Wedding venues and suppliers are taking a devastating hit during the height of the season with marriages on hold and continuing uncertainty around what the industry will look like when it finally re-opens for business.
The National Association of Wedding Professionals (NAWP) said that the pandemic had been “catastrophic” for the industry, which contributes around £10bn each year to the UK economy.
Grant Saunders, who runs Huddersfield-based Wedding Fayres Yorkshire, said the impact of postponements, and in some cases cancellations, had been “devastating” for wedding businesses, which have taken huge hits to their income during what is typically the busiest season.
For many, the cash they were expecting to come in has now been delayed into 2021 and as this year’s weddings are pushed back to take up new dates over the coming 12 months, some venues and suppliers are also being left with little opportunity to take on new business.
Mr Saunders said: “We don’t know when things are going to go back to normal, how they’re going to go back to normal and most couples are saying they’re going to move weddings to next year. As a wedding business, people are thinking am I going to have to have 12 months of sustaining my business with no income?”
Those in the industry have warned that many small businesses may not survive the impact of the virus and it is feared that potential restrictions on guest numbers due to social distancing could see more marriages cancelled or postponed in a further blow to the region’s wedding economy - and its tourism industry.
James Mason, chief executive of tourism body Welcome to Yorkshire, said the latter is suffering a “huge dent” from couples not being able to get married. “We’re therefore not able to employ a number of seasonal staff to take part in the wedding industry and it also prevents us from marketing Yorkshire and its beautiful backdrops to the rest of the world...We’re not showcasing the region at the moment on all these wedding photographs that go on social media.”
The NAWP said the wedding industry would be among the last to bounce back as it “relies on social gatherings". Suppliers are already struggling.
“Venues and vendors diaries are fast emptying for 2020, meaning there is no new income,” a spokesperson said. “2021 dates are being taken by the postponed weddings, eliminating the potential to fill them with new business. In other words, the industry is catering for pretty much half the amount of business in double the amount of time.”
Professionals in the region are also concerned for the industry as a whole.
Michelle Taylor, who runs Halifax-based independent wedding planning business Taylored Elegance, questions whether the industry can truly recover.
She said: “I’m not entirely certain that weddings will ever be the same as what they were. The wedding industry was just expanding because people were getting more creative about what they wanted and what they could do. I think some of that flexibility we had probably won’t be there.
“I think it will be a very long time, if ever, that that will come back to the same extent. Yes we’ll be able to do some fabulous weddings moving forward, in time, but do I think it will ever get back to what it was? There are thousands of suppliers in the wedding industry and I think there’ll be less sadly. I think there will be a number of people who do go under.”
Julie Kelly, a wedding coordinator at White Rose Weddings, Celebrations and Events, based in Thirsk, said couples were also feeling emotional strain, particularly given the uncertainty around any restrictions that might be put in place when weddings resume.
“Not many people are going to want a wedding with five people - or even twenty people,” she said.
She believes recovery for the industry will be "a slow job" - and could be hampered by the wider ramifications of the coronavirus crisis on the nation’s economy.
She said: “It depends on whether people still have their jobs, whether they’re in a position to go ahead financially with the wedding. There’s so many businesses wrapped up in delivering a wedding...Everybody’s intertwined. If someone has lost their job, the whole wedding might have to be put off and that has a huge impact.”
With many weddings planned more than a year in advance, Mr Saunders, whose organisation hosts more than 60 wedding shows in the region every year, said it could be two or three years before the region’s industry gets back to what it "should be".
But he said 2021 was shaping up to be a busy and "amazing" year for the businesses that do survive - something that Mr Mason hopes Welcome to Yorkshire’s wedding venue members can capitalise on.
Mr Mason said: "Whilst we’re seeing many cancellations for 2020, the flip side of this challenge is we’ll be seeing more enquiries for weddings in the UK because people aren’t going abroad, we’ll be seeing more honeymoons taken in the UK and the wedding season can be 12 months long….That’s a huge opportunity to enable businesses who are missing out in 2020 to see a big boom, which is something I think we all have to be positive about."
Mr Saunders said remaining optimistic was vital to support the industry’s recovery in the region. He said: “If you’re unsure about what’s going on with your wedding and your suppliers and there’s all this doubt and panic, it’s easy to say let’s just cancel everything, see what happens and start again in a few years time.
“As an industry, we don’t want that. We want to get back to a new normal as quickly as possible.
Heather McLaren is among those couples who have been affected by the weddings shutdown. She recalls her disappointment on hearing the news that weddings would be stopped, as the country entered lockdown on March 23.
“I was just absolutely devastated. I’ve very rarely felt that sad about anything,” she says.
Miss McLaren, 28, and her fiance Tom Hall, 29, missed out on saying their vows in Leeds by less than 24 hours. It was a second blow to the couple, who had hurriedly arranged a last-minute ceremony after foreseeing that the big day they had originally planned in April, in Miss McLaren's hometown of Edinburgh, would be unlikely to go ahead.
Living apart for religious reasons, the couple, who got engaged last April, were keen to wed and move in together - so, as coronavirus took hold, they quickly organised to marry at their local church instead, with the arrangements made for March 24.
“We literally had everything arranged for the next day [after lockdown started]," Miss McLaren says." And then that was it. We’ve been in our own houses since then watching the news trying to figure out when weddings might be allowed again...The fact we lost out by less than 24 hours felt so unfair.”
Now in limbo, the couple are waiting for restrictions to lift to allow them to exchange vows in a simple ceremony - likely without their family and friends. They have postponed their big day until March next year, when they hope to have a blessing and reception with all of their guests.
“The wedding will be really special but in a completely different way and I’d rather have it really different than a rubbish version of what we’d hoped for,” Miss McLaren says. “I would be so aware of who’s missing if we tried to do it any other way.
“We are quite excited about how it might go with it being really different, but everything’s a bit tinged with, well, this shouldn’t really be happening because it’s not what we originally wanted. You just have to accept the situation and find what you can enjoy.”
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