Hacienda San Rafael.

Destination weddings on your doorstep

From small eco-conscious ceremonies, romantic Gibraltar elopements, to exclusive, intimate rural Andalusian celebrations, there are plenty of post-pandemic ways to say "I do"

ANDREW FORBES

"Before the Covid-19 crisis, around 3.5 billion euros was spent each year on weddings in the south of Spain alone. Destination weddings support significant tourism, created by the guests attending weddings here," explains Laura Charles.

Nicknamed the ‘Fairy Godmother’ of the Costa del Sol wedding scene, Laura is the founder of Reviva Weddings, the creative force behind some of the coast’s most iconic parties and events. As the creator of over 500 weddings, she offers a unique insight into the Destination Weddings here in Andalucía, the impact of the pandemic, as well as the emerging trends for couples looking to tie the knot in the sun.

Since studying Display Design in London, Laura’s career has always been in the creative industries, waving her magic wand as an interior designer and stylist and ultimately leading her to starting her own Marbella company, Reviva Weddings, in 2007.

“I have a huge love affair with creating magical atmospheres and transforming spaces,” she tells me. Yet, “the pandemic, quite frankly, has been devastating for the wedding industry which is now potentially facing a second season with little work”.

Leisure travel has been an obvious victim of Covid-19, but Destination Weddings have suffered the double whammy of tourism restrictions and limits for socially-distanced gatherings.

An 80 per cent fall

According to the recently formed Unión de Profesionales de Bodas de Málaga, an association of Malaga wedding professionals, the region has seen a decline of over eighty per cent in weddings during the pandemic, and the celebrations that have gone ahead have been considerably smaller and less extravagant.

Laura Charles explains that it’s not just the direct wedding sector that is affected, but also all the associated businesses that are supported by Destination Weddings in Andalucía.

The impact of the pandemic has been exacerbated by the limited support offered to the many businesses affected. “Some smaller self-employed suppliers typically take a break from the expensive Spanish social security system in the winter and re-register for the wedding season, usually in March - ready for April and May weddings. So, these business owners have received no help whatsoever from the government.”

Laura continues, “Wedding planners, hotels, venues, entertainers, musicians, caterers, florists, photographers, stationers, jewellers, dress suppliers and even transport companies have been significantly affected; the list of small businesses that are included in the wedding industry is almost endless.”

During the last year, with many weddings cancelled, Laura has focused increasingly on her coaching company, The Business of Weddings. It’s a platform that enables her to share expertise and to support and motivate business owners in the Destination Wedding industry, encouraging and facilitating wedding planners, venues and other suppliers to develop new skills, so they are ready to take weddings and celebrations to the next level, meeting the evolving needs of couples, post-pandemic.

Small and beautiful

“Understandably at the moment couples and guests are nervous about gathering in larger crowds, so naturally we’re seeing a trend for smaller, more intimate celebrations,” Laura confirms.

“Many couples still have their wedding budgets set aside so instead they will be spending more per-head on their weddings, looking for beautiful private venues where they can host their wedding safely and in style.”

Tara Chapman, planner at We Do Unique Weddings sees a demand for more exclusive private venues, off the beaten track. She believes privacy will become much more important for couples looking to host their weddings.

Anthony Reid, owner of Hacienda San Rafael in Seville province, concurs. His 18th-century family home is a favourite for couples for its “space, nature, heritage and the romantic setting in the Andalusian countryside,” explains Anthony, whose family have cherished the estate for over three generations. “We all need to feel the comfort and warm hospitality of somewhere safe and isolated post-Covid. More than ever, to celebrate with loved ones is a gift. We want to keep it simple and beautiful.”

Lizzie Marriage, Gibraltar elopements and Laura Charles. / SUR

Gratitude and meaning

This feeling of gratitude that Anthony refers to is echoed by Laura, who sees that blessings, weddings and celebrations are becoming more meaningful. With the obligation and associated stress of delivering a huge wedding now gone, there is a shift. Laura describes this as “gratitude that couples can celebrate their days again. The pressure and stress are off”. Celebrations will be not just about a couple’s commitment but about the joy of being reunited with friends and family after months of confinement and restrictions.

Lizzie Marriage is a spiritual minister offering ceremonies and blessings for renewal of vows, straight and same-sex weddings. Although parties have had to be cancelled during the pandemic, she has seen that many ceremonies are still going ahead. Lizzie has been an officiant here in Spain since 2014 and she’s optimistic for the coming bounce-back and certainly doesn’t believe southern Spain will lose its romantic appeal.

A natural extension of this trend of small, meaningful ceremonies and celebrations is of course ‘elopements’. Instead of obliging family and friends to endure the potential complications and cost of travel during the coming weeks or months, couples are still going ahead with ‘micro’ weddings, in original and creative ways.

Gibraltar elopements

Many have been following in the footsteps of John Lennon and Yoko Ono and heading for Gibraltar. Sheila Roberts, a wedding photographer, has been busy shooting weddings on the Rock. Gib has become an increasingly popular choice for ‘long-distance’ couples who were separated by travel bans and visa issues yet were still able to travel to Gibraltar during the pandemic.

Recent clients included Bryant who lives on the west coast of the US and his partner Matt based in Madrid. During the pandemic they had spent long periods apart. When they realised they could ‘elope’ to Gibraltar to get married they didn’t give it a second thought.

Gibraltar offers internationally recognised legal services, attractive locations for the ceremony (including the Botanical Gardens) and cool places to stay such as the Sunborn Gibraltar Yacht Hotel. What’s more with an elopement, couples feel they can break with conventions, design the day as they wish, make it as informal as they desire and wear whatever they want, letting their personalities shine, creating profoundly meaningful moments.

Traditional white gowns for brides are increasingly being replaced with more colour, more vibrancy, reflecting other cultural influences. Dyana Dessar of Optimum Weddings has a wealth of experience of working with multicultural weddings. For example, her Destination Weddings for Indian couples have in the past been noted for their size and extravagance. Yet Dyana sees couples now being more selective over guest lists, possibly having more than one celebration, each with smaller, different groups of people.

Green weddings

Celebrations are also becoming more environmentally conscious. Excess and potential over-indulgence are being replaced with exclusivity, creativity and above all respect for the planet.

Esztella, originally from Hungary, has been in Spain for over 14 years, and her business Hojas D’Amour specialises in ‘green’ weddings. Throughout her planning and creative process Esztella considers the impact of the celebration, helping couples have the magical day they’ve dreamed of, while also leaving a positive legacy. This means choosing venues, menus and suppliers that minimise waste, avoid plastics and even give back through ideas such as tree-planting ceremonies.

Dream and plan

Andalusian Destination Weddings may not return in numbers this year, but the local foreign resident and national market is still booking intimate weddings in 2021. Tara Chapman of We do Unique Weddings, sees this summer marked by events that are outdoors and with all right protocols in place, including rapid Covid testing etc.

So, with many international couples still waiting to get hitched, 2022 is set to be the bumper year, when the bigger weddings will return to southern Spain and Gibraltar. So, if you’re a couple looking to take the plunge, you need to plan now to secure the venues and planners of their choice.

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