November 26, 2020

Couples are still planning destination weddings despite covid-19

When Zach Hill and his fiancee got dinner with friends in February, much of the conversation centered around the coronavirus outbreak in the location of their upcoming June wedding: Italy. Even though it was still months away, the Canadian couple worried that their wedding could have major problems.

But after a reassuring call with their Tuscan wedding venue, they still didn’t think they would need to reschedule their nuptials to 2021. “We thought that it would clear up … [our planner] was pretty insistent that things were normal in Tuscany,” Hill says. Two weeks later, the Italian government imposed a nationwide lockdown.

Eventually, the couple made the call to postpone their wedding until May 2021, even though, as Hill notes, “based on Italian regulations, we could do our wedding right now.” Italy has reopened to travelers from some countries, including Canada, but it remains closed to Americans as part of the European Union ban.

Hill and his fiancee are one of many couples who are optimistic that their destination weddings can go on next year but in a different reality. Rather than canceling altogether, couples are opting to reschedule to avoid sunk costs, and venues are happy to do so in an effort to not lose the business.

In a normal year, up to 25 percent of couples getting married choose a destination wedding, and for U.S. couples, around 40 percent of destination weddings take place internationally, according to a study by Research and Markets. Couples sometimes view a far-flung event where fewer people will attend as cheaper, but destination weddings are 11 percent more expensive than hometown weddings, according to a survey by WeddingWire.com.

Even with distancing measures in place, hotels around the world are planning to host weddings in 2021 for much bigger crowds than just a few dozen guests.

Couples Resorts, a collection of four resorts in Jamaica, told The Washington Post via email that the properties have a total of 149 weddings booked for 2021 and that at the moment, private events can be held for up to 250 people.


A set up for a small destination wedding at Couples Tower Isle. (Couples Resorts)

Il Salviatino, a hotel and wedding venue on 12 acres in Florence, plans to reopen next year and says it has seven weddings scheduled. There is a 250-person capacity outdoors with social distancing in place, and attendees will be required to sign “health declarations and liability waiver forms upon arrival,” according to the venue. One other catch: No dancing allowed.

A spokesperson for Il Salviatino says the venue is anticipating more weddings of European couples than North American ones, given the current restrictions preventing American tourists from entering the European Union.


Il Salviatino in Florence, Italy. (Dianni di Natale Photographers)

But even Americans, who are not yet allowed into many regions, are planning weddings abroad. Mandi Fleishman, an Austin-based American Airlines flight attendant, postponed her late-2020 wedding in South Africa to October 2021. She currently isn’t allowed to visit the country where her wedding is set to take place.

“South Africa has very much gone on lockdown” she says. Fleishman has family in the destination that she was largely planning her 130-person event around. Her relatives don’t expect South Africa will reopen to any international visitors before February 2021.

For American guests, being invited abroad is anxiety inducing, too. Valerie of Charleston, S.C., who asked that her last name not be used, was invited to a May micro-wedding in Ireland, but she said she is undecided on whether she’ll go to her lifelong friend’s ceremony. The couple invited her and her infant son after the pandemic began, she says.

“I don’t know that there’s a mask policy at the wedding, and weddings seem like super-spreader events,” she told The Post in an email. “We would have to weigh the risk to both our family & the greater community. It’s a sacrifice no matter how you look at it … no matter what we decide.”

Both Hill and Fleishman acknowledge that some guests who were planning to attend have said they might skip out if there’s no vaccine or slowing of coronavirus cases, regardless of travel restrictions.

“Most of my friends coming are coming because they’re all airline crew members, so they’re used to traveling,” she says. Fleishman has not flown internationally since the beginning of the pandemic in March.

Being based in the United States, the potential worst-case scenario for Fleishman is South Africa continuing to bar international travel through 2021. “If for some reason … we have to cancel altogether, it would be a significant monetary loss,” Fleishman says.

Weddings and pre-wedding parties have been linked to outbreaks in the United States, most recently in Rhode Island, where 20 attendees were linked to a July cluster of coronavirus cases. A rural Maine wedding of 65 guests was also identified as super-spreader event in the region, causing 175 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and seven deaths.

“2020 has just been a really hard year overall, so the wedding seems like a bit of light at the end of the tunnel,” Fleishman says. As a flight attendant, she’s optimistic about travel returning, she says, “but things could change this winter, so I’m also bracing myself in case anything bad happens.”

Read more:

Love is not Tourism’: Couples separated by pandemic travel bans are fighting to be reunited

The summer of canceled plans: How 14 pro travelers spent the season

Has your travel bucket list changed during the pandemic? You’re not alone.

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