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Local wedding industry takes massive hit

New report breaks down just how much sea to sky wedding industry suffered—but hope is on the horizon 
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Couples are finding unique ways to elope in Whistler during the pandemic.

Like most wedding vendors in the Sea to Sky corridor, Carlee Cindric was preparing for a 2020 season that was poised to be busier than ever when the pandemic hit. 

While her wedding and event planning company, Pocketful Productions, managed to squeeze in eight winter weddings ahead of the March shutdown, almost immediately her calendar was erased. 

“My events were pretty much cancelled,” Cindric said. “The majority of my wedding clients postponed to [2021]. Those who did get married went down to very small weddings and didn’t need our services. It was definitely a slow year from March onwards. I’m so thankful I got the work at the beginning of the year.” 

It might come as no surprise, but B.C.’s booming wedding industry came to a screeching halt last summer. A new report recently released from hellosafe.ca, a platform that compares Canadian insurance companies, delves further into the impact. 

The estimated financial loss for the entire province’s industry is more than $158 million. Before the pandemic hit, in February 2020, revenue was up 40.9 per cent from 2019. 

The report breaks the numbers down further: In Whistler, there were 56 weddings celebrated in January and February 2020 and just 30 weddings in the same months this year, accounting for a 46.43 per cent decrease. (Pemberton was not included in the report.) 

One niche that continued to thrive? Elopements. To that end, vendors integral to making even a small wedding happen still found themselves busy last year. 

“[The couple] still needs that core group of vendors,” said wedding officiant Jeremy Postal, also known as the Whistler Wedding Pastor. 

“Photogr aphy, somewhere to do the wedding, and whoever is going to legalize it. My experience has been a little different from hair and makeup, rental companies, or DJs.” 

Throughout the pandemic, Postal has found himself officiating small weddings and elopements everywhere from picturesque places in the valley to various mountaintops. For one celebration, the bride and groom skied down after the ceremony. In another, a couple flew up to the Pemberton Ice Cap and snowmobiled to the ice caves. 

“There was still so much uncertainty [in the summer] that we slowed down, but by the end of the year, I would say we were pretty on par,” Postal said.  “[But] that’s not true for a lot of people.” 

Looking ahead to 2021, that trend of unique elopements seems to be sticking around. 

“People are going, ‘What can we do that’s different or unique? Let’s have fun with our wedding,’” Postal said. “I’m pretty much sold out for spring and summer. For summer, I’ve been turning away a lot of work. I’ve been referring them elsewhere. People are COVID weary and saying, ‘We just want to move on with life.’”

That might be true, but predictions are 2022 is going to be a massive comeback for the industry. 

The report calculates annual wedding industry revenue in the province could reach an unprecedented $900 million. While 23,866 weddings took place in B.C. in 2019, that dipped to 18,487 in 2020, with predictions for a rise to 21,433 in 2021 and 31,645 in 2022. 

That’s the hope for Marc Cousineau, whose Sea to Sky rental company Spark Event Rentals was devastated by the pandemic. 

“We’ve had an uptick in inquires; people that are hopeful for July, August, September weddings, but this latest kick in the pants from the provincial health officer [has] dampened a lot of people who were on the fence,” he said. 

“We’ve had some cancellations and postponements ‘til 2022. One or two of those were 2020 weddings, so they have a two-year delay. None of this is to be critical of Dr. Bonnie Henry; it’s what was needed, but from a business perspective, it’s devastating.”

However, he added, the company is sticking it out with the hope that the industry will be back on track next year.

“We’re in the right business at the right location,” Cousineau said. 

“More and more weddings here are people coming from the Lower Mainland and U.S. destinations. People are flying in. They love the scenery or they have a personal connection from when they used to live in the Sea to Sky corridor … I have hope. That’s why we’re waiting and not folding and going. I have hope it’s going to come back.”