B.C. event industry hopeful as COVID gathering restrictions set to end

B.C.’s struggling event industry is nervously waiting to hear whether restrictions on gatherings will be lifted when the current COVID-19 public health order expires in exactly one week.

Maureen Brown with Emerald Events says more than a dozen couples have been waiting for years to get married, and with hope on the horizon, her business has ramped up significantly.

“Those who look like they are going ahead, I’ve been meeting [with them] for the last week or so, and I have been getting two or three inquiries a day. So, people are getting excited and people are getting ready to have weddings,” Brown said.

She also is a member of the Fraser Valley Event Planning Association and says she knows demand is already incredibly high for everyone in the industry. However, going back to business as usual won’t be easy. 

Many businesses didn’t survive the pandemic, and for those who have, there are mounting costs associated with supply chain problems and inflation.

“You are looking at catering that was quoted at 2019 prices. Look at the cost of commodities right now. Venues have been sitting empty for two years. They have been paying rent, they have been paying hydro, and everyone to a point is honouring those contracts from 2019.”

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Several people have taken to social media to lash out because they didn’t get their deposits back after their wedding was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions. Brown says it’s impossible for the event industry to return some couples’ money since it’s “gone, long gone.”

While the current order does expire on Feb. 16 at 11:59 p.m., the province has extended restrictions in the past, often with very little notice.

Paige Petriw runs Spotlight Events and backs a petition for the province to reopen the wedding and event industry with a safety plan. She says many in the event industry are jaded, saying the province continues to shut them down as we “learn to live with COVID.”

“Last year, leading into the summer, B.C. rolled out their big B.C. restart plan … and that was awesome. We started seeing things turn around as an industry and then five months later, the new shutdown came into effect in December.”

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Once the industry is in full swing, she says “it could really go either way.”

“That’s why we are really trying to fight to get a seat at the table to consult,” Petriw said. “We are more than confident we have the operational capability to mitigate that risk.”

Petriw is also advocating for those in the industry who have faced financial turmoil and mental health challenges due to the ongoing hits to their bottom line. She says the province has not offered support, and it is needed today and into the future during this “critical time.”

“To be excluded from the relief funding from our provincial government is really hard to fathom from those in our industry.”

Read More: All B.C. health care workers soon required to be fully vaccinated

On Wednesday, B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says the province will provide more details on the next steps in the coming days, and that they are monitoring the situation and will adjust measures in accordance to what they see.

“This will be a gradual process, finding that balance over this next phase of transition in the next few months and weeks,” Henry said.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to remove an incorrect reference to Paige Petriw being the person who started an online petition for the province to reopen the event industry.

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