Much has been written about effects of the pandemic on the couples; but what about the suppliers who provide the services for them?
For Dr. Jay Evethe Choa, May 17 was supposed to be her happiest day. She was slated to wed her fiancé fellow Doctor Stephen Lowell Ciocon on that day. Instead, their union would have to wait indefinitely. Two months earlier, on March 16, President Duterte placed the whole Luzon in an unprecedented quarantine to combat the rising active cases of Covid 19. The public was caught off-guard including those like Choa, who have their wedding plans lined-up.
“We had thoughts of postponing mid-March when lockdown was declared,” says Choa. “The projected numbers based on case rates made us think that a church wedding this year will be unlikely.” Her assumptions proved prophetic. Despite Metro Manila easing as of this writing, mass gatherings are still prohibited until further notice. For an industry that thrives on mass gatherings, the situation is crippling.
Just look at the numbers. According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) there were 443,141 marriages in 2018. Of that number, 59% were officiated in religious rites or 261,435. The average of cost of a wedding in the country is around P566,000. Multiply the two numbers together and you get a staggering P147B! No wonder the industry has become a lucrative venture for start-ups. And just the past few years alone, more ingenious suppliers have offered creative services including grazing tables, donut walls, outdoor games just to name a few.
IMPACT ON SUPPLIERS
For eight-year host Mary Grace Khu (MARYGRACEvents host and singer) , she has received cancellations or postponements as early as February, “Majority of my 2020 clients from March onwards have decided to postpone their weddings and have it rescheduled to 2021 while some without a new date yet.”
A host is just one of the many suppliers a couple hire on their special day. Looking at a checklist of bride and breakfast, a couple could book between 10 to 15 suppliers. That means there is another dozen of suppliers like Khu who are also feeling the brunt of the impact.
Wedding designer Kristel Tan of Khristelle Tan Bridal Couture is one of those. She shares, “Wedding gown designers are not just greatly affected but devastated by the current situation. This is because wedding gowns are something we start working on six months before the wedding, so by the time ECQ happened, gowns were already ready for pick up, and fittings until August weddings were already scheduled. Completed gowns are left unpaid.”
From a high of seven figures, sales have dropped to just five. For Tan, she laments it is not even enough for the salary of their staffs. The wedding industry is not part of the “essential services” hence they are legally allowed to suspend operation. With suspension of operation, a business may opt not to pay salary to their employees; but for Tan, she still has a number of employees who expects to be paid nonetheless.
SURVIVING AND REINVENTING
From whatever angle we look, the theme for 2020 is just to survive. With the exemption of some businesses, most are just trying to get by and get over the year. The industry is no exemption, and even big suppliers are not immune. Popular restaurant Century Seafood Restaurant announced its closure last month. A staple venue for weddings and gatherings, its unthinkable that it would go down that path.
For other wedding suppliers, looking for alternatives to generate income became essential for survival. For Tan they began selling custom made embellish face masks with pocket filters to help cope with the effects of ECQ. “The proceeds actually go to our loyal staffs, so they have a bit of money to send to their family in the province. We are also in the process of producing an RTW collection of minimalist wedding dresses for civil and intimate weddings.”
Despite practically zero income, there are still businesses who refuse to let go of their employees, and still try to provide for them as much as possible. Tan is one of them.
As online trend continues, Khu, also a host of Shopee, is able to do livestream hosting from the comforts of her home. She is also an English as Secondary Language (ESL) instructor to Chinese students. With the next school year still in limbo, parents have also been scrambling to look for alternative education online. Khu plans on offering Mandarin tutorials. Elective classes like Mandarin lessons could spark interest in the near future.
Wedding photographer Ralph Lee of Ralph Lee Photography, who also saw a 90% postponement still feels privilege to be a photographer in this time. “People would definitely value the photos now even more compared before.” Like Tan and Khu, Lee is also venturing into different aspect of photography namely food and product photography. Capitalizing on the surge in online learning, Lee adds, “I also took upon a chance to teach basic photography to kids via zoom.”
NEW NORMAL FOR THE INDUSTRY
It is still uncertain when events will once again open; or when it will be back to pre-covid days. But as early as now, suppliers are crafting wedding packages for the new normal. Lee bares, “Since most people are now on their phones, we really pushed ourselves to post more content on our social media page and created a package that would really cater the new normal. Also dishing out discounts for normal wedding packages for those who are planning to have the weddings next year.”
Khu also plans to provide special arrangements for rescheduling of 2020 weddings to later schedule. Plus, she is looking into giving special rates for new early bookings for 2021 and 2022 packages.
Moving forward the industry is expected to pick up once restrictions are lifted, and gatherings once again allowed. However, recovery is dependent on how confident the couple are in having a large wedding. Until a vaccine is discovered, the new normal could well be just an intimate gathering.
Choa says, “In the event that a small gathering will be permitted this year, a realistic limit for us will be 30 people max. But at the back of my mind I am also resigning myself to a possible 2021 or 2022 church wedding.”
The wedding industry and its supplies just have to ride it out until then.