Second wave matrimony

  • How is Covid-19’s second wave affecting weddings?

By Naveed Rozais

Marriage and Covid-19 have had an awkward relationship. Covid-19’s first appearance on the scene wrecked the wedding dreams of many couples looking to tie the knot in 2020. 

Charm De Silva

Sri Lanka’s three-month lockdown meant the postponement or cancellation of the countless weddings that would have taken place during that period. The uncertainty and fear of mingling that Covid-19 brought with it meant that weddings taking place after the lockdown had to be scaled down (not entirely a bad thing, but certainly something to make guest lists more difficult to manage). 

The lockdown and the wedding industry

The wedding industry took a big hit with the lockdown. The pandemic essentially changed the face of weddings as we knew it. 

In May, restrictions introduced by the Ministry of Health and Indigenous Medicine meant that wedding guest counts had to be limited to 50% of the venue’s capacity, up to 100 people. Physical distancing had to be strongly enforced with guests sitting one metre apart and adequate distance had to be maintained between different wedding zones like poruwas and registration tables. 

Anupama Nawalage

Other changes to weddings were the banning of alcohol until restrictions were lifted and dance floors were discouraged. 

All venues were required to give their clients instruction sheets outlining government regulations as well as any venue-specific regulations when bookings were made, and wedding planners and service vendors were asked to focus heavily on sanitisation and disinfection when setting up and dismantling weddings. 

What does the second wave bring with it?

The second wave of Covid-19 infections does come as a blow. End2End Events Founder and Managing Director Melisha Yapa commented on the second wave, stating: “Things were just beginning to look up. We were imagining that things were going to be fine and people were starting to go back to normal. But now the uncertainty has come again and once more all plans are going up in the air.” 

In terms of restrictions, the second wave doesn’t bring any new restrictions; it strengthens the restrictions that were already in place. 90F Weddings Co-Founder Anupama Nawalage shared that in many respects the restrictions haven’t changed. “We can still hold weddings following the guidelines that have been issued. Now, with the passage of time, there is a little more flexibility with public health inspectors (PHIs). Couples can meet with the PHIs or medical officers in the area of their venue and have their wedding looked at on a case-by-case basis and confirm how many people can be invited. The PHIs closely monitor this process.” 

The lockdown and the wave of cancellations and postponements that ensued meant that many vendors have had to become flexible when dealing with things like date changes. “Overall, this shift started in April itself, and the flexibilities in policies introduced at that time are still being offered right now,” Yapa said, adding: “Everyone is being very flexible right now; I know of one hair and makeup artiste whose client had to move their wedding to a date and location that they couldn’t accommodate, and the artiste offered his client a full refund and recommended another stylist. People are going out of their way to make sure that couples do not lose out. My vendors and service providers have been nothing short of amazing.” 

90F Weddings, whose primary service is floristry has also taken steps to make sure couples don’t lose out. “What we did as a company was put in place a policy of rescheduling for up to one year from the initial wedding date at no extra cost,” Nawalage explained, adding: “If a wedding is postponed by more than a year, there is a small change in cost of about 10%.” 

Melisha Yapa

The biggest challenge the second wave brings with it is uncertainty. Magical Moments Director Charm De Silva commented on uncertainty and the immediate future, explaining that previously scheduled weddings for October and November are mostly taking place as planned. “The weddings planned for a little later are uncertain. A lot of clients are frustrated I think. There’s no panicking as such, but that also depends on people’s personalities. Couples are now trying to make the best decision on whether to postpone or go ahead as planned.” 

Nawalage also commented on the uncertainty of the industry at present, sharing that in an evolving situation like Sri Lanka’s at present, couples are also taking things as they come. “We can’t really confirm anything until the week before because of the uncertainty. We don’t know what will happen and which area may be locked down. There are quite a few couples who don’t want to postpone and want to simply have their wedding and finish it off; the logic being that they don’t know what will be happening in a few months’ time. During the lockdown, most people thought things would be fine by September.”

Destination weddings: What can we expect?

Sri Lanka is a world-famous destination, and destination weddings play quite an important role in the wedding market, from completely foreign couples looking for a truly memorable wedding experience, to Sri Lankans living abroad who want to have their weddings back home. 

De Silva from Magical Moments, who handles quite a few destination weddings, shared that the outcome is not promising in the short-to-medium term. “Some destination weddings have had to be cancelled entirely,” De Silva said, “The western part of the world is doing quite badly, and even from a Sri Lankan standpoint, travel seems unlikely. We are still receiving bookings for destinations, despite also receiving cancellations, but I don’t think anyone can say when things will pick up because we don’t know when the airports will open.” 

Yapa from End2End Events also commented on destination weddings in Sri Lanka and the future. “Essentially, the word on the street is that there’s no date for airports reopening,” Yapa shared, adding: “Overseas guests coming in is definitely out of the question. But once we have got Covid-19 under control and reopen our airports with clear quarantine guidelines and protocols in place, Sri Lanka has an opportunity to become one of the safest places to have destination weddings. This will, of course, depend on how the Government deals with the situation and handles things once airports open up again. For the moment, overseas guests coming in is not going to happen, but locals holding their own version of a destination wedding might be possible sooner rather than later, depending on how this second wave goes.”

Moving forward

While the wedding industry does have its unique challenges during these turbulent times, marriage is not likely to go out of style anytime soon. What’s important now is for couples to remember that even though the big wedding they’ve dreamt of for years may not be possible, this in no way means that their commitment to one another is any less valid or powerful. 

Yapa stressed the importance of remembering that the essence of a wedding is a couple choosing to share their lives with each other. “While everyone wants to have an amazing event to celebrate their special bond, at the end of the day, it’s about the two of them and their love for each other. It’s important to make sure that the stress, anxiety, and uncertainty of this tense time are kept at bay and for couples to move on with the rest of their lives together, even if it means postponing a big reception to take place on their first anniversary, or having a fancy reception later, so long as everyone stays safe and calm in the meantime.”