Ottawa, August 12, 2020 ‒ The COVID-19 pandemic has hit hundreds of small businesses in the region’s wedding and events industry especially hard, as many grapple with a long period with no income and a slowly reopened economy that strictly limits social gatherings. In response, Ottawa-Gatineau wedding industry providers – from event venues to wedding planners, officiants, florists, entertainment and other suppliers – have founded the Ottawa Gatineau Wedding Industry Association (OGWIA).
“Our objective is to support our industry through these uncertain times and to build a strong future for businesses in the wedding industry,” explains Brian Henry, board member, Ottawa Gatineau Wedding Industry Association and owner of Quality Entertainment. “We will speak to all levels of government with a unified voice and work together to elevate our profession.”
Recent media coverage of a pandemic wedding incorrectly blamed the venue for the impact of the government’s requirements for social gatherings. These limitations are law under the Reopening Ontario Act, which venues and guests must follow, or face large fines. They are intended to allow us to safely emerge from this pandemic. The restrictions include: maximum guest count of 50 indoors or 100 outdoors, physical distancing, mandatory use of masks, no mingling, and remaining seated throughout the event. The story suggested that venues and wedding professionals should refund deposits made, despite offering multiple options for holding new dates and customizing wedding packages to accommodate the pandemic.
“The government restrictions limiting us to 50 indoor guests for wedding receptions are devastating to our industry,” explains Stephanie Brown-Malenfant, board member and owner of Stonefields Estate. “Most venues have such high operational expenses that only large events can cover the costs. Venues are now hosting smaller weddings despite the increased cost of adhering to regulations, loss of revenue, and potential risk to employees and guests. We feel for all couples, but we’re all working closely with them to find solutions for their special day.”
Many couples have worked with vendors to reschedule their weddings or to plan a scaled-down celebration during the pandemic. Some have opted to cancel and lose their deposits. These funds are used to cover the costs of working with the couple leading up to the wedding, and for venues, ongoing costs like maintenance, repairs, upgrades, property taxes, insurance, business loans and building mortgages. Refunding these deposits after 5 months with no income will potentially bankrupt many of these small family-owned businesses.
“When a couple provides their non-refundable deposit for wedding services, they are making a promise,” says Sophie Branchaud, board member and owner of Sage Florals and Designs. “Vendors rely on that promise and refuse other bookings for their wedding date. We invest our time and expertise, and we hire staff to work with our couples leading up to their wedding. We spend on equipment, supplies and repairs. It’s how our industry works. That initial deposit is spent well before the big day.”
“No one could have anticipated this pandemic. Making people happy is at the heart of what we do. It’s been heartbreaking to watch the impact on our couples. As an industry, we’ve struggled to strike a balance between taking care of each couple, while ensuring that our businesses survive the uncertainty that lies ahead,” says Brown-Malenfant.
- Shannon Kennedy
Board member, OGWIA
Owner and Principal Planner, Kennedy Event Planning
- Stephanie Brown-Malenfant
Board member, OGWIA
Owner and Chief Event Officer, Stonefields Estate