SAN JOSE, Calif. - Wedding planning, by nature, is almost never an easy task. But throw in a global pandemic, accompanied by public health orders and social distancing mandates put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19 - and it has turned the wedding industry on its head.
Natalie Alvanez, director of sales and marketing at the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, has seen the fallout first-hand.
Over the past six months, Alvanez has had to make countless difficult calls to anxious couples, canceling, postponing or downsizing dozens of weddings. And her sales and event team has been gutted, leaving nearly all the duties of putting on a wedding ceremony on her shoulders. No sooner does she take one step forward than she's forced to take one step back in the face of ever-changing restrictions.
In April, for instance, Alvanez built out new "micro-wedding" and elopement packages so couples could still enjoy the outdoor grounds of the Winchester Mystery House. After finally getting the all-clear to move ahead with the events, she was only able to host a couple of weddings before the county put out a new directive that outdoor wedding ceremonies were permitted but receptions of any kind were not - meaning her "micro-wedding" package was now off-limits as well.
To understand how the pandemic is affecting the wedding industry and how wedding planners like Alvanez are adjusting, this news organization recently connected with Alvanez for an interview that has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: How have you tried to adapt to the new restrictions brought on by the pandemic?
A: Back in March or April when all of this started, I told my team to refocus from the corporate side of events to the social side. Unlike corporate business events that could potentially be delayed from happening for another year or more, social yearning will always be there and no matter what, people are still going to want to get married. Elopements and smaller wedding celebrations had already become a trend over the last few years as you started to see more people - especially Millennials - go for more of these exotic elopements on top of a mountain or whatnot. The younger generation it seemed was starting to pivot away from wanting to spend $30,000 to $40,000 on a wedding for one day and focus more on the experience. So I, and I'm sure many others, figured we could also offer something during the pandemic when most other options are no longer available.
Q: Can you explain what a micro-wedding and an elopement package consist of?
A: At Winchester Mystery House, an elopement package is the ceremony only. Couples can bring up to 20 guests and they can have their ceremony in the front garden. And then with the micro-wedding, the idea was to have the ceremony in the front garden and then it included a mini-reception in our central garden with nice string lights and all of that. It included the space, tables and chairs and then we connect them with preferred vendors - a photographer, florist, cake maker and caterers. Both are basically allowing the couple to enjoy the rental space and scenery but at a much-reduced cost. Normally, we do weddings that are starting at $7,000 to $10,000 for a six-hour rental of all our event spaces - outdoor with the front and central gardens and indoor with the greenhouse and carriage house. Now we're doing a much smaller footprint for way less people, so it's $2,000 for the elopement package and $3,500 for the micro-weddings.
Q: What are wedding planners like yourself most cautious about in this moment?