By JEFFARAH GIBSON
Tribune Features Writer
RESTRICTIONS may have eased, but the feelings of resentment from couples and wedding vendors who have been thrown into chaos over continued cancellations and postponements of weddings continue.
The newest change now allows for weddings being hosted in a religious facility to have more than 20 people in attendance, provided the number does not exceed one-third of the capacity of the venue.
Physical distancing, mask wearing and sanitisation protocols, and protocols issued by the Bahamas Christian Council (BCC) and approved by the Ministry of Health must be followed.
While the restrictions may allow for more than 20 people to attend a wedding based on the size of the church, this change has not made all brides and grooms-to-be happy.
“What about the people who do not desire to have a religious wedding,” asked Crystal Deveaux, who is soon to be married.
“My fiancé and I do not want to get married in a church, so we are still stuck."
Crystal and her fiancé have been trying to determine the best route to take concerning their wedding celebrations. Had it not been for the emergency orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they would have had their big day last year with a guest count of at least 75.
But now, they said, they have been pushed and pulled in all directions, and have had to delay the wedding. Crystal said she is even entertaining the idea of eloping overseas at this point.
“Since I cannot have the wedding I want at home, then we think it may only make sense to look for maybe a better experience elsewhere. I would love to have my wedding here and spend money with the local vendors, but the government is not making that easy,” she said.
While brides, grooms and wedding professionals understand the government is doing its best to keep everyone safe, most agree that is also impossible to host a wedding under these circumstances if certain precautions are taken. If the restrictions remain in place for a longer period of time it could mean the death of an industry that has been extremely profitable for the Bahamas.
“Some would expect us to celebrate (at the easing of restrictions),” said Tommy Stubbs, the executive producer of the hugely successful Bahamas Bridal Show that would have celebrated its 32nd last year.
Mr Stubbs has been vocal about this issue for many months now and even made a proposal to the government for them to work hand-in-hand with the wedding industry, but he has not gotten any feedback.
The relaxed restrictions, he said, are however duly noted.
“It's a small token of appreciation which we'll accept after one full year with zero to 20 attendees at weddings...responsibilities placed with the Bahamas Christian Council where wedding ceremonies may be only held in religious facilities with additional persons. It's a good step in the right direction, especially for couples and their families and friends to hold larger ceremonies. We assumed government considers BCC as the only wedding experts. We hope for dialogue with BCC,” he said.
Mr Stubbs said he wished this decision had been made sooner.
“We could have been at this point since October, the height of weddings,” he said.
Mr Stubbs, who is a consultant at Buttons Bridal & Formal Wear, echoes the sentiments of those in the industry who believe many businesses will not survive if there is not a measured approach to how weddings can happen locally in 2021.
The average Bahamian wedding is usually a large-scale affair, with many having around 150 to 200 guests.
“The (new) orders didn't change on wedding ceremonies anywhere else and made no changes to wedding receptions, which is the bulk of wedding income for our vast number of vendors. So there is not much to celebrate. It's a long way to business recovery. And without a stimulus package or incentives, the three to five-year business recovery now begins with small steps. Many vendors are gone from our industry,’ he said.
Mr Stubbs and his team have hosted the Bridal Show for almost two decades and he said they have the expertise to manage large-scale events. He believes the government and the industry can strike a balance when it comes to hosting weddings.
He said he has consistently reached out to the government for feedback as it relates to relaxing restrictions even more, so that couples can have the wedding they want, and vendors can get back to work.
“If you can hire a wedding planner, you can hire someone who can handle the safety and health measures that need to be in place so that people can have a proper wedding, one where everyone leaves happy, and we ensure social distancing. Keep in mind that the Bahamas Bridal Show has a staff of over 30 ushers and a team of 100 members. Those same persons we use can help with the show and come on board," he said.
"We can assess venues to see if they are appropriate to host weddings of a specific number, help them to seat people based on the relationships, ensure no interaction with other persons unless you are wearing a mask. We can mandate that there are health coordinators present at the event sites. All we are asking is for the government to sit with us and hear us out,” he said.