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Impact of Social Distancing on the UK wedding industry, valued at £14 billion/year

Impact of Social Distancing on the UK Wedding Industry


Alison Hargreaves Updated:
29th of March 2023

Without government support the UK could lose a third of wedding venues by the end of 2020.

Covid-19 has brought the wedding industry to a standstill.  The UK Government’s Covid-19 recovery strategy (published May 11th) makes little reference to weddings but what we know is:

Step 1: weddings continue to be banned

Step 2: examining how to enable people to gather in small groups to facilitate weddings

Step 3: hospitality and personal care will reopen only if social distancing can be maintained.

The recovery strategy provides little clarity regarding how long ‘social distancing’ will need to continue to avoid a second peak of infections, or what conditions are likely to be imposed on the hospitality sector.  Restrictions such as reduced guest numbers and a ban on international travel will affect most weddings, but BAME communities will be disproportionately affected.  

If the government impose unreasonable limits on the number of guests who can attend a wedding, a huge number of 2020 and 2021 weddings will be postponed and the wedding industry, valued at £14 billion / year, is at serious risk.  

Guides for Brides has been helping couples plan their weddings for 25 years.  We are thought leaders in the industry and have 6 websites listing over 80,000 wedding suppliers.

We surveyed wedding venues to understand what impact the current crisis is having and how continued social distancing measures would impact their businesses. 

Wedding venues have undoubtedly been hard hit by the pandemic. For 88% of the 241 venues that responded to our survey, weddings are a significant or primary part of their business.  On average, they expect to host 64% less weddings than they had originally projected for 2020. 

What would be the impact of the government continuing to limit the maximum number of guests at a wedding?

Weddings are a time when family and friends gather together to celebrate the commitment being made between two people.  The surveyed venues told us that only 13% of weddings have 50 guests or less, and typically weddings are served by an average of 15 hospitality staff.

Percentage of wedding party sizes of day guests

Making a profit whilst numbers are limited is challenging.  How far the government go in limiting the size of weddings will have a significant impact on whether venues can operate without financial loss.

Impact of wedding size restrictions

If numbers are 50 or more, 66% of venues could at least break even.  And most can offer some element of upgraded package to protect their revenue.

Upgrades venues could offer couples

What is the impact if the government restricts venues to a % of usual dining capacity?

Rather than imposing a fixed maximum number at a social gathering the government may limit hospitality venues to a percentage of their usual capacity.

In this scenario, most venues could at least cover their costs at 60% of usual capacity. 

Impact of restriction based on the maximum capacity

What are the challenges?

There are numerous challenges for venues operating during social distancing, but the biggest challenge is couples’ willingness to get married when important guests are excluded.

What might prevent operations during social distancing

 With continued lack of clarity around future government restrictions on weddings, engaged couples are uncertain as to whether their wedding can, or should, go ahead. 

Only 22% of venues would be willing to refund couples that want to cancel because they cannot have as many guests as originally planned.

However, consumer rights organisations are advising couples that they should receive a full refund, including of their deposit.

“By law, deposits can't be 'non-refundable'.” - Which Consumer Rights Magazine

"These CMA guidelines effectively say it doesn't matter what's in the contract – if you're not delivering the goods or service to customers, they have rights, and they should be given a full refund.” - Martin Lewis

We explored ways in which venues could include guests who are vulnerable or cannot be there in person.

1) Extend the space available to the wedding party

Almost all have some outdoor space, with the majority having sufficient space for the whole wedding party to gather safely outside whilst maintaining social distancing.

Two-thirds of venues would be able to make some additional space available for a wedding, for example by adding a marquee or expanding into another part of the venue, to allow guests to spread out.

And three-quarters have the possibility of providing additional indoor space that could be used for shielded guests during the wedding breakfast.

The space venues have available for guests to spread out

2) Live-stream events to guests who cannot be there

Increasingly during lockdown events, which would usually have taken place in person, are being live-streamed and people are participating from home.  This includes school classes, concerts, exercise classes and theatre.  If numbers attending a wedding have to be limited, a larger circle of friends and family could share in the event from home.  Whilst not ideal, this may encourage some couples to go ahead with their wedding with a smaller number of guests attending in person.

Around two-thirds of venues could possibly offer this service.

Are venues equiped to live stream?

What financial support is there to help venues weather the storm?

If weddings of a reasonable size are not permitted during 2020, a third of venues feel they could be at risk of closure.

Impact of weddings not being a reasonable size

Venues have low confidence that their business insurance will support them during this time.

Confidence of venues that business insurance will cover their losses

It is disappointing, and frustrating to businesses, that insurers do not seem to be forthcoming in paying out to businesses affected by the current closure.

Forty-three percent of the venues we surveyed have applied for government assistance in the form of Bounce Back or CBILS, but the remaining fifty six percent either do not want to take on additional debt (35%) or are not eligible (21%).

How can the government help?

 We asked venues what would be the one most helpful thing the Government could do for them.  What venues most need are:

  • A clear timeframe of when restrictions will be lifted so that venues and couples can plan with some certainty;
  • Allow wedding parties of 50-100 guests (or 60% of usual capacity) with clear instructions on space per guest required;
  • Demand insurance companies pay out for business interruption;
  • Continue the furlough scheme as long as weddings are restricted in size;
  • A grant for loss of business and assistance paying cancellation refunds.

Summary

Covid-19 has brought the wedding industry to a standstill.  The UK Government’s Covid-19 recovery strategy (published May 11th) means that, for the time being, weddings continue to be banned and that when hospitality reopens (July 4th at the earliest), social distancing will need to be maintained.  If the government impose strict limits on the number of guests allowed at a wedding a huge number of 2020 and 2021 marriages will be postponed and the wedding industry, valued at £14 billion/ year, is at serious risk.

But there is a way ahead.  Whilst it is not financially viable for venues to make a profit whilst hosting small weddings, most venues could provide additional indoor and outdoor space to allow larger weddings to spread out and maintain a social distancing.  And two-thirds could offer live streaming so that those who cannot be there in person, because they are shielding or symptomatic, can feel involved. 

Venues are ready to make adjustments to enable weddings to go ahead safely.  They need the government to support them. 

Without government support the UK could lose a third of wedding venues by the end of 2020.

Alison Hargreaves photo

About the author


Alison Hargreaves

Alison founded Guides for Brides in 1995 and has been advising brides and businesses ever since. She has an unrivalled knowledge of the wedding industry and is part of an international network of wedding professionals and entrepreneurs. Alison frequently appears on podcasts and expert panels as well as judging various wedding awards.

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