you will eventually be married,” she says. “It’s sad and disappointing for everyone to be going through this, but the joy that will be felt when these celebrations can finally happen will mean so much more when everyone can be together again and this time has past.”


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