It’s an unprecedented time in the world with the coronavirus outbreak, and with things changing daily and, in some cases, hourly it’s hard to know what will happen tomorrow, next week or for the next several months. If you are planning a wedding in the near future, you may be wondering where this leaves you when it comes to cancelling your wedding or attempting to move the date.
We spoke to a Toronto-area bride who is dealing with all of this in advance of her June 2nd destination wedding in the Dominican Republic. Engaged for six months, she booked her venue in November 2019 and with a short timeline until wedding day she is in the later stages with her planning. “We were expecting 80 guests and that number is quickly dwindling,” she shares. “We have paid for our wedding package at the resort, my wedding dress and we have multiple non-refundable deposits. It has been difficult to get in touch with the resort and we are being told there are no cancellation policies and also no travel restrictions at this time… but this will no doubt change. I chose a destination wedding to avoid the stresses of a more traditional wedding, and I have no desire to attempt to plan another. I am preparing myself for the disappointment of most people cancelling on us. Both my fiancé and I are firefighters and our vacation days were set for 2020 when we planned this wedding, so we likely won’t have the option of any more time off.”
So how do you handle your 2020 wedding in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis? We spoke to some experts to get the answers to some important FAQs about wedding planning and actions plans. Read on as Laura Atendido, creative director of Laura & Co. Events and Andrea Anastasiou, owner of White Toronto and White Montreal, share a comprehensive snapshot of critical information to be aware of regarding your wedding celebration and your wedding dress.
What if I need to cancel my wedding due to coronavirus?
Laura Atendido: “It’s paramount at this time to understand we are in uncharted territory. No one in the events industry has been through pandemic like this and as we too come to grips with the reality that postponements are necessary, we are crafting a plan of action on the spot, that is essentially the best course of action for our clients. The decision to postpone is not an easy one to make. In fact, it may be a decision made for you as new restrictions on social gathering numbers are released and some venues are already starting to close down. There is a growing consensus that COVID-19 is quickly becoming far greater of a driving force than that of a couple’s will to hang on to their dream wedding. As one of our clients who just choose to postpone put it, ‘this is the last thing we want to do, but it’s the only thing we feel we can do.’
If you make the decision to postpone, speak to your venue and see where they stand. They too are mindful of a sense of social distancing obligations. While many venue contracts hold that deposits are lost or full payment is still owed when cancellations or postponements are close to the wedding, we have already seen a growing number of reputable venues waive those clauses and offer the clients the option to transfer all deposits paid to a later date given the current situation. Many March and April and even into May clients are starting to look to postpone to September, October, November and December in hopes that by then, our world as we know it will be back to normal. Once you know venue options and dates, you need to immediately approach all vendors booked and inquire about their policy to postpone. What we are seeing in the events industry is an overwhelming effort to empathize and support clients who are in this difficult decision to the best of each company’s ability. Many vendors in the industry have come together to set up the following COVID-19 response:
- Most are open to transferring your deposits to a new date if we are available (no rebooking penalty). Many are asking for another deposit instalment to be made towards the balance upon the signing off of the new event date; this is simply to help ease the financial loss of all of the final payments many vendors were expecting to receive as income for your wedding.
- We are often giving clients 12-18 months from the original date to select their postponement date, although so far, clients are looking to find a date in 2020.
- If the postponement date is on a date a vendor is already fully booked for, this is where things get grey; many clients are seeking a refund, however, many contracts state, if the clients chooses a postponement date that the company is booked for, their deposit is non-refundable and the client is forced to cancel the contract.
- It’s important to remember that the event industry is made up of many small businesses; many are not in a position to refund deposits given 6-12 months ago.
- If you run into a case where your vendor cannot accommodate the new date, in some cases a partial refund may be able to be negotiated, or you may be offered to have the deposit from the company kept on file to be used towards a future service. If this is not an acceptable offer, clients may need to come to terms with the fact that their deposit may be lost.
- If a full cancellation is needed, and you’re expecting your vendor to refund your deposits automatically, you need to realize vendors are being asked to give up income and were, up until last week, expecting to come in for your event which was to take place in the next few weeks. It’s like asking them to forfeit their next paycheque. It’s a very tricky situation to navigate. No one wants to see a client postpone, and no one wants to be in a position where they can’t accommodate a postponement, so if you find yourself in this position, see what your vendors are able to offer as a solution based on the specifics of your booking. While I’ve seen many vendors be overly accommodating and understanding already with the COVID-19 crisis in our industry, brides and grooms also need to be understanding with the financial challenge their vendors are presented with if you are cancelling your contract with them last minute.
