'It really is tough': Wedding industry scrambles to adapt to COVID-19

It may be a cliché, but what was supposed to be a dream day for many couples has indeed become a nightmare, as the wedding industry scrambles to comply with COVID-19 regulations.

2021 will be busy making up for postponements, say wedding planners and venue operators

Edmonton's Foundry Room is hosting weddings that respect physical distancing guidelines, with a maximum of 10 guests. (Deanna Caroline Photography)

It may be a cliché, but what was supposed to be a dream day for many couples has indeed become a nightmare, as the wedding industry scrambles to comply with COVID-19 regulations. 

Edmonton couple Stephanie Parsons and Garrick Des Lauriers were planning on getting married April 4.

They realized mid-March that their 80 guests wouldn't be able to join them, Parsons said.

The couple considered an intimate ceremony at home instead, but eventually decided to postpone to an undetermined date. 

"We just ended up cancelling it altogether," Parsons said. "The day that we decided to cancel the venue was the same day that we decided to also, obviously, cancel our honeymoon.

"That was a tough day."

COVID-19 has brought the industry to a stand still, said Edmonton wedding planner Sandra Cassios. 

"It really is tough," Cassios said. "It's scary from a couple's perspective, but for a wedding industry professional it's also very scary."

"A lot of our income during the busy months has also been taken away or postponed."

Hosting a large wedding in 2020 is no longer realistic, said Edmonton wedding planner Jennifer Bergman.

"Unless they're going to be quite small gatherings, we're going to have to be moving all of our events over to 2021," she said. 

"Even then, there's still some uncertainty with how the pandemic will unfold and continue to affect us."

The Alberta government has indicated that physical distancing measures will likely be in place for months. 

Edmonton couple Stephanie Parsons and Garrick Des Lauriers have opted to postpone their April 4 wedding. (Supplied by Stephanie Parsons)

Parsons is waiting to set a new date, unwilling to risk a second postponement. 

"I'll be damned, sorry for the language, if I plan two weddings and have both of them cancelled," she said with a laugh. 

Busy fall and 2021

Rebooking a venue is the most challenging part, Bergman said, as next year's calendar is quickly filling up. 

"That's the most important thing. You need to be able to have the date available at your venue and then we go from there."

Edmonton's Fairmont Hotel Macdonald, a popular venue for weddings, is closed for all of April and May due to the pandemic. 

Couples planning to tie the knot during that time frame were given the option to cancel at no cost or to book a later date, said Danielle Lundy, the hotel's director of sales and marketing.

Some have chosen to go ahead with a small ceremony this summer, she said, while others are hoping that larger gatherings will be allowed in the fall. 

Lundy is working with those couples to come up with a backup plan in case physical distancing measures are still in place. 

"It alleviates a little bit of the stress of the uncertainty," she said. "Let's see what dates are available right now and let's start to talk about what a backup plan will look like.

"The fall is getting busy quickly and the summer of 2021 also is much busier than it usually is a year out."

Edmonton's Fairmont Hotel Macdonald is planning to offer outdoor ceremonies in order to accommodate more guests while respecting physical distancing guidelines. (Supplied by Fairmont Hotel Macdonald)

Focusing on priorities

While some couples may be tempted to cancel wedding plans altogether, Cassios cautions against it.

"A full-on cancellation means that you are more than likely losing all of the deposits that you've given to your vendors," she said. 

For Parsons, recuperating her deposits was a mixed experience. She said the venue reimbursed her, but other vendors, such as the DJ and hair and makeup artist, kept the money. 

Lining up the same venue and vendors for a new date may be tricky, Cassios said.

She encourages couples to focus on what aspects of their wedding matter most to them and build from there.

"Sit down and strip away all the pretty, strip away all of the bling and really talk about what are your priorities," Cassios said.

Physically distanced weddings

Couples who still want to get married during the pandemic have options, said Eva Tamayo, co-owner of the Foundry Room. 

The Edmonton venue is offering a COVID-19 wedding package, with only 10 guests, that conforms to physical distancing regulations.

"There's different ways that we can adapt," Tamayo said. "The hardest thing that we're working with is getting the right numbers and staying within the limits."

A newlywed couple is met by a parade of loved ones after their physically distanced wedding, organized by the Foundry Room in Edmonton. (Deanna Caroline Photography)

Some bigger venues have temporarily closed their doors, she said, and couples are scrambling to find a new space.

"Sometimes the dates are significant to them and they want to keep that," Tamayo said. "We are also seeing a lot of increase in people who can't elope out of the country anymore."

'No point in dwelling on it'

Three weeks have passed since Parsons' original wedding date, enough time to make peace with the situation. 

"We've had a lot of time to kind of mourn or grieve our wedding, or lack thereof," said Parsons.

"We're OK now. It was one of those situations where it is what it is. You can't change it. So there's really no point in dwelling on it."

She said the entire ordeal has helped her gain some perspective.

"It's about us, it's about the love that we share," said Parsons. "It's also about sharing that experience with our friends and family."

Still, she can't quite forget the honeymoon in Bali, Indonesia, a trip the couple won't be able to recreate.

"That's honestly the hardest pill to swallow," she said. "This was our once-in-a-lifetime event. That was a hard thing to deal with."


Josee St-Onge


Josee St-Onge is a journalist with CBC Edmonton. She has also reported in French for Radio-Canada in Alberta and Saskatchewan.