Wedding Venue update during COVID-19
The current situation for wedding venues
As you know, in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, the government have banned weddings and closed many venues to reduce social contact and thereby limit the spread of the disease. This is initially for a 3 week period from 24th March. All expectation is that it will be extended beyond 14th April when the policy is reviewed.
Most venues have chosen to close until the end of May or June, to cover the period of social distancing as well as the initial “lockdown”. Others have only cancelled weddings until mid April in line with the government imposed lockdown.
Closing for the extended period seems a sensible option and is the solution that couples were hoping for; very few want a wedding if a lot of guests are unable to attend. However, we recommend you check cancellation clauses in your contracts carefully to ensure you don’t leave yourselves open to refund claims if you have cancelled weddings beyond the government imposed lockdown. If there is a chance you’ll be liable, play safe and help couples find a date they will willingly postpone to.
What do couples want?
Our survey of over 650 couples with weddings this year showed that 87% would prefer to postpone, not cancel.
We asked couples why they postponed rather than cancelled. The top 3 reasons were:
- We will lose all our deposits and payments if we cancel
- We love each other and still want to get married
- We were offered a Saturday so we took it while it was available
For those planning to cancel, we asked if there was anything venues could do to encourage them to postpone instead:
- Offer more choice of dates
- Don’t charge extra to postpone
- Offer a discount to move to mid week
Many couples are just grateful that their wedding can be rescheduled, but as more weddings are postponed to the last remaining dates, the situation will become more challenging, with more couples being forced to cancel and book elsewhere.
Although some would prefer to hold out for the wedding they really want and postpone if needed, for those couples with weddings later this year, 41% are hoping for it to go ahead almost as planned and 28% indicated that they would be prepared to make quite significant compromises to keep their wedding in 2020.
It is a credit to the wedding industry that couples are feeling so confident in everything returning to normal quickly. Managing expectations will be key, along with flexibility when the couples discover that some of their plans, including numbers, may need to be adjusted.
IMAGE: Current thoughts on wedding plans from couples with weddings in 2020. ©Guides for Brides 2020
53% of the 650 couples we surveyed have wedding insurance. Sadly only 23% of couples overall feel that it is likely that wedding insurance companies will settle claims rating to COVID-19, leaving couples, and venues, feeling exposed.
So far insurers seem unable to comment on exactly what is covered, with some saying they are still in discussions with their underwriters. Venues are trying to help their couples, but are understandably nervous about invalidating a potential insurance claim.
Couples who are confident that their insurance will cover them to cancel may prefer to cancel, then rebook a date of their choice. However, many have said that they are concerned that there won’t be suitable dates available by the time they have clarity from their insurers.
IMAGE: Do couples feel wedding insurance will cover COVID-19 cancellations? ©Guides for Brides 2020
Cancelling – v – Postponement
Venues have contacted us over the past 2 weeks to see what policies other venues are offering and what couples are expecting. We are happy to share this information, but please check your own contracts to ensure you are protecting your own interests.
Church of England weddings
The Church of England were quick to respond to the implications of church closures. Those whose Banns can’t be read will be able to apply for a Special Licence to marry from the Archbishop of Canterbury. If they don’t already have a legal entitlement to marry in that church and can demonstrate they have done all they can to establish a qualifying connection, they may also be able to apply for a Special Licence.
Civil Ceremonies and Civil Partnerships in approved venues
Different districts currently have different policies in place. Some have cancelled weddings just until 14th April. Most have cancelled until 31st May or 30th June. That variation in policy is likely to continue depending on the resources they have available for recording deaths and births, both of which must take priority over weddings. Some registrars are not allowing couples to “give notice” or make appointments for future weddings, making postponements even more challenging.
What are venues offering?
The UK’s busiest wedding venue, The Old Marylebone Town Hall, has been able to offer the most flexible approach we are aware of so far. With registrars needing to focus on other duties, weddings have been cancelled up to the end of June. We spoke to Alison Cathcart of Westminster Registration Service who told us “Couples have been given the option of postponing to any available date in 2020 or 2021 or receiving a full refund with the flexibility to rebook when they are ready. 232 of the 463 weddings affected chose to cancel.” This isn’t a policy that many venues can afford to offer, but it shows the importance of giving couples an incentive to postpone, rather than cancel.
