A short interview with Jo Bertolino, celebrant and CEO of Tuscanpledges.com, on the impact of the pandemic in the wedding industry sector so far.
Q: Let’s start from the beginning, what was the situation like before the pandemic?
A: 2020 was supposed to be the year of the weddings, and how could we blame the couples who wanted such attractive figures in their wedding date? A bit like what happened on 10.10.2010, or 11.11.2011, except these were not summer dates, and only a few couples had taken advantage of those special figures. The pandemic caught us unprepared: the wedding industry, especially the destination wedding sector, was thriving, and no one expected such a dramatic setback. At first, we all thought the press was exaggerating the news on the new virus, but little by little, we had to give in, and 2020 became the annus horribilis for all of us.
Q: How did you deal with the events that had already been planned? Were they postponed to this year or have they been cancelled altogether?
A: we tried to save the summer events, when Italy was quite sure that the worst was over. We were able to save some Italian weddings but there was nothing we could do for the couples who had to fly from abroad. The problem was not for the couples, but particularly their guests. No couple could force their friends/relations to fly if they didn’t feel like it. Then the companies started cancelling flights. Luckily, the dream of getting married in Italy, and in Tuscany in particular, is so vivid that most of them decided to postpone to 2021 and 2022. Unfortunately, not everyone was able to make that decision: in some cases, the age factor weighed on their choice, and if they were planning to start a family, waiting a year or two could be crucial.
Q: You have worked in the wedding industry for years now. Do you think the damage done to the sector is permanent? And if not, how long do you think it will take to go back to some kind of normality?
A: 2021 is marking a recovery; the fact that Italy is in step with the other European countries as for number of vaccinations (we are currently the second country in the EU) makes us hope we will soon regain the previous working pace. The May and June events were lost, but the Covid-free flights are a great resource. Unfortunately, as of June 21st, the Italian Health minister issued a decree according to which all UK nationals traveling from the UK into Italy must undergo a 5-day quarantine followed by a PCR swab (which means waiting at least 48 hours for the results), and this would burn a week of their stay. I honestly feel this is more of a retaliation against the British government who is still considering Italy as an amber country. All the couples I am working with have been fully vaccinated and they can prove it: therefore, what is the need for a 5-day quarantine if they have to undergo Covid tests as they fly out and when they reach Italy? As of July 1st, apparently US and Canadian nationals will be allowed back in Italy, but not everyone is willing to fly the long hours. We do have a few elopements of US couples in September. The other main problem is that organizing a wedding can’t be done overnight: think of all the preparation a wedding requires, and that takes time and lots of it!
Q: Has the Italian government helped the wedding industry adequately?
A: Unfortunately it hasn’t. The government did not consider that in denying helping us, it has penalized not only wedding planners, photographers, florists, caterers, musicians, that is, the most obvious parties. It has chosen to forget the satellite activities involved in weddings: food and wine must be produced, flowers grown, new cameras assembled, and then the clothes, the jewels, the honeymoons, to mention just a few.
Q: Did this dramatic crisis in the sector force you to reinvent you, or do you think there is no need and the season will start again like before?
A: I’ve heard of some of us who really reinvented themselves successfully! I am also a translator, so I have had some work, of course not the same amount as before. But I believe that as soon as the season starts, we will complain of having too much work. Foreign couples are dying to get married in Italy!
Q: Since you are expecting a wave of wedding sweeping over, do you think there will be some who will improvise themselves as wedding professionals, to bite into the cake? And if so, what would you suggest that your couples do?
A: Like in any sector, there have always been instant wedding planners who think they can work after a weekend course, or who have organized their own weddings and feel prepared enough. In my field, I know there are a few instant celebrants, and in the past, I knew there was work for everyone so I was not worried. With the economic crisis triggered by the pandemic, I understand that the couples are trying to save by asking a friend to officiate, or looking for celebrants that charge less. I am still not worried, I see that word of mouth works beautifully, from couples who used our services, or wedding planners who have known and appreciated us for years.
I would like to ask the couples who are starting the process to think of which is the most important moment in their wedding day. I know they will reply “the ceremony”. So the question is, do you want to have a meh ceremony, or one that you and your friends and relations will cherish forever?