Villa Corinthia fb photo

With uncertainty surrounding mass gatherings and events, many couples are eyeing the end of 2021 to host their weddings, in the hopes that the vaccine drive will allow for fewer restrictions.

2020 was undoubtedly a disastrous year for the wedding industry, including all businesses that feed into it, such as catering, retail, florists, beauty, hair, wedding planners, chauffeur services and more.

Many couples set to marry in 2020 postponed to 2021, however, February and March’s uptick in cases, and the resulting introduction of new restrictions, has created further uncertainty.

Currently, a temporary ban on wedding celebrations is in place until 1st June. Once the season opens, weddings will have to be held under strict COVID protocols and restrictions. It is possible that traditional weddings may not be held until herd immunity is reached. Reports indicate this could take place by mid-summer, however, the last quarter of 2021 is generally perceived to be a more realistic target.

Until mass gatherings can resume under pre-COVID conditions, previous restrictions that are likely to be reinstated include a limit of 100 persons indoors and 300 persons outdoors, with one person per four square meters permitted. Dancefloors are not permitted, with guests having to remain seated throughout the celebration.

BusinessNow.mt spoke with several operators of wedding venues around the island to gain a clearer picture of how the 2021 wedding industry in Malta is shaping up.

Villa Corinthia fb photo1
Villa Corinthia, located at the Corinthia Palace, Attard

The team at Corinthia Palace, Attard, acknowledged that weddings pushed from 2020 have now been pushed further to October 2021 onwards, as well as into 2022, “particularly following the current restrictions and uncertainty about them changing”.

Justin Zammit Tabona, Managing Director at Infinitely Xara, operators of the popular Xara Lodge (Rabat) wedding venue, said it appears more weddings will take place at the venue in 2021 compared to last year, “especially as more and more people get their vaccination”.

“In 2020, we were all unsure as to what the virus is and therefore most couples postponed their wedding to 2021. This year, there are a few couples who are willing to go ahead with their wedding, even though it means not having the ‘normal’ wedding we are all used to locally,” he commented.

Veronica Zammit Tabona
Veronica Zammit Tabona, Managing Director at Villa Arrigo Ltd

Veronica Zammit Tabona, Managing Director at Villa Arrigo Ltd, a popular wedding venue in San Pawl Tat-Targa, said that the situation is “very fluid”, adding that if outdoor events are permitted with the previous restrictions in place, the venue can accommodate up to 300 guests seated.

At the Corinthia Palace, the team reported that some weddings have reduced in size to meet the approved capacity with the seated-only option, while others are holding with the potential to move to 2022 until there are further updates on restrictions. The team has seen an increase in inquiries for sit down weddings, ranging from 20-100 guests.

As for the team’s optimism for recovery to pick up in 2021, a spokesperson revealed that any wedding inquiries for 2021 are for less than 20 people – a far cry from what the venue usually sees under pre-COVID conditions.

Asked to quantify the loss of weddings in 2020 and 2021, compared to 2019, a spokesperson said activity is undoubtedly down, with Villa Corinthia (located at the Corinthia Palace) being its primary wedding venue, restrictions have had an impact on its average wedding size.

“We have not lost any weddings fully, yet! Although should the restrictions continue, and we are only able to facilitate our maximum capacity as per the restrictions of 100 guests we do predict we will lose up to four weddings.”

The spokesperson also confirmed that any bigger weddings planned at the venue are all for summer 2022.

Justin Zammit Tabona WW Photo
Justin Zammit Tabona, Managing Director at Infinitely Xara

As for Infinitely Xara, Mr Zammit Tabona says that COVID-19 has made many rethink how to plan a wedding.

He said that this year, “people are either resigning to the fact that weddings will probably remain with restrictions and be seated. Some couples do not want to postpone for another year and will go ahead with their celebration including restrictions, and then there are still those who are willing to wait and postpone another year”.

Nonetheless, he added, with the recent semi-lockdown and a temporary ban on wedding celebrations, Infinitely Xara has received some postponements from couples who feel it will be safer to get married towards the end of 2021, “especially since the vaccination process will be quite advanced”.

The Xara Lodge - fb photo
The Xara Lodge, Rabat

Mr Zammit Tabona further added that such couples also look forward to their honeymoons, further adding to a desire to have weddings towards the end of the year.

“We have also seen a number of couples who decided to carry on with their special day and just have an intimate dinner for their immediate family in our Michelin Star restaurant at The de Mondion at The Xara Palace – Relais & Châteaux in the wonderful setting in Mdina.”

Onto the loss of business in 2020 and 2021, compared to 2019, he highlighted that it is not just the wedding venues that suffered, but the strain has been placed on all parties, such as catering, wedding planners, dressmakers, chauffeur services, florists, entertainers and more.

Compounding the loss of business, as described by the team behind Corinthia Palace, is the need for downsized weddings until more traditional styled ones can resume.

Mr Zammit Tabona expressed optimism that should the vaccination process continue at this rate, and case numbers continue to come down, “we should be able to see some light for the last quarter of 2021, not only in the wedding industry but for hospitality and catering in general”.

Villa Arrigo - arrigogroup.com.mt
Villa Arrigo, San Pawl Tat-Targa, Naxxar

At Villa Arrigo, its Managing Director remarked that thankfully, it did not receive many cancellations. Preferring not to quantify the loss to her business, Veronica Zammit Tabona described it as “hefty”. She too, however, is eyeing the last quarter of 2021 for recovery, in the hopes that Malta achieves at least 70 per cent herd immunity.

Asking all three venues what the biggest challenge has been to their business so far, the spokesperson for Corinthia Palace said undoubtedly, it is a lack of clarity on current restrictions.

“It causes unnecessary stress not just on the hotel team but on the couples, as we try to decipher the restrictions to explain to couples. This applies to all business for our meeting and events team. With Malta being the size it is, there is only so much staycation business for everyone, we would all like to have more rooms occupied.”

For Infinitely Xara’s Managing Director, he too cites the limited internal tourism to prop up the local hospitality industry.

“We are obviously not seeing the tourism numbers that we usually experience and are having to rely on the local market in both our restaurants and at the Xara Palace. It has been a very difficult year for the whole team, working with restrictive measures and keeping up the morale.

“Overall, I am very positive that in a way the challenges have brought us closer together as a team, we rely on each other and we all work hard to create The Xara family spirit.”

As for Villa Arrigo, Ms Zammit Tabona says that above all challenges, coping with the fixed costs has been the biggest hurdle.

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