From the experts
Couples have been given the option of postponing to any available date in 2020 or 2021 or receiving a full refund with the flexibility to rebook when they are ready. 232 of the 463 weddings affected chose to cancel.Alison Cathcart, Westminster Registration Service
Some venues, such as Redhouse Barn in Worcestershire, are giving their couples every reason not to cancel. They are turning down all new bookings until all of their couples facing postponement have chosen suitable alternative dates.
And more widely, couples with April weddings, which were postponed before the scale of the challenge became apparent, have generally been offered “any available” date to postpone to. Customer satisfaction with this policy is clearly reflected in the sentiments of April couples surveyed; an impressive 72% felt their venue couldn’t have done more to help, with only 9% saying they would have liked more choice of dates.
IMAGE: Do couples feel their venue could have done any more to help them? ©Guides for Brides 2020
Most venues are balancing the needs of this year’s couples with the need to protect their 2021 revenue. Saturdays in spring and summer months are a valuable commodity so they are keeping back Saturdays for new 2021 bookings, and not offering them for postponed weddings.
A common approach seems to be offering all available dates until early in 2021, then any available dates except Saturdays during the peak months, giving a few options for those that are fixed on having a Saturday wedding, while protecting future revenue.
The most popular venues, fully booked on Saturdays 2 years in advance, have the biggest challenge. Few couples want to wait for 2023 for the next available Saturday if they have already been waiting 2 years.
Reputation and revenue
During this period of such uncertainty, everyone is having to tread a very fine line between protecting the venue’s revenue and reputation. We are keeping a close eye on online reviews. We will monitor the situation and react if needed, but with just with one exception, all reviews left on our site have been 5*, with relieved couples using the platform to thank their venue for looking after them so well.
It may feel that you are juggling with the emotions of stressed brides and grooms with every phone call or email, but we have been overwhelmed by the positive comments coming from them at such a difficult time. In almost every case, where there has been difficulty in finding a new date, couples have said the venue did all they could, with many describing them as “fantastic”, “amazing” and ”genuinely supportive”.
We are here to help in any way we can. We will continue to work hard to keep your business in front of couples at such an important, and difficult time.
What can we do to help you?
Over the past 2 weeks we have been listening to many venues, suppliers, brides and grooms as well as insurance companies and registrars in order to keep everyone informed in a situation that is evolving daily.
For our clients we are monitoring online and, when needed, offline reputation so you can respond, or praise your team, as appropriate.
We are tracking online user behaviour so we can advise you. Up to 150,000 people use our site for wedding planning each month with 20,000 couples actively planning so we can quickly see changes and help you to react. We’ll be updating you with useful insights along with practical measures you could be taking, such as:
- Currently we can see couples are looking for information. Over 10,000 have read our article on how coronavirus could impact their wedding. Action: If you haven’t already, update your blog with information for your couples. Feel free to share our advice for 2020 couples if it is helpful. Couples want to know what your current policy is, how long you think you’ll be closed and how to contact you during that time.
- Couples are spending a lot of time on the guest list tool on our wedding planner. Action: Have a policy ready, ideally on your blog, explaining your policy if couples need to reduce guest numbers.
- Not surprisingly, there has been a huge increase in views of our Late Availability page. Action: We have extended the dates showing from 6 months to 18 months to help couples looking for 2021 dates. We will feature, free of charge, any of our clients who have updated their calendar in the past 30 days. We are happy to update your calendar for you if you need help, or simply log in to your account.
- Online traffic on our site almost doubled in the past week which means couples have got over the initial disappointment and shock and are starting to plan again. Action: It is hard to think ahead when you are still dealing with postponements and cancellations, but a lot of couples are using this time to start planning so keep your usual, upbeat, online presence if you can. We’ll be doing our bit to support this by ensuring no subscriptions expire over the next 3 months, so you remain in front of future couples.
- We will be supporting our clients with free advertising and other marketing opportunities if cash flow is a challenge, to ensure that we all get through this together.
- At 4pm on Wednesday 15th April we will be hosting a free Zoom webinar for our wedding venues, focusing on essential tips for dealing with the current crisis, with wedding Sales & Marketing expert and International Speaker, Alan Berg.
Please don’t hesitate to email me on firstname.lastname@example.org, call the office 01235 770078 or my mobile 07841 650225 if there is anything more we can do to help support your business through this.