Virus impacts wedding industry

LIHU‘E — Wedding professionals across the state are reporting loss of business at the dawn of the June “wedding season,” and professionals on Kaua‘i are asking officials to start opening up the industry.

From purveyors of hair and makeup to venues and music providers, photographers and officiants, planners and suppliers of transportation, tuxedos and food — many small-business owners make up the industry on Kaua‘i.

And prior to COVID-19, that industry was “vibrant and looking at an exceptional summer for both destination and local weddings,” according to Mike Dandurand, president of the Kaua‘i Wedding Professionals Association.

But then the pandemic took over the scene across the world, and business screeched to a halt as travel quarantines, stay-at-home orders and other emergency rules were put in place. Photographers, ministers, videographers, caterers, DJs, musicians, florists, coordinators, restaurants, hotels, wedding sites and lighting and props businesses all had entire months of bookings wiped out in a matter of weeks.

“Most of us are small, independent business owners with less than three employees,” said Dandurand, owner and operator of Kustom Sounds Kaua‘i. “The assistance provided by the government has helped many of us stay afloat, but this will only last for so long,” he said. “Every time Hawai‘i announces an extension of the quarantine, we experience another wave of cancellations.”

The current fluctuation in policy, quarantine guidelines and government directives has been difficult on couples who are planning their nuptials, Dandurand said, with people having to decide between canceling plans or rebooking for a day when there aren’t as many restrictions in place, whenever that day comes.

The wedding professionals association is currently awaiting reply on a request to state and county officials. They’re asking that small weddings be allowed as long as the guests number under 10 people and all safety and COVID-19 protocols are followed.

“Our KWPA members have protocols in place and are just waiting approval from state and county offices. We feel this will help slowly kick-start our industry,” Dandurand said.

The state’s stay-at-home orders for residents and mandatory quarantines for tourists announced in March have put destination weddings on hold indefinitely and reduced the number of local celebrations across the state, according to the Associated Press.

Kate Hickey, co-owner of Sunshower Farms in Holualoa on Hawai‘i Island, told the AP the business has postponed 10 weddings and canceled five since emergency orders were created, and said, “we’re really pushing for postponements.”

Hickey has applied for multiple loans to supplement a lack of cash flow to her venue, which also operates as a coffee farm.

Hickey worries about the business impact following the pandemic.

“The wedding industry trickles down to every level of business,” Hickey told the AP. “It’s a billion-dollar industry, and one wedding brings thousands of dollars to the island.”

Tressie Richardson, owner of Haku Formals Boutique in Hilo, had to close her shop during the stay-at-home order.

“Being shut down has made me feel like there is a void in my life,” Richardson said. “We were in full motion and then had to stop.”

Becky Ringler, owner of Simple Kona Beach Weddings in Kailua-Kona, postponed all of the spring and early-summer weddings she had expected to plan.

“It’s been devastating,” Ringler said. “I was so busy this season, and now there is nothing going on.”

Ringler has worked on rescheduling dozens of clients within a year, while others have postponed new plans.

“Some people are waiting to reschedule, and I don’t blame them,” Ringler said. “I understand why we have to take time before visitors can come back, and I’d rather this be done properly.”

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Jessica Else, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or jelse@thegardenisland.com. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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