On March 11, the coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) was officially designated a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). The U.S. has subsequently banned travel from Europe, meaning weddings based in Italy and countries within the European Union, have been postponed or canceled. The same scenario is playing out in the U.S., especially in densely populated regions like New York City and Seattle. As of Monday, March 16, national guidance was issued for group gatherings across America, with the updated recommendation of having no more than 10 people together at a time.
The latest declaration was made after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidance for group gatherings on Sunday, addressing weddings and other related events in the next two months. “Large events and mass gatherings can contribute to the spread of COVID-19 in the United States via travelers who attend these events and introduce the virus to new communities,” health officials noted. “Examples of large events and mass gatherings include conferences, festivals, parades, concerts, sporting events, weddings, and other types of assemblies. These events can be planned not only by organizations and communities but also by individuals.”
The circumstances have been devastating for both couples in the throes of planning, and for wedding vendors and planners local to impacted areas. “We need to accept that this is a global situation,” says Giovana Dualibe, the CEO of Belief Wedding Creators, an international community for wedding planners. Overall, pros are advising clients to follow the directives of local government and health officials.
“In an abundance of caution, we took the initiative to contact all couples, venues and vendors on behalf of each client to explore backup dates, place holds and establish deadlines for making decisions,” says Amy Shey Jacobs of Chandelier Events, whose weddings and events are largely based on the East Coast. “The goal is to mitigate the financial damage and give our clients well-thought out strategies for rescheduling their event date. It is a giant game of chess.”
CNBC reporter Christina Farr has recently dealt with far more than volatile markets. The bride-to-be has been planning a New Orleans wedding for May, and now, she’s grappling with the unknown. “The prospect of having to cancel a wedding is hard: It takes months of planning and it’s a big expense,” Farr admits. “For us, we were really excited about the prospect of having everyone we love in one place.”
Turning to her pros for guidance has helped her navigate an otherwise tricky scenario. “If you have a planner, talk to them,” she advises. “They might have dealt with similar situations in the past or they’ll have advice that’ll make you feel like you don’t have to manage it on your own.”
Not all couples, however, have a designated planner, in which case–now what? The Knot tapped top planners and vendors to find out exactly what they’re currently advising couples to do in light of the coronavirus outbreak.
Always Listen to Officials and Health Orgs
Sabrina Gambato of Milan-based wedding planning service Ti Amo Ti Sposo says her business has been significantly impacted by the coronavirus outbreak since February. Gambato’s couples will typically have to fly into Milan and travel to Northern Italy, where the outbreak in the country originated, for site visits and events. “This is the worst-case scenario that a planner could face,” she notes.
Like Gambato, Valentina Lombardi of Italian Lakes Weddings has also seen a decline in business—initial outreach, even. “We had a decrease in requests, and we’ve now experienced several postponed weddings and, even, a cancellation,” she says. “This has an impact, but we’ll keep on working on upcoming weddings this year and through 2021.”
Despite the blow to local and global economies, destination wedding planners have been firm about communicating one point to all clients: “We ask our couples to follow the World Health Organization procedures to protect them against the virus,” Gambato says. Lombardi agrees and adds that couples should do their due diligence and research. “The tip we give to our couples is to listen to the real situation: from official government offices,” she says.
Focus on Solutions and Alternatives
If your designated wedding location has been impacted, know that there are solutions. “There’s quite a bit of confusion and stress happening amongst our couples,” says preeminent wedding planner Stefanie Cove. “Monitor the ongoing situation for the best way to move forward.”
First, focus on what’s within your control: having more than one option. “My biggest piece of advice is do not wait to have a backup plan,” says Jacobs. Jennifer Johnson, a luxury event planner based in Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands, has doubled down on shifting dates–and, with that, production. “I’ve already had two weddings that decided to postpone and change their dates,” she says. “Both couples felt terrible, but these are big decisions to make. Health and safety for couples and their guests are of tantamount importance.”
Practically speaking, if you don’t have a planner, it’s time to pick up the phone. “Contact your venue and vendors to see when you have a backup date that works, and a deadline for when you need to decide by,” Jacobs advises. “Get this all in writing and calendar when you need to make decisions. Put down deposits if needed to hold backup dates that can be applied to current events or postponed events.”
Like other vendors, Beautini founder Brittany Lo has felt the direct impact, but she’s approaching the situation through an empathetic lens. “At this point, it’s truly about communication with the couples and figuring out the best plan of action. It’s case-by-case,” she says. “The [mere] thought of canceling a wedding is emotional.” Overall, if couples are postponing weddings due to COVID-19, the beauty service has been open to crediting the amount paid towards services for the new date.
Communicate Weekly With Guests
Imagine having a wedding in March or April with loved ones who’ve booked travel and lodging. What is running through their minds now? It’s important to communicate with your guests about your projected or solidified course of action, including backup plans. “We ask our couples to communicate on a weekly basis with their guests,” says Gambato.
Farr, who’s planning to marry in New Orleans this spring, has been diligent about communicating with her loved ones. “Our wedding is still a few months away in May, so we’re still in a ‘wait and see’ period,” she says. “We are talking through all possible outcomes and are communicating with our guests that their health and safety is our priority… Our wedding planner has started reaching out to vendors to see what their policies are.”
