Mar 19, 2021 - Economy & Business

Here come the weddings

Illustration of the top of a wedding cake with the bride and groom figurines wearing surgical masks.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The latest sign of a return to normal: The traditional in-person wedding is plotting a comeback.

Why it matters: The colossal wedding business — already facing upheaval as marriage rates plummet — was left for dead by the pandemic. The effect crushed revenues for the lengthy list of love beneficiaries: vendors, florists, hotels, caterers, jewelers, makeup artists and more.

What they're saying: "From the summer on, the wedding industry will be great — short of another natural disaster," Richard Markel, head of the Association for Wedding Professionals International, tells Axios.

Flashback: As the virus exploded and the economy plunged into a deep hole, some weddings were canceled — but most ceremonies were scaled back and held on Zoom.

  • Last quarter, Etsy's wedding category grew 30% compared with the previous year — a nod to the fact that people were "finding a way to get married" and gather virtually, executives recently said.

By the numbers: Roughly 40% got married and hosted a reception last year, according to a survey of 7,600 couples by The Knot.

  • But nearly half with weddings originally scheduled for 2020 opted to postpone part of their celebration to this year or later.

What they're saying: "Even if they got married during the pandemic, they're going to have a real wedding celebration as soon as they're comfortable," Christopher Pappas, CEO of Chefs Warehouse, a food distributor, told analysts last month.

  • Pappas said there will be a "massive explosion of catering and parties," noting what he's heard from wedding planners and caterers.

Yes, but: The industry's revival is largely virus-dependent. The latest CDC guidance says to avoid events and gatherings. New York is allowing receptions and catered events as of this week — with the number of attendees capped. Massachusetts is also loosening restrictions.

  • "When we have a good proportion of the people vaccinated, I think you're going to see weddings in the normal way that we've seen within a reasonable period of time," NIAID director Anthony Fauci told Meet the Press last week. (He didn't specify when.)
  • One report from a wedding research group urges more caution, noting the industry won't even begin to see recovery until 2022 or 2023.

There are hints from the hotel industry — a huge wedding beneficiary —that plans are taking shape, setting off a possible earlier-than-expected revival.

  • One example: Playa Hotels and Resorts told Wall Street its revenue on the books for weddings this year is roughly half of what it was in 2019 — a quicker rebound than internal projections.
  • Worth noting: Some border restrictions remain, limiting destinations for weddings abroad (and honeymoons).

What to watch: "It's going to be interesting to see how how many people are still in the business ... a lot of vendors are not in business or they are already locked in to a wedding that they booked in 2019 at a different price," Markel says.

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