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Australia COVID-19 pandemic forces wedding venue cancellations as celebrants count cost

05:55  16 march  2020
05:55  16 march  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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a man wearing sunglasses posing for the camera: Leteisha Warner and Alex Johnson are delaying their wedding due to coronavirus. (Supplied: Leteisha Warner) © Provided by ABC NEWS Leteisha Warner and Alex Johnson are delaying their wedding due to coronavirus. (Supplied: Leteisha Warner) It's a problem no engaged couple could have possibly seen coming — a global pandemic causing them to postpone their wedding.

But as COVID-19 spreads in Australia and across the world, that is exactly what some couples have done.

Leteisha Warner and her fiance Alex Johnson decided to delay their dream wedding in Perth's Swan Valley just a month out amid rising concerns about the virus.

It was an upsetting decision for the pair to make, but Ms Warner said it was one they ultimately made to protect their guests.

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"I'd be a lot more upset if somebody came to our wedding and, for whatever reason, did come in contact with it [coronavirus] and something happened to them," she said.

"I would feel so much worse than just delaying the wedding."

With loved ones travelling from overseas and interstate, the couple thought holding the wedding was risky, especially given the compromised health of some elderly family members, who have respiratory issues, heart and liver conditions.

"It's something that can be carried by person to person and it's just a scary thought," she said.

It caused some of her older relatives to consider not attending and that was when the couple of five years decided to pull the pin.

"The point of having the wedding was to celebrate with family," she said.

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Marriage celebrant feels the strain

For marriage celebrant Candice Bydder the spread of coronavirus has put increasing uncertainty on her small business operation, with two of her April weddings already cancelled.

"I do expect that, certainly for the rest of the year, anyone of the weddings that I have booked could potentially not go ahead," she said.

"The difficult part of it is that I've booked this date and I've turned away enquiries for this date, so if I end up with a cancellation, that's money that I'm not making," she said.

Ms Bydder said within the wedding industry there was growing concern about the virus, as many celebrants were facing the same scenario as small business owners.

While her terms and conditions covered her for cancellations, she said it did not help with the "human element" of wanting to accommodate clients on one of the happiest days of their lives.

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Concern over long-term cancellations

At Chapel Farm reception centre in the Swan Valley, owner Darren Walker said he was not too worried about the short-term impact on business as no weddings had yet been cancelled.

"If it went for six months or a year, crikey, I don't think many businesses would survive … but I don't think that's going to be the case," he said.

But Mr Walker said he understood the concern — he too was due to get married in a months' time, on April 11, the same date as Ms Warner and Mr Johnson were originally booked in.

"You certainly don't plan for something like this," he said.

"I can feel for the brides and grooms that are concerned because I'm one of them,"

Mr Walker said he and fiance Melanie McAullife were preparing as normal for their Easter Saturday wedding, but expected their Balinese honeymoon would fall through.

'Brides aren't panicking'

General manager of Bishop's House restaurant and functions venue in Perth's CBD, Matthew Schwind, said the wedding industry as a whole was "nervous" and he was developing a business strategy in preparation for the outbreak's spread.

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Mr Schwind said he was hoping business would continue as normal until the end of April because it was one of his busiest wedding periods, with about a dozen functions booked in over the next two months.

"None of my brides are potentially panicking," he said.

While all the weddings were scheduled to go ahead, Mr Schwind said guest numbers had decreased.

At the weekend, one of his weddings was short 10 guests who were supposed to travel from Italy, but could not make it due to travel restrictions.

Mr Schwind said about 10 corporate clients had cancelled or postponed functions because of coronavirus.

"Some of the clients are being sensible and don't want their staff or attendees to be travelling in this current environment, and others are just being cautious and avoiding public events."

"It's a situation that's unavoidable," he said.

Silver lining for function venues

At Sandalford Winery, in Perth's Swan Valley, chief executive Grant Brinklow said the impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak were also being felt, with up to a dozen wedding and corporate events — equivalent to nearly 2,000 guests — cancelled or postponed because of the pandemic.

But Mr Brinklow said there was a "silver lining of sorts", as the winery had picked up additional guests because events that were scheduled to be overseas were being held locally instead.

He said passengers from extra cruise ships that had docked in Fremantle after being diverted from other countries in Asia had also given the business a boost.

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