- The Washington Times - Friday, July 9, 2021

Hybrid virtual/real-life weddings, a trend that has gained popularity during the pandemic, could be here to stay as a cost-saving, more inclusive way to celebrate these unions even as COVID-19 subsides. The weddings allow those closest to the couple to attend in person while other guests “attend” from afar via their computer screens, reducing headcounts and possibly price tags. 

Some wedding planners estimate that hybrid weddings made up 40% of the ceremonies they organized during the pandemic, as couples navigated health and travel restrictions and venue constraints.

“People turned to hybrid weddings as they were looking for alternatives to include their guests who didn’t feel comfortable traveling during such hard times. It was a way to still celebrate their love in such a special way with their closest of kin while also getting to enjoy this special time with all their loved ones,” said Heather Balliet, owner of Amorology, an event planning company in San Marcos, California. “We think people will continue on wanting to focus on having their nearest and dearest with them on their special day and keeping things intimate while allowing others to watch from afar over Zoom for those who aren’t able to travel.” 

Many couples either decided to postpone their weddings due to the pandemic or to scale down their ceremonies to abide with gathering limitations. While hybrid weddings might have been planned initially out of necessity, wedding planners say they think they will last beyond the pandemic for a number of reasons. 

By planning hybrid weddings, many couples made the celebrations more accommodating for their friends and family, said Anna Lucia Richardson, founder of Anna Lucia Events in Tampa, Florida. 

“Tuning in virtually has allowed people to be more accessible to participate in a virtual toast or wedding ceremony regardless of what hurdles life throws their way,” said Mrs. Richardson. “Almost anyone can set aside one hour to tune in to be a part of the moment.” 

Some wedding guests might be too old or ill to travel, while others could have special circumstances such as scheduling conflicts that prevent them from attending in person. Couples might also want to include guests from other countries who might not be able to make the trip. And then, there is also the appeal of couples not having to dip as deep into their pockets for their wedding. 

“Of course, for some, hybrid weddings can help reduce the guest count, which can result in some financial cost savings. But we have also seen many clients use this to their advantage to help elevate other areas of their reception or honeymoon experience,” said Mrs. Richardson. 

A wedding with 110 guests costs about $34,000 on average in the U.S., said Feyisola Ogunfemi, owner and lead planner at Statuesque Events in Laurel, Maryland. In the D.C. area, the cost of a wedding that size averages around $40,000, she said, but most of her clients spend between $60,000 to $150,000.

Ms. Ogunfemi said U.S. couples on average spend about $300 per wedding guest. However, Amorology typically estimates $1,000 to $1,500 for each guest. 

Amanda Farr and Jennifer Winberry, a San Diego couple who got married April 14, estimate they saved between $20,000 to $30,000 by hosting a hybrid wedding. The couple had Amorology plan their ceremony. 

The wedding took place at The Guild Hotel along West Broadway in downtown San Diego in a small garden surrounded by olive trees. Only 14 guests attended the ceremony in person and at least 100 guests tuned in virtually. 

The couple originally had their wedding planned for last October, but decided in May to cancel the wedding. 

“I work in public health, and pretty early on in the pandemic, I knew that a wedding of 150 people was not something I was comfortable doing or wanted to put anybody in that position,” said Ms. Farr. 

Although the couple debated between delaying the wedding and hosting a small ceremony, Ms. Farr said it just got to the point where they just wanted to have the wedding and move on. She and Ms. Winberry got engaged in August 2018, but put off wedding planning until 2019 so that Ms. Farr could focus on finishing her graduate studies. 

The couple said they were glad they decided to host a smaller in-person wedding with the majority of guests participating online. 

“We were able to really celebrate and have a wedding that was really centered on us as a couple. Particularly because we have kids, I think a lot of our lives are spent coordinating everybody else’s schedule and doing so much for everyone else. That day it really was able to be just about us,” Ms. Farr said. 

Easing the pressure

Some wedding planners have said the pandemic normalized having smaller, more intimate weddings and removed the pressure of having large ceremonies with long guest lists. 

“I think it took a lot of the pressure and traditional stress off of us,” Ms. Winberry said. “I think navigating how we safely engage with people who had planned to attend from all over the country, how to keep them safe, how to keep us safe, how to respect everyone’s boundaries as well as our own, it would’ve been a big headache. I’m glad we settled on a way that allowed everyone who wanted to participate to be able to do so safely.” 

Neither Ms. Farr nor Ms. Winberry are originally from San Diego, and many wedding guests would have had to travel to attend their wedding. Guests can also reap the financial benefits of hybrid weddings, Ms. Farr said, saving on expenses for flights and hotel rooms. 

“San Diego is not a cheap place to visit and so people who couldn’t have afforded to be there were able to,” Ms. Farr said. “For my grandparents, even in good times outside of a pandemic, it’s hard for them to travel in their late 80s. But they were able to be there and to watch it and to see it, and that was very meaningful.” 

Since the couple had a smaller ceremony, they were able to spend money on the more intricate details of their wedding and to splurge on a pool for their backyard.  

Outside of the big wedding day, other services such as cake companies, venues, dress salons, videographers and photographers have also adopted a virtual approach. 

Some video services are offering live videos of weddings while some wedding photographers are also adding these to their wedding photo packages, Forbes reported. David’s Bridal lets clients invite up to 100 friends and family members to virtually watch them pick out dresses, according to Axios. 

Additionally, many cake companies are having couples pick up tasting boxes and email their feedback, venues are offering virtual tours, and dress salons are shipping dresses for customers to try on at home, Ms. Ogunfemi said, making it more convenient for clients. 

• Shen Wu Tan can be reached at stan@washingtontimes.com.

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