This week’s Government announcement on the removal of crowd limits and vaccination passes is too little, too late for a struggling Kiwi wedding industry.
Wedding planners, vendors and couples planning to celebrate their big day have been repeatedly disappointed over the past two years by lockdowns, gathering restrictions and Covid-19 outbreaks.
While the industry has so far taken the inevitable setbacks on the chin, it was desperate to see a successful 2022, Wairarapa wedding planner and venue owner Paula Bevege says.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Wednesday that as of Friday, gathering limits for indoor venues would be increased to 200 under the Red setting, with no limit in the Orange setting. From April 4, vaccine pass requirements would be scrapped.
* Covid-19 NZ: Jacinda Ardern says vaccine passes don’t need to be scanned, Ministry of Health says they do
* ‘Not again’: Bride’s rollercoaster as Covid-19 shows up before wedding
* ‘You can’t work with Covid’: wedding industry grapples with restrictions, wants Government direction
But it won’t make an ounce of difference to a disappointing 2022 season, said Bevege.
“Next season is going to be really busy, but the [easing of the gathering limits] is too late, we are too close to the end of the season. Everyone has already planned for under 100 guests,” she said.
Wedding season typically runs from September through to May with a small percentage of couples getting married during the winter months.
“We only have eight months to make money, and when that’s taken away from us, it is really tough,” Bevege said.
Bevege owns Rose and Smith at Tauherenikau, and typically hosts 50 weddings a year, most of which have well over 100 guests. She is also a wedding planner and co-runs the Wellington Wedding Show.
Bevege has never seen the industry under such stress, and said the messaging from the Government around crowd numbers and Covid-19 rules hasn’t been clear.
“We really needed this season to be good… There will be a lot of businesses facing a lot of terrible decisions of what to do. It is just survival of the fittest and who can hang on the most from here.”
She said the relaxed restrictions won’t make much of difference to the current wedding season. “For the weddings in the next six weeks, it won’t make any difference. It’s too late, you can’t re-invite guests.”
That was the case for Stefan Heinrich and fiancé Tash Faulk who are set to get married above Lake Hayes on May 28.
When they got engaged two years ago, the couple had no idea how much planning, chopping and changing would go into just setting a wedding date.
Their wedding has now been planned with less than 50 guests and without Faulk’s mother who is unvaccinated and lives in Zimbabwe.
“We originally decided [to get married on] April 23 over in Zimbabwe because all our friends had never been to Africa, and I am originally from there – it could have been a great destination wedding,” said Faulk.
“When Covid kept going on, we realised we probably shouldn’t be planning a wedding at all, so we chose March 12 to just elope, have a small heli-wedding somewhere up in the mountains.”
When it was announced that the borders would open to visa-waiver countries from May, the couple’s plans changed again. Both have most of their relatives overseas – Heinrich’s in the UK and France, and Faulk’s in Africa.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the outdoor gathering limits on events will go from March 26, while indoor limits will increase to 200 people.
They settled on a small wedding of 46 guests, so they could fit within the requirements.
This week’s changes to the rules came too late for the couple to consider changing their plans again. They had financed their wedding around 46 people, and felt it rude to re-invite guests so late in the piece.
“When you grow up you always picture your wedding, but you never picture this,” said Faulk.
“We want to get into the property market, so we have to prioritise that now. We have been holding off [on our wedding] but have to get on with life.”
Queenstown wedding and events photographer Carla Mitchell said most of her clients who had larger weddings scheduled in 2022 had cancelled well in advance of this week’s announcement.
“The bigger weddings, and most overseas couples had already pulled the pin for their 2022 weddings as their guests need time to plan for an overseas trip. It’s not something they can pull together with little notice.”
The silver lining is that due to all the cancellations and postponements during 2021 and 2022, the next wedding season looks set to be one of the busiest ever.
Mitchell said since this week’s Government announcement, bookings have been coming through thick and fast.
“There have been a lot of enquiries from couples who are ready to book for a wedding this year, which is pretty last minute considering my normal lead time is one-and-a-half years,” she said.
“[In 2020] we said next summer is going to be the busiest summer ever, then again in 2021. But I think it will finally hit in 2023 when we are trying to fit in two years of postponements along with newly engaged couples who all want to get married on a Saturday in summer in Queenstown.”
Wānaka flower farmer Jenny Clark said she has seen an increase in enquiries since the changes to the traffic light system were announced.
“I’m definitely receiving more enquiries and all the other florists have a lot coming in too. It’s looking to be a crazy summer next year.”
A big part of the wedding market in the Central Otago region are couples from Australia, the US, UK and Asia, said Clark.
“We are pretty excited to be welcoming our international couples back to the country and helping them celebrate their wedding day.”
For Faulk, the bright news is that her brother will be able to fly from Australia for her wedding day and walk her down the aisle after their father passed away three years ago.
“I think it has finally all worked out, and we didn’t think it would. Now we can just look forward.”