When london couple molly and peter heard italy had gone into full lockdown in march, they called their wedding planner to cancel their upcoming 130,000 nuptials on lake como. but they were told that unless they rescheduled for a winter event this year rather than the spring ceremony they had planned, they would lose the thousands of euros they had paid in deposits.
In the early stages of the covid-19 pandemic, their experience was shared by hundreds of other couples planning to get married in italy, whose renowned beauty spots, from tuscany and the northern lakes to sicily, make it one of the worlds leading markets for luxury weddings.
We were being told we had to get married by december or lose our money, said molly, who asked that her full name not be used as she and her fianc have taken the wedding company to court.
Most companies have since softened their approach as they adapted to the crisis. but global travel curbs and uncertainty about refunds have contributed to the cancellation or postponement of an estimated 9,000 weddings planned by international couples in italy this year, according to assoeventi, the events and wedding companies arm of italys confindustria business lobby. some 85 per cent of the planned 210,000 italian weddings were also put on hold, it said.
Liz linkleter, a london-based wedding planner who specialises in high end so-called destination weddings, said the pandemic had led all her us and uk clients to postpone and rethink their events. about half her customers wed in italy. [they] are having second thoughts on destination even for 2021 and 2022. people are especially concerned about travel restrictions...many are opting to stay home and do something local, she said.
Michele boccardi, president of assoeventi, said the sector would lose almost all of an originally expected 10bn in revenues this year, with destination weddings accounting for a third of the losses. international weddings are the most lucrative ones for local economies because theyre generally luxurious and last three to seven days, he said.
Local economies are being severely affected. alongside lake como and tuscany, the southern regions of apulia, the amalfi coast and sicily will be worst hit, according to assoeventi.
Events and weddings support tourism and create 1m direct and indirect seasonal jobs across italy each year, with the economy of southern italy especially reliant on them, the business groups figures show. in apulia, destination weddings alone generated 1bn in revenues last year, it said. this year the figure is expected to drop by more than 90 per cent.
The economic impact of this years cancellations will be felt for years. most businesses revenue will be nil for 2020 and i fear for seasonal workers economic wellbeing, said mr boccardi.
At villa erba, one of the most sought after locations on lake como, all but one of the almost 40 weddings scheduled for this year have been postponed until 2021. piero bonasegale, director of the meetings and events venue once the home of aristocratic film director luchino visconti expects revenue for this year to be down more than 75 per cent.
We host many conferences and fairs, which is what will help sustain our business this year. weddings were all moved to next year except for a british couples one in august, mr bonasegale said.
Italy now allows wedding parties to take place but imposes stringent social distancing and face mask requirements. with people unable to dance or hug, most couples have opted to postpone, leaving the 46,000 businesses including planners, venues, caterers and florists that make up the sector scrambling for survival.
Mr boccardi said the government had given the industry little support and predicted the smallest businesses would struggle to stay afloat.
This added to the uncertainty for couples, said ms linkleter: before making arrangements and paying deposits you also have to consider whether [local] suppliers will still be around next year.
Many small catering and marquee companies have already shut. however, larger businesses, such as flower designer vincenzo dascanios eponymous luxury events production company, expect the negative impact to be temporary.
Our 2019 revenue was 23m, we expect a 50 per cent drop this year. the impact has been massive but business is picking up and this is a new era for companies with a vision, mr dascanio said.
Barbara colombo, founder of milan-based sinfonia wedding, said some companies themselves are partly responsible for their troubles. some operators must stop feeling [like] artists and start feeling and behaving like entrepreneurs, she said.
With the industry composed of countless small operators, it had struggled to set up a strong business association to defend its interests, she argued, adding: this would have been a game changer during the pandemic.
Mr bonasegale remains optimistic. just as businesses have had to adjust, he said, their clients would accept stretching the wedding season across the full year rather than just the summer weekends and would come to terms with other restrictions.
We now know we must wear a face mask and wash our hands frequently, he said. its not the end of the world and its not a good enough reason to give up on the opportunity to get married in italy.