For both couples and guests, there has been an emotional toll too. “People might have a hard time celebrating right now,” says Johnson. “Some feel guilty. There is a psychological factor that is accompanying the situation. My response has been to work with my clients in every way possible to make them feel comfortable and supported.”
Even if you don’t have updated plans, your guests, just like you, are likely seeking transparency and communication. Reach out frequently. “As with any unforeseen situation, having open communication with all parties is the best approach,” says Lindsay Longacre of LVL Weddings. “Take it one step at a time.”
Be Mindful of Group Gatherings
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has said to restrict large group gatherings, reinforced Sunday, March 15. “Large events and mass gatherings can contribute to the spread of COVID-19 in the United States via travelers who attend these events and introduce the virus to new communities,” the official bulletin read. “Examples of large events and mass gatherings include conferences, festivals, parades, concerts, sporting events, weddings, and other types of assemblies. These events can be planned not only by organizations and communities but also by individuals.”
Send a ‘Change-the-Date’ If You Postpone
Many couples have since postponed their weddings and opted for later dates. There is a way to communicate this change to loved ones, especially if your invitations and save-the-dates went out. Enter, the “change-the-date.”
“If your invites already went out and you need to reschedule, work with your stationer and other vendors to create a custom [digital] invite for your new event,” says Jacobs. Companies like Elli are also offering free reprints for couples who are now changing their wedding date. Also, lean into your wedding website and other communications. As previously mentioned, your guests will need to hear from you. Update all relevant information on your wedding website for a constant reference.
And Reconsider How You Gather
While social distancing is in full effect in certain regions across the U.S., now is the time to be extra mindful of individual and group interactions, says Jacobs. In extreme circumstances, remember that we live in the tech age. “Explore live-stream, virtual reality solutions for ceremonies that might proceed, especially for those guests who can no longer attend,” Jacobs suggests.
The CDC reiterated this point on March 15: “Events of any size should only be continued if they can be carried out with adherence to guidelines for protecting vulnerable populations, hand hygiene, and social distancing. When feasible, organizers could modify events to be virtual.”
Currently, Chandelier Events is helping couples get married on their designated wedding date, while postponing the group celebration until later. If a couple chooses this route, you’re right on trend. In 2019, The Knot coined the term “sequel wedding” for those couples hosting two weddings for a variety of reasons.
Exercise Caution With Last-Minute Weddings
Any new requests for 2020 spring and summer weddings are on standby for most pros. Globally, entire municipal halls, including local government bureaus where couples can legally marry, are shutting down.
If you’re seeking a last-minute elopement or a micro wedding in spring or summer 2020, there’s a likely chance your ceremony will be placed on a reserve list. “All the inquiries for this season are on standby,” says Rome-based planner Stefania Zen of Italian Wedding Company. “I guess couples are also waiting to see how the situation goes.”
Explore Your Financial Options
Some airlines like Delta are offering cancellation or adjustment options at no further cost depending on region and impact.
If you have a room block, talk to your hotels and booking agents directly about alternative options, including possible refunds and changes to your original dates. The same goes with services like Airbnb, which has a policy related to last-minute cancellations or flexible date change options for coronavirus-weary travelers. Contact those companies directly for help.
Overall, wedding guests should be in-the-know about next steps. It’s up to the couple to communicate with their loved ones and keep them in the loop regardless of cancellations or changes in wedding dates.
Continue Planning Remotely
While planners can help facilitate local communication with vendors, especially in foreign countries, couples are still expected to make key decisions. Now is not the time to shirk that checklist, especially if certain factors are within your (remote) control. Couples should still communicate with their planners and vendors to see the progress of their weddings.
Site visits, however, are at a standstill—and understandably so. As a reminder, Friday, March 13, is when the U.S. travel ban from Europe goes into effect. For 2021 weddings, however, it’s business as usual for most planners.
Ditch Dates on the Decor
This goes without saying: hold from printing items with wedding date inscriptions. Or better yet, forego date insignias and custom prints overall.
“Outside of the invitations, if you’ve gone to print, don’t put dates on your favors, swag and paper,” says Jacobs. “Order items earlier-than-ever. And prioritize purchasing items from local vendors to limit importing delays.”
Prioritize Your Health
While the situation is unfortunate, know that alternative options are available. “First and foremost: do not panic,” Longacre says. “I cannot stress this enough: [both planners and couples need to] be well informed by sources like the World Health Organization.”
“The fact is that for almost all event planners and professionals in our community: this is our first pandemic,” Jacobs concludes. “We have been through all sorts of trauma and emergencies before, from extreme weather to 9/11, but in this instance, we have a whole new set of issues to navigate. If there’s one silver lining: the wedding community is gathering together with tremendous care and good will for the benefit of our clients.”
Your health comes first. The CDC recommends frequent hand-washing (click here for techniques) and practicing social distancing. Personal care is just one important way to find mental stability before the wedding day. Keep up with local governments and health organizations for ways you can protect yourself, overall, against the coronavirus.
Published March 13, 2020. Updated March 16.