THE WEEK THINGS GOT WIERD
In March, I was of the strong opinion that coronavirus was being blown out of proportion by the media because it's an election year. Something always goes down the year of a presidential election. My week went on as usual. I was in the midst of working with my strategic planner on coming up with a marketing plan. Hard stuff. Coronavirus was the least of my worries.
Then things got really weird.
First, daylight savings time ended and our schedules got all messed up. Then it was a super moon, which always causes strange behavior in people and an increase in expecting women going into labor. On March 9th, Ohio went into a state of emergency. And then...it was #coronapocalypse and social distancing was put into place. On March 12th Heinz Chapel cancelled all of their weddings through May and I got the call that school was closed until April 3rd.
Since March and the ever changing news regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve been mostly quiet other than a newsletter and discussions between myself and immediately affected clients. My first reaction was to cancel my spring mini session marathon and then to send out a newsletter to our wedding clients to reassure them that we we’re in this together and that they could depend on Cyn Davis Photography to capture their wedding day. This hasn’t changed, but I have to admit that I started to panic when shutdowns began. My anxiety and stress levels were difficult to manage along with having to suddenly homeschool, keep my kids from going stir crazy, and worrying about my husband as an essential worker and my family members who are immunocompromised.
It was hard to know what to say. I didn’t exactly feel as if I had anything relevant or comforting to offer to the many couples who have watched their plans go up in smoke. Even after watching my own summer plans dissolve, I didn’t know how to put myself in the shoes of those who are engaged.
It’s now two months later, day 64 since my family went into self-isolation. We‘ve adjusted to the new rhythm of life and I’ve had time to think things over. I’ve been able to decide on our policies for pandemic-related reschedules and on how to move our business forward in a world where the future of the events industry is very uncertain.
THE IMPACT ON THE EVENTS & WEDDING INDUSTRY
According to Google, in the United States there are approximately 2.5 million weddings every year and, in 2019, the US wedding industry employed more than 1 million people and generated around $76 billion. One news source said that since the onset of the pandemic, roughly 75% of weddings have been postponed or flat out cancelled, with most destination weddings cancelled. Those couples who went ahead with their weddings, had to completely switch gears and opt for courthouse or even backyard elopements with no more than 10 people in attendance. I don't want to do the math because it hurts my head. In Pittsburgh, hundreds of wedding professionals saw the loss of revenue as the spring wedding season came to crashing halt. They scrambled to find solutions for their clients and urged them to postpone and not cancel, which became a trending hashtag.
Business Insider talked to a UK-based wedding coordinator named Nina Beer, who had this to say about the impact of the wedding industry crash: "I don't think it's frivolous to worry about weddings, they involve so much of the economy in one day." Without even going into the numerous wedding professionals involved in making the wedding day happen, most weddings involve travel, guests often go shopping for wedding appropriate attire, many stay the night at hotels and use Uber or Lyft to get there, parents hire babysitters, and so on.
Yesterday, I watched a YouTube video posted by Live Events Coalition. It was interesting and very sobering to hear of the impact from those who make their livelihood off of events, despite being one of those workers myself. While my family's income is not completely reliant on Cyn Davis Photography, I have worried about the future of my small business. One of the quotes in the video was hard to hear and lines up with what a lot of those in the wedding industry are saying:
We were the first industry to completely shut down. We'll probably be the last industry to start back up. Even when the economy opens back up, it'll be a while until people are allowed to, or even comfortable enough, to gather in large events. - Allen Cook, Tourtech CEO
Every news source regarding COVID-19 updates indicates that the CDC and government are going to err on the side of caution when it comes to group gatherings. At the time of this writing, non-essential businesses are resuming work in Ohio and WV, and Pennsylvania is just now beginning to reopen by allowing some counties to enter the Yellow Phase. While that is good news for us photographers who can begin taking outdoor sessions, it doesn't necessarily mean that business will resume as normal. Health regulations still require social distancing and group gatherings of no more than 25 people. It's uncertain as to when those health regulations will be lifted. Even Pennsylvania's Green Phase guidelines don't specifically state what the group gatherings size limit will be. Just today, Pittsburgh's Action News 4 just published an article that said that large group events will not be allowed this summer in Pittsburgh, including 4th of July fireworks.
Aside from the health regulations, there's also the legal implications that vendors and couples are dealing with. I'm personally in quite a few wedding vendor and bride groups on Facebook. I'm seeing a lot of anxiety and advice...on both sides of the fence. Couples and vendors are looking for advice on how to handle the legalities of a cancellation or postponement due to the pandemic. Should the vendors refund all money including retainers? If they don't and a client decides to sue, who will win? Should there be rescheduling fees? How far out from the original wedding date should be allowed for a reschedule? What will put a vendor out of business faster, returning all retainers or lawsuits and bad word-of-mouth? It seems there are really no good answers.
On the daily, I am seeing brides that are having their venues cancel on them even as far into the year as October. On the other hand, there are venues and vendors who are holding out hope for summer weddings, but even as I write this that hope seems to be dwindling.
THE FUTURE OF WEDDINGS
There is a lot of talk amongst the wedding professionals about what the future of weddings might look like. Many think that weddings with large guest lists will not happen again until late 2021, others think it is a thing of the past entirely. Who can even say when groups of 100+ are allowed again? One thing we are all in agreement about is that 2020 will be the year that small intimate weddings became the standard.
So what advice can I give to couples who are looking at getting married in 2020 and 2021?
Simply this: pivot.
I know it's crushing to have dreams of a large wedding be taken away, but it doesn't have to ruin your celebration and your vendors will thank you for moving forward with your wedding despite the smaller guest count. Besides, there are pros to having a smaller wedding, like not having to make small talk to your uncle's step-sister's coworker who used to babysit you when you were 2 or your cousin's flavor of the week who you can't stand. Think about how much more meaningful your wedding will be with just those who are nearest and dearest to you. Think about how nice it'll be to go with a fancier sit-down dinner instead of a buffet style dinner. Think about how you can inject more personality into your wedding day stylings and decor.
By changing your plans from a wedding with a large guest list to a wedding with a small curated guest list, you open up the possibilities of having a more stylized wedding with a unique experience for yourself and those in attendance. A smaller wedding can certainly be just as lavish and beautiful as a large wedding, it just takes a little thinking outside the box. Fortunately, with the rise in popularity of intimate weddings, there are numerous articles and resources to find inspiration, just take a look at Pinterest, Green Wedding Shoes, BurghBrides or the other various wedding blogs out there.
There are a lot of reasons why a small intimate wedding can become your new dream wedding. While it seems like walking down the aisle surrounded by all those people would feel wonderful, it's much more likely you won't notice them because your eyes will be on the only person who matters, the one who has seen you at your quarantine worst and still loves you. If you end up married to that person, your wedding--big or small--is a success.
We are Cynthia and Rich, husband and wife photography team based in Steubenville, OH and providing services to Pittsburgh and the surrounding areas. Interested in having us document your intimate wedding? We are now booking 2021 weddings. Contact us today to set up a Zoom consultation.
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