Coronavirus Could Change the Wedding Industry For Years

A pandemic just isn't a part of even the most organized bride's plans. Here's how some are coping, and what COVID-19 will mean for the wedding industry long after the quarantine is lifted.

Coronavirus Canceled Wedding
Photo: Stocksy

When Caitlin Corsetti, 29, and her fiancé got engaged about a year ago, she knew that she wanted to get married in Italy. "We both have Italian heritage, so Italy made sense," she says. So they set a date for a small wedding in Nerola, outside of Rome, on June 17, 2020, with plans to have a week-long honeymoon in the country after the fact.

A few months ago, when news of the 2019 novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, started spreading across the world, Corsetti remained unphased. "My guests were freaking out, but my Italian wedding planner told me that everything would be fine," she says. And then last Wednesday, the tone flipped.

On March 9, the Italian government imposed a national quarantine. Corsetti's wedding planner, who was previously unalarmed, was sent home, unable to access her files on Corsetti's wedding. "We can't even finish planning," Corsetti says.

Corsetti is one of many brides-to-be now stuck in a sort of limbo. As the CDC continuously updates its guidelines about travel, making many destinations off-limits and cautioning against gatherings of more than 50 people for the next eight weeks, engaged couples are weighing their options about whether to cancel the biggest event of their life — one they've been planning for months.

Kelsey Dobbs, 29, got married on March 14 in Palm Beach, Florida, and had been planning her nuptials for 11 months. The week before her wedding, she started getting calls from older family members and friends of her parents revising their RSVPs. "We were expecting 185 guests," she told me three days before her wedding. "At the moment, we have 170, but we're expecting more drop-offs."

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In the end, that dropoff accounted for 40% fewer guests than had initially RSVP'd yes. (She had to pay for the 170 headcount, as that was the final number she gave her venue three days before her wedding.) "It was a whirlwind," she says. "We still had a beautiful wedding, but had to explore plans B through Z." Their honeymoon, however, has been canceled due to travel restrictions.

While plenty of brides can rely on planners to help with all of the moving pieces, many have to deal with vendors and their venues on their own to figure out contingency plans in the case of a COVID-19-adjacent turn-of-events. And these companies, especially smaller ones, are starting to feel the strain.

"There's a lot of fear in the environment," says Sara Altobelli, a partner in Purl Collective, a collective of venue properties in New York City. "We are getting a lot of calls from brides whose venues have closed or canceled, and they're saying 'We have nowhere to go now.'" According to the Knot there are some 845,000 weddings in the U.S. from March through May; the site arranged a special hotline to tackle pandemic-related wedding concerns, and it received nearly 3,000 Instagram comments and over a hundred calls within the first two days.

Altobelli and her business partner, PS Ives, have already fielded calls from brides hoping to reschedule their weddings, too. "I got an email from a venue asking me to accomodate a bride for October 10," Ives says.

"There are going to be vendors that go out of business.”

The biggest point of fear, according to Altobelli, is coming from smaller boutique vendors that might not have the capital to keep their businesses afloat if they see a huge number of cancelations in the immediate future. "We work with people who have been in this industry for decades," Altobelli says. "They're saying 9/11 didn't have this kind of effect on the events industry." If there are mass cancelations between now and the end of May, which happens to be one of the busiest times in the wedding industry, "that's a whole quarter of business going away for a small business," Altobelli says. "They might not be able to weather that storm."

So even brides who aren't getting married for six months to a year could be affected by COVID-19 cancelations happening now. If they've put a deposit down for a florist for an April 2021 wedding, for example, and that florist isn't able to stay afloat amid their current business drought, brides will not only lose that deposit, but have to scramble to find another florist from a smaller pool than before.

It's for this reason that companies like eWed, a wedding insurance company, are trying to inform brides about the importance of buying insurance on their big day. As of this publication, wedding insurance agencies are no longer covering weddings that are canceled because of COVID-19, although you may be covered if you bought insurance before cases spiked. But there are still reasons why insurance may be useful now — specifically in mitigating the ripple effect in the months after the virus has dissipated.

"If the venue closes down, if an immediate family member is ill and can no longer attend, or anything outside of a voluntary postponement or cancelation would be covered," says David Berke, the CEO of eWed.

Berke, who was a wedding planner before starting eWed, points out the importance of brides thinking long-term about the fallout of the coronavirus on the industry. "With all these events being canceled, there are going to be vendors that go out of business. A vendor who you have this year might not be around next year," he says. "You see this happen any time there is an upset in the market."

He stresses the importance of being proactive, so that brides who are getting married in the next year can try to avoid the stress that those with wedding dates rapidly approaching are dealing with.

He, Alltobelli, and Ives stress the importance of working with your vendors to help them stay afloat. Postponement provides more financial stability for them than all-out cancelation does, so if that's an option for you, consider taking it and keeping your original vendors.

InStyle's own senior video producer had to cancel her engagement party on March 14 — aka Pi Day. She'd ordered 100 mini pies for the occasion from a small farm in New Jersey. Instead of canceling, she and her fiancé rescheduled for a later date, and were able to postpone the pie order, too (despite the party theme having to change). This helps the bakery and provides a funny story to tell on their wedding day.

Coronavirus Canceled Wedding
Kelsey Dobbs' big—er, small—day. Carrie Rodman Photography

"We still plan to get married.”

Still, with more businesses — and entire cities — shuttering by the day, cancelation may be the only option. Jackie Schwerm, 31, and her fiance made the decision to cancel their May 2 wedding in Minnesota. "The CDC's recommendations say no public gathering over 50 for the next two months, so our wedding is impacted by that," she said.

Schwerm says that it was an emotional decision after spending some 18 months planning. "We are meeting with our venue on Wednesday, which was supposed to be our 'final details' meeting, but instead it's going to be trying to figure out the financial side of everything.

Still, she is hopeful. "We still plan to get married on May 2, just the two of us, with our parents hopefully in attendance, if the quarantine measures at that time allow," she said.

Smaller weddings may be the way to mitigate the crisis at the moment. And while it might not be what the couple originally envisioned, it may still wind up being a beautiful day. "My wedding was pure madness," Dobbs said of her Palm Beach nuptials. "But it was still the literal best weekend of my life."

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