Ottawa Gatineau Wedding Industry Association: Q&A relating to Press Release August 13, 2020

Download the PDF by clicking OGWIA-QA (1)

Why was the Ottawa Gatineau Wedding Industry Association created?

To support wedding industry professionals through these uncertain times and to build a strong future for all industry-related businesses. We will speak to all levels of government with a unified voice and work together to elevate our profession.

What are the main goals of the Ottawa Gatineau Wedding Industry Association?

The OGWIA is a not-for-profit organization of locally owned businesses that serve the wedding sector in the Ottawa-Gatineau area. Its objective is to inspire all industry professionals through Advocacy, Promotion, Education, Networking, and Support. These five pillars are delivered by:

  • Speaking to governments, suppliers, and other organizations through one strong voice.
  • Promoting the value of the industry to the public.
  • Elevating industry standards and professionalism through learning opportunities and quality educational activities.
  • Hosting peer-to-peer networking meetings.
  • Providing support to members on issues such as insurance, licensing, business operations.

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What are the government restrictions in the current Stage-3 of Ontario’s reopening plan that relate to weddings?

The restrictions put in place by our provincial government are law under the Reopening Ontario Act, and venues, industry vendors and wedding attendees, must ensure they are adhered to, or face large fines. They include gathering limitations of 50 guests indoors or 100 outdoors, physical distancing by 2 metres, mandatory use of masks indoors, no mingling, and remaining seated throughout the entire event. They also include other restrictions such as venues no longer being able to offer services shared by guests, such as self-serve water, coffee and dessert stations, buffets and food stations, guest convenience items such as umbrellas, blankets, bug spray, etc.

What fines could wedding vendors, venues and wedding guests be penalized with, should any of the government restrictions not be adhered to?

Per the Reopening Ontario Act ontario.ca/laws/statute/20r17, it states the following:

Offences:

10 (1) Every person who fails to comply with a continued section 7.0.2 order or who interferes with or obstructs any person in the exercise of a power or the performance of a duty conferred by such an order is guilty of an offence and is liable on conviction,

(a) in the case of an individual, subject to clause (b), to a fine of not more than $100,000 and for a term of imprisonment of not more than one year;

(b) in the case of an individual who is a director or officer of a corporation, to a fine of not more than $500,000 and for a term of imprisonment of not more than one year; and

(c) in the case of a corporation, to a fine of not more than $10,000,000.”

What are venues doing to accommodate couples during the pandemic?

Most wedding venues are allowing couples to reschedule their weddings and many are working with couples who still want to get married this year by adhering to the government restrictions with scaled-down wedding packages. These venues are providing many options to their clients, and are being flexible, creative, and working through many compromises. While there is not a standard response to the pandemic, all venues are doing their best to accommodate their couples. We hope that the formation of our new Association will help our venues share best practices that can help everyone, including our couples, moving forward. Contacting specific venues can provide better insight into the options they are offering.

Why are some venues not refunding all deposits?

Most venues have worked diligently with clients to postpone their weddings or offer other solutions to host events during the pandemic. Still, some couples have chosen to cancel their weddings instead of postponing or working with their venue to host their wedding this year. For these cancellations, the majority of venues are small businesses, many of which are family-run and:

  • after 5 months of no revenue,
  • most of the 2020 wedding season and income postponed into next year,
  • the added costs associated with hosting weddings during the pandemic,
  • the ability to host only small events with government restrictions when they rely on large events to cover their operational costs year-round,
  • these venues are facing extremely difficult financial times.

They are having to lean on their contracts that state that wedding deposits are non-refundable. Venues are dealing with mounted pressure from couples to refund these deposits. The main reason for this is that couples believe their deposits have not been used since their wedding has not occurred and that deposits are kept for expenses on their wedding day. This misconception is the base of many ongoing disputes. Several venues are refunding second deposits to their own financial detriment, but the base of the debate is typically around the initial deposit. The reality is that all venues create a payment schedule leading up to the wedding, to pay for their high monthly and operational costs. These costs include, but are not limited to: business loans, property and building mortgages, leases, property taxes, business insurance, lawyer, accounting and professional fees, maintenance, repairs, upgrades, bank and credit card fees, purchases of new equipment and supplies, and so much more. These costs do not disappear during a pandemic unfortunately. Being in the business of making people happy, is devasting for venues who know that the impact of the pandemic, has put a limit on their ability to do so.

What are venues doing to ensure guest safety?

Venues are following the cleaning and disinfecting guidelines for public spaces from Public Health Ontario. Venues are also required to:

  • perform frequent cleaning and disinfecting of commonly touched areas,
  • provide hand sanitization stations throughout the venue,
  • develop a physical distancing plan for staff and guests,
  • display posters and signage throughout the venue from Ottawa Public Health regarding safety requirements by guests,
  • ensuring guests and staff entering the venue are symptom-free,
  • ensuring guests and staff are physically distancing and wearing masks indoors.

In addition, venues must provide new services including table service for beverages, during cocktail hour, dinner and reception, as the restrictions also mean that guests can no longer go to the bar to order drinks.

What are venues doing to ensure compliance?

