Wedding venues around the world are struggling to stay afloat as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to change the way all businesses operate.
Appeals within the hospitality, beauty, food and accommodation industries have resulted in many businesses being able to reopen their doors in South Africa, but a Midrand-based wedding venue has claimed that their sector is being ignored, and are in desperate need of answers.
The Forest Walk Venue wedding coordinator Daniela Bray told The Citizen that the family-run business is considering closing down this year and only reopening next year.
“It’s killing us, and now we’ve had to tell all our workers we can no longer help them,” Bray said.
Bray, her husband and their daughter are just one example of the many similar tales of affected wedding venues across the country that have so far claimed that no clarity from government has been received.
“We are not receiving any guidelines or regulations. We don’t want to do anything before getting the go-ahead from the president and departments. We are not getting any answers. Other sectors are reopening, why keep us closed and not in the loop?”
Cooperative governance and traditional affairs department spokesperson Mlungisi Mtshali explained that wedding venues were not included in lockdown Level 3 amendments. Mthsali indicated that it was not always clear why Cabinet chooses certain sectors to reopen, but that uncertainty due to Covid-19 means regular regulation assessments and audits.
“Cabinet needs to do an audit within regulations to see where the gaps are and look at inconsistencies of opening one sector and not another. The overall assessment of regulations is to see what sectors need to be brought on par. If we don’t do that, the regulations may look unbalanced.”
He said that amending and balancing regulations is a process, and does not imply that one sector is less important than another. As each sector is discussed, the implementation of protocols to lessen the spread of Covid-19 is considered. This is easier in certain sectors than in others.
But Bray argues that protocols are being considered at many venues including The Forest Walk Venue, and can be achieved.
She said that the venue’s reception hall can accommodate 50 people with a social distance of 1.5m. She suggested that the bar remain closed and that non-alcoholic drinks are served instead. Welcome drinks would also be served in the reception hall, to discourage people from clustering together.
“No one is saying anything, but it is not as if we would be doing anything illegal.”
Although Mthsali did not commit Cabinet to discussions with the wedding venue sector, he encouraged that as regulations are amended, more discussions will take place.
Department of tourism spokesperson Blessing Manale confirmed that due to not being able to fully control and regulate all gatherings, many sports, cultural and entertainment are still prohibited.
“There are already repercussions for almost all economic sectors, in the same venue as there are health repercussions for allowing all activities to resume at once (sic).”
Manale added that wedding venues were included in categories of tourism establishments that qualify for Covid-19 relief, “and we hope that all establishments seized the opportunity and applied”.
An integral part of any customer-facing business is customer loyalty, in addition to adhering to government regulations.
Agility Hospitality advisor Robyn Christie explained that it is not only about fulfilling regulations, “it is about winning public confidence, so that patrons want to come back and enjoy the experiences we provide”.
“The business value of maintaining the trust of patrons and employees alike has never been more significant than it is now in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Bray explained the difficulties of “killing the vibe” by telling prospective couples that they are not only uncertain about whether their big day will go ahead, but also laying out possible, significant changes.
“The brides and grooms are scared, and so are we. We’re trying to make a living, but we don’t want to advertise anything, and have tried to put some ideas out there to ask brides what they’re keen on, but they don’t bite.”
She said that compromise and understanding was required on both sides.
Having to adapt to a very different world to the one which the engagement proposal took place is no easy feat, but Bray said it was frustrating that they were not getting any feedback from couples on how to go about this change gently.
Initially, the Forest Walk Venue wanted to have couples and three guests be present for a much smaller and intimate ceremony, “even if it’s just lunch – but we don’t even know if we’re allowed to do that”.
She referenced one couple adamant to get married on the 1st of August, despite the current uncertainty. She said she could not provide them with clear answers, which means they are either going to cancel their booking, or do not want to compromise.
“I don’t want us to get arrested or closed down, or get bad publicity.”
The pandemic has affected businesses big and small, but widespread economic difficulties provide little consolation for the wedding venue sector.
Bray and others need clarity, especially when other sectors continue to reopen, such as church services and funerals.
Mthsali’s optimism that more industries will be engaged is encouraging, but effectiveness will largely depend on how much time it takes to discuss the reopening of wedding venues in South Africa.
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