The venues had been booked, the flowers selected, outfits tailored, menus tasted and playlists curated. But as the coronavirus ravaged the world last year and travel shut down, many couples who had planned destination weddings were forced to postpone their nuptials.
Now, almost a year later, with new variants emerging and with travel restrictions still in place, they find themselves faced with a prospect they hadn’t imagined: postponing again.
Marissa Barmine, a medical student, had initially planned to host around 160 guests at the Perry Lane Hotel in Savannah, Ga., in April.
Now, in wedding terms, the date is almost upon them, and the hotel says it can hold a socially distanced wedding for 120 people that month. “But Covid is out of control over here in the U.S. and it just feels irresponsible to bring together so many people in this environment,” Ms. Barmine said. “We just don’t feel comfortable.”
When the couple told the hotel they’d like to postpone, they were told that would be considered a cancellation, and they’d be out the $10,100 they’d already put down and have to pay the cost of a new event as well.
“The risks involved did not matter to them, what mattered was what they could do legally and get away with and they insisted that it was still possible to go ahead with the event,” Ms. Barmine said. “We had booked out the date in advance and their argument was that it was too late to give it to another client, meaning that they would lose money.” (The hotel did not respond to a request for comment.)
Instead, the couple is planning a wedding with just 17 guests, including immediate family and grandparents.
The Perry Lane Hotel did give the couple a complimentary suite and is allowing them to apply the food and beverage cost for the smaller event toward their cancellation fee. Still, their 17-person reception is going to cost a minimum of $10,000.
“No amount of money could make up for someone getting sick and I know in my heart we made the right decision,” Ms. Barmine said. “But you put so much time and effort into planning this big event that you want to share with all your friends and your family and you imagine what it’s going to be like, so when you realize it’s not going to happen it’s really hard,” she said with a sigh. “I definitely cried.”
A recent study by The Knot, an online wedding planning platform, found that 47 percent of couples who planned to wed in 2020 will now celebrate in 2021 or later, with health and safety remaining a top priority.
The biggest challenge for couples is figuring out what date feels safe. Will a June wedding be possible? Is September more likely? October? Even if the virus is brought under control by the summer, many worry that travel restrictions will remain in place, including requirements for vaccinations, testing and mandatory quarantine to prevent the spread of new variants, that would make it hard to assemble a large number of guests at a Caribbean resort or romantic Italian inn.
Last year, when Italy became the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in Europe, Aurito Chatterjee and Sonia Angral, an Indian couple living in Singapore, postponed their wedding in Tuscany to July this year. But in January, Singapore announced new travel restrictions through the end of the year that could prevent the couple from returning if they go to Europe to get married.
“If you are an expat on a work visa you are free to leave, but if you want to come back your employee has to put in a petition with immigration services and that is a headache. My friend was denied seven times,” Mr. Chatterjee said. “So basically, we could be faced with a situation where our guests can travel to our wedding, but we can’t,” he said.
So far, their chosen venue, Castello Di Vicarello in the Maremma countryside, has been accommodating of their circumstances, but postponing last year was contingent on a 20 percent price hike.
“I am not very optimistic that it will happen this year either,” Mr. Chatterjee said. “There are so many factors involved. Even if we can return to ingapore, will our families in India be able to get visas? Will Europe reopen to U.S. citizens? There is still so much uncertainty.”
The couple is adamant about getting married in Italy, even if it means postponing yet again.
“The place is very special to us, so we don’t really have a choice. This is where we want to do it and we’ll stick it out, whether it’s this year, next year or the year after that,” Mr. Chatterjee said. “I just hope they don’t keep putting up the price,” he added with a nervous laugh.
Irene Gutan, the chief executive of High Emotion Weddings, a luxury wedding planning service specializing in European celebrations, has already started postponing all her planned events from the first half of this year to 2022. Because most of her clients are coming from the United States, Canada and Australia she is also cautious about bookings from June through August.
“There is just no way of knowing what travel restrictions will be in place and this is important because our clients’ guests are from all around the world, which makes the situation very challenging,” Ms. Gutan said. “Right now, we are trying to finalize every single planning aspect for every wedding we have booked to have it already in place for the moment it can actually go ahead.”
For most weddings, the final decision over whether to go ahead needs to be made at least two months in advance to give vendors and guests time to adapt and adjust, Ms. Gutan says. For smaller weddings of between 10 to 20 people, the stakes are not as high financially, meaning couples are able to push the decision back longer.
Even if venues are cooperative, the decision to postpone or cancel can still be costly to couples and their guests. Destination weddings are complex productions where vendors are usually paid ahead of time and hotels are booked with strict policies against last-minute cancellations.
“There’s a big back log at venues and hotels during the summer months,” said Muge Atici, a Turkish graphic designer who got engaged last year and has been looking at options for a destination wedding in Turkey and Spain.
“I thought this experience would be fun, but everywhere I’ve liked is either booked or available on a day that I don’t want,” she said. “It’s really ugly how much pressure venues put on you to pay the deposit and seal the deal without giving any reassurances about Covid,” she said.
After witnessing all the hurdles her friends have been going through as they plan for their weddings this year, Ms. Atici and her fiancé are considering having a small last-minute ceremony in their hometown of Istanbul this year and perhaps a bigger party next year once more people have been vaccinated.
Many couples feel exhausted by the process of pushing back and planning for what was supposed to be an exciting and meaningful milestone. Some have already decided to cancel their event all together if it cannot go ahead this year, regardless of financial losses.
“My friends are breaking down over their weddings and constantly fighting with their families and boyfriends because of the stress and pressure,” Ms. Atici said. “Honestly, I want to avoid that situation as badly as I want to avoid Covid.”
Georgina Rawlings, a Dubai-based communications and marketing director, postponed her wedding in Zanzibar to July this year and says that as long as there are still flights to the island just off the coast of East Africa, she will travel there with her partner and have a honeymoon even if she can’t have the wedding.
Ms. Rawlings works for an events company that has been hit hard by the pandemic and with her industry showing no signs of recovery, she says, the wedding is not something she can afford to focus on right now.
“If it becomes our honeymoon then it’s our honeymoon, if it’s our wedding then it’s our wedding, but if it doesn’t happen this year, then it’s not happening,” she said. “I want to have kids and get on with my life. I’m not going to put my life on hold any longer for a party.”
Follow New York Times Travel on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. And sign up for our weekly Travel Dispatch newsletter to receive expert tips on traveling smarter and inspiration for your next vacation. Dreaming up a future getaway or just armchair traveling? Check out our 52 Places list.