If you are unsure yet about whether you want to postpone you want to still speak to your venue and ask about all possible options. For one of my clients whose wedding fast approaching, we were able to negotiate a hold on a secondary date in September as a backup with their venue. We are the 1st hold now on this back up date—no financial commitment was needed to hold it, however, if another client wants to book this date, we could be forced to book the date and transfer our deposits over or let it go and loose the back-up date. In this particular case, we notified all vendors and asked them which of the potential September dates we were considering as our back up they could accommodate. Because of these proactive actions, if we do need to postpone, a decision we will make over the next four weeks, we are ready. The reality for most couples looking to postpone is the odds of finding a new date where every single vendor and rental product are available to transfer to is slim, so couples who need to postpone need to be open to the fact that they may need to lose a vendor or two (and likely those deposits) for the greater good of moving their wedding date, to a future date where they can be assured it will be a day of celebration and love for them and all of their family and friends.
What do you recommend for a destination wedding booking? How should we proceed and react?
Laura Atendido: “Destination weddings should heed the advice of our government and read up on all of the travel advisories. Taking into account your guests and their health, many destination bride and grooms are realizing their wedding is not a form of ‘essential travel’ and sadly, they need to take the lead and cancel the wedding. Unfortunately, for destination clients, it is much more difficult to reschedule compared to a local wedding. For these couples, they will likely need to start from scratch and begin to plan something local in the later future when this crippling pandemic has passed.”
What is the best way to keep people in the loop about what’s happening with our wedding day?
Laura Atendido: “If you have a website, update immediately. If your wedding is three months away, you can still write a short message assuring your guests you are monitoring the situation week-by-week and should any change in plan be necessary, will inform guests right away. Reach out via email or pick up the phone and call people! Communication is key, and the more lead time you can give wedding guests about a date change the better.”
How can your wedding planner help you navigate this stressful time?
Laura Atendido: “Your planner can take one of the most difficult and stressful times in your life and simplify the postponement process. While we can’t instantly fix the gut-wrenching disappointment of needing to postpone, we can quickly and effectively solve the question: how do we go about doing this? Your planner will be your champion, working as quickly as possible to gather all vendor policies and positions on the mater, gather everyone’s availability for future dates, in my case using visual charts to summarize which vendors are available on which dates, and what the financial implications are to help clients get a snap shot of which postponement date is in their best interest. We are your voice to your vendors and your creative team. In my experience over my most recent postponement, I was the main point of contact to all vendors. My client had enough on their plate to digest and their entire circle of friends and family to reach out to. For me, spending hours on the phone, back and forth via email and text with all vendors to negotiate, inform, realign and gather updated contracts for the new date (as you want ensure you have an updated contract stating the new event date) was the least I could do to help my clients in this unfortunate position.”
Will there be an impact on wedding dress arrival times with coronavirus?
Andrea Anastasiou: “There was a bottleneck which occurred in January and February with off-shore production, however companies are working hard to remedy, and it is slowly rebounding. The same applies for production in Europe—we will definitely experience a delay as cities are shut down. Many bridal salons carry only suppliers which manufacture in China and it’s a very difficult time for them right now as it will take a while for the factories to catch up. Most of the collections carried at White are from smaller designer houses so they manage production in-house, and delays they experience will be from any items they need in manufacturing coming from Europe. It’s up to each retailer to manage these delays and challenges for clients and stay on top of deliveries.”
Are you advising brides who are currently purchasing of altered timelines?
Andrea Anastasiou: “We have always worked closely with our designers to have timelines that ensure a buffer is always in place just in case of delays—we have always operated as such. We are and always have advised our brides if they love something to allow as much time as possible—even outside of this current state of affairs. Extra time is always a good thing for everyone’s peace of mind and having a buffer built in alleviates stress on all levels. For our brides with a closer timeline, we are also encouraging buying off the rack pieces—that way they have their gown and it takes the worry out of delivery.”
How can bridal retailers help calm stress and help accommodate brides in this uncertain time?
Andrea Anastasiou: “We need to help our current customers by providing as much information as possible like keeping them aware of any dress order delays as soon as we hear. We are working towards putting plans in place for advance fitting schedules, so everyone is organized and is in communication. Current brides we are working with are facing decisions which could mean changing wedding dates or postponing dates and we are trying to work with them to assist with adjusting their timelines and ensure we get it all done for them.”