The failure to fully re-open wedding venues in Wales - as England is to do next week – is galling for Welsh weddings-based businesses who remain limited to events of less than 30 for the foreseeable future, says the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), which represents 28,000 farmers, land managers and rural businesses across Wales and England. Nigel Hollett, Director, CLA Cymru says, “Wales is ahead of England in fighting the virus, but behind on reopening the economy. It’s particularly tough for businesses which compete with English counterparts. The Welsh Government and its Westminster counterpart need to work more closely together in order to ensure valuable business is not lost in Wales if the restrictions are not eased in both countries together.”
“We welcome the short-term extension of the Welsh Government’s Emergency Resilience Fund assistance for hospitality businesses, but this may be not be enough – or for long enough – to save many businesses. But weddings are different from the wider tourist and hospitality trade – and for those planning a wedding, there’s a heavy emotional cost. It’s time for a special package and special arrangements for the Welsh wedding sector”
While other businesses in the hospitality and entertainment sector have been able to adapt and re-open in May, weddings are still limited to 30 people. For most venues, this is insufficient to be viable. While English venues fully open again next week, Welsh businesses are yet to learn when they can fully open. Venues have already taken on significant debt to survive this far, and will make further losses if they have to operate the crucial summer season with limited numbers.
In a normal season, the Wales is part of a UK wedding sector which generates a staggering £1.2bn per month. However, as a celebration that brings people together, weddings have been disproportionately hit during the pandemic.
“The 30 guests cap makes a wedding too small to be a viable event for us. We lost much of our business here last year – and significant proportion of the 2021 wedding-season’s over. While it’s a major business set-back for us, for many of our guests a further postponement would result in a major disappointment both for them and their families – with so much emotion connected to the big day. Putting people’s lives on hold is a much a cost as the financial side,” say Viv and Lynne Pearce, who run a wedding venue business on Gower.
The financial loss in 2020 alone was a devastating £7bn, according to the UK Weddings Taskforce. That figure continues to climb, with around 320,000 weddings postponed or cancelled since March 2020. This is a huge setback for an industry that generated £14.7bn to the UK economy in 2019 and employs more than 400,000 people.
Early Welsh Government measures, such as the business rates freeze, proved a vital lifeline for many businesses. But, as the restrictions continue, support has been inadequate. The number of guests may be capped, but operational costs remain the same.
Therefore CLA Cymru is calling for:
- The Welsh Government to lift restrictions on guest numbers, and adopt an approach based on the actions venues can take to keep weddings safe, building on progress with accurate risk assessments, vaccinations and testing;
- Business Rates Relief to be extended to the end of the 2021/22 fiscal year for businesses prevented from operating at full capacity by Covid controls;
- Banks need to support wedding businesses better in the way they award government-backed loans.
Weddings aren’t organised overnight, and this support would provide confidence to businesses and planners alike.
The CLA has been supporting the development of Covid secure guidance for wedding venues and is part of the UK Weddings Taskforce, which has been campaigning for weddings to be treated like other sectors, such as hospitality.
CLA Cymru’s Nigel Hollett says:
“Wales is leading the other UK nations in its vaccination programme and in the low number of Covid 19 cases. This ought to be reflected in our plan for easing restrictions to businesses here.
“The Welsh Government’s next steps need to be based on individual venues’ risk assessment and protocols. It is not right that weddings should be treated differently to sporting events, cinemas, or hospitality venues. If the restrictions were to continue, some short-term measures must be implemented immediately. These include prioritising wedding businesses for local authority grants and freezing business rates until March 2022.”