Australia’s wedding industry faces mass coronavirus cancellations

Vendors in the wedding and events industry are facing mass cancellations and months without substantial work, but many say they are not eligible for government support and stimulus measures because they operate as sole traders.

a person sitting next to a body of water: A woman in a mask in front of a wedding portrait session at the Rocks in Sydney. Many sole-traders rely on the wedding industry, but are now facing months without as coronavirus sparks mass cancellations.© Photograph: Jenny Evans/Getty Images A woman in a mask in front of a wedding portrait session at the Rocks in Sydney. Many sole-traders rely on the wedding industry, but are now facing months without as coronavirus sparks mass cancellations.

Advice to avoid large gatherings of more than 100 people – in a bid to limit the spread of the coronavirus – has already prompted many couples to cancel, downsize or postpone imminent wedding ceremonies.

Sophie Lord, the publisher of independent bridal magazine Hello May, said in the past 24 hours she had spoken to wedding vendors whose cancellations and postponements already totalled $50,000.

“These vendors are often the sole or primary income earner, so needless to say, the devastation and worry this has caused in terms for them being able to provide for their family or pay their mortgages is real,” Lord said.

Lord said it had been frustrating to hear the federal government refer to “small” businesses as those earning less than $50m a year.

“It’s madness to think the government is not offering more guidance and financial support to these sole-traders and small businesses. It’s these sole-traders and small businesses, particularly in the wedding, entertainment and events industries, that have been hit the hardest by these mass cancellations and desperately need the support of the government in such trying times.”

Lauren Campbell, a Canberra-based photographer, said most people who worked in the wedding industry often asked only for relatively small deposits.

“Wedding vendors who are typically sole-traders include photographers, videographers, celebrants, musicians, DJs, cake-makers, florists, stylists, event planners and coordinators, designers, independently-owned venues, hair and makeup artists, and some wedding dress designers,” Campbell said.

“We all want to be there for our clients to make this crisis as smooth as possible. If weddings are cancelled en masse, then all of our industries will lose their income for the foreseeable future. We would prefer that our couples postpone rather than cancel.

“Obviously everyone’s safety comes first, and what we would love to see is couples downsizing their wedding to an elopement and only going ahead if it is safe to do so. Or rescheduled to a weekday instead of a weekend to help us vendors still earn a living.”

Most of the federal government’s $17.6bn economic stimulus is targeted at welfare recipients and businesses that employ staff. The prime minister, Scott Morrison, has said that focus is “about keeping Australians in work”.

Australia has about 1.5 million sole-traders – more than three in five businesses don’t employ anyone other than the owner.

Videographer Ellena Paskevicius said her main source of income was freelance editing for other companies, which would likely dry up.

“[I have] frustration towards the government when they’re not putting any measures in place to help support freelancers or the self-employed, but on the news they’re talking about trying to support everyone.”

Some events venues have been hit particularly hard, with the coronavirus outbreak coming on the back of the bushfire emergency.

The co-owners of venue The Barn on the Ridge at Milton on the New South Wales south coast – two couples in their 30s – bought and began renovating the property in November last year. They have now twice postponed plans for an open day to help launch the venue.

“We thought we would be ready to have an open day in January or February to capture some of the late-2020 weddings,” one of the owners, Mindy Moore, told Guardian Australia.

“[Because of the bushfires] we’ve only now just finished the renovations, we’re months behind where we thought we would be and now this … it’s just setting us back even further. We were not operating last year so not eligible for small business government funding.”

Moore said the property was open for private viewings but that the open day was a key marketing tool to attract future weddings, which are typically booked at least a year in advance.

“The four of us … have invested our entire lives into this dream and could likely all come crashing down on us if we can’t find a way to earn income in the next 12 to 24 months,” she said. “We’re all very positive people. We’re always trying to find the silver lining, but that doesn’t pay the mortgage.”


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