They are working with their couples, who want to get married this year while ensuring that the Ontario Reopening Act is followed by all parties. Venues are:

  • Explaining the rules and restrictions in place by the government that the venue, couples and guests must all adhere to.
  • Asking couples and their guests to sign waivers to ensure both parties understand the restrictions in place by the government, confirm that they agree to socially distance and wear masks indoors, that they do not have Covid-19 symptoms, nor have they had a positive test or been in contact with anyone who has, that while the venue has taken all precautions, the risk associated with contracting Covid-19 at the event will not be eliminated. Guests are also required to provide their phone numbers for contact tracing.
  • Create social bubble seating charts for ceremony, cocktail hour, dinner and reception to ensure all guests are seated within the allowance their social bubbles, with a maximum of 10 people from 3 different households.
  • Ushering guests to their designated ceremony, cocktail hour and dinner seats.
  • Ensuring, throughout the event, that everyone is following the rules in order to help us all safely emerge from this pandemic. In addition, venues and guests can face large fines should any of the restrictions not be adhered to.

What are the risks associated with venues while hosting weddings during the pandemic?

The venues are being mandated by law to abide by these restrictions for the safety of everyone. There are many risks associated with hosting events during the pandemic including:

  • being fined if any rules get broken,
  • having an outbreak if an individual with Covid-19 attends the event,
  • guests not following the rules resulting in the venues having to “police” the event (which is the last thing they want to do),
  • couples or guests being upset with the venue for having to enforce the government regulations,
  • having more cancelled weddings from couples who do not want to host their wedding with these restrictions in place,
  • having to shut down their business if there is an outbreak,
  • and the risk of venue owners and staff contracting Covid-19 by hosting an event and bringing it home to their families.

What are the other industry vendors doing for their clients?

Based on the fact that our industry is filled with a variety of small businesses and individuals, from photographers to DJs, officiants and wedding planners, decorators, florists, musicians, rental companies, bakers, and so many more talented entrepreneurs, there is no one answer here. We do know that most couples and vendors have agreed to postpone, the majority of weddings and others are working with their couples towards their wedding this year

Why are other industry vendors not refunding deposits?

Similar to venues, these wedding professionals rely on deposits to cover services performed leading up to the wedding in addition to their business expenses throughout the year. Many also invest in new equipment, supplies, and upgrades planned for the upcoming season. When couples choose to cancel their wedding versus postponing or going ahead this year, most of these small businesses and individuals are not able to offer refunds in light of the financial impact the pandemic has had on their planned income this year, and must default to contract terms of deposits being non-refundable.

How are wedding industry vendors dealing with the restrictions for their businesses?

Each business is adding safety policies and procedures as it pertains to their business and in keeping with the guidelines of government policies. This may include increased sanitization practices, wearing of masks and gloves, maintaining safe distance from clients and guests, etc.

How is the wedding industry as a whole, responding to the pandemic?

We have always a very close-knit connection in this industry. But Covid-19 brought us even closer. From the time the pandemic hit in March, we have been in constant communication with one another, asking questions, sharing ideas, trying to figure out what to tell couples during the months of closure and uncertainty, helping each other through tough situations and providing guidance on answers we eventually found, relating to the allowance of and/or restrictions posed on weddings through stages 1, 2 and 3 of Ontario’s reopening plan. We have had weekly calls with guest speakers from a variety of professions in effort to help each small business owner deal with the implications of the pandemic. We have all been working even harder than ever to be in constant communication with our couples, to address their questions, concerns and options for their weddings.

Why are we seeing negative press and social media content relating to wedding businesses?

We are in the business of making people happy, bringing loved ones together to celebrate life’s most precious moments and turning couples’ wedding dreams into reality. We are all are passionate about weddings but the pandemic and government restrictions make all of this extremely difficult in a business that relies on people being able to gather, packing spaces with hugs, handshakes, dancing, talking, eating, drinking and having a good time.

Many couples have been extremely understanding, compassionate and appreciative of everything their vendors are doing to help them. This has been a silver lining for all during this strenuous time. However, we understand that couples are dealing with so much stress relating to their wedding in each of their own unique situations and we all wish we could do more for them. However, wedding professionals are doing the very best they can by being flexible and providing a variety of options for couples to host their wedding. Some couples are upset about the restrictions, mandated by the government laws, and blame the wedding venue. Others are upset that their wedding can’t be hosted exactly as it was planned and do not want to reschedule and end up cancelling their wedding and most often, losing all deposits.

What can couples do to help wedding venues ensure that their guests are compliant at their event?

Couples can:

  • inform their guests in advance of their wedding about the rules of social distancing, mask requirements, social bubble seating, no mingling and all other rules relating to the government’s restrictions on weddings,
  • send the guest waiver in advance of the wedding to their guests, so they have time to read, digest and sign the document, which they can bring to the wedding. Providing this information in advance to guests, will ensure a much better guest experience at the wedding.
  • remind their guests to bring their own face masks,
  • provide extra face masks in case anyone forgets theirs at home.

Where can couples find more information on the Reopening Plan of Ontario and related restrictions?

You can find the current information on Stage 3 here. More information can also be found on the government website.

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