April 16, 2020

DESTINATION WEDDING & COVID19 with MONICA BALLI

PLANNING A DESTINATION WEDDING IN ITALY IN 2021

Alessandro:
Ciao everybody and welcome! Today’s podcast is with Monica Balli. She is based in beautiful Tuscany and does amazing destination weddings and private events all over the world, with a strong expertise in Italy.
With the wedding industry being affected with the coronavirus pandemic we want to help couples navigate the situation by providing answers to the most frequently asked questions. Especially when it comes to planning a destination wedding in 2021. So, let’s jump straight into it.
Hi Monica, welcome to our 2021 Destination wedding & Covid-19 Podcast! I’m a huge fan of your work and I’ve been following you for a while. We know each other through common friends, but why don’t you say hello to our listeners and tell people who you are?

Monica:
Hello everybody and thank you Alessandro for inviting me, it’s always a pleasure, first of all to see you, since you ran away from Italy years back and are living in wonderful L.A. It’s always great to see you!
So me, I’ve been in the destination wedding industry for the last 20 years. Quite a while we can say. I do different nationalities going mostly to Italy, because it’s truly a real hot spot for destination weddings, but also other parts of the Mediterranean mostly.
We do everything from A to C. We started out just with weddings and now we also do corporate travel and the clients that were once our brides became our leisure clients, so we are also travel agents. In order to try to always step further and give them a little bit more of everything.

Alessandro:
That’s amazing. I also know that you have a catering company, can you tell us more about that?

Monica:
So true, I actually started 6 years back in LA. I wanted to come to LA market because I just loved it there, I loved the sea, I loved the people and I love the place. But the LA planners are just too awesome, they are just too good. I have so many friends in LA so I wanted to create something that I have that they didn’t. That’s why I started a catering company, actually I started out in LA as celebrity home dinners, bringing my chefs from Italy, specially from Tuscany. So what I actually did was to bring back to Florence the catering concept, adapted to the Italian market, which is the same regarding the food, but it’s different in the way it operates. It’s much easier and faster. We also have a restaurant in the city center of Florence, doing Tuscan experiences and food. Today we have a catering company and restaurant called “Tuscan Bites” which is up and running in Florence and through Italy.

Alessandro:
We are living in special circumstances right now with the Covid19. How is the destination wedding industry in Tuscany being affected by that?

Monica:
This situation is something nobody expected to live. So what happened is that we got on lock down at the beginning of March, it’s been a little over a month. Everything is closed except for the primary necessities, like supermarkets, and now little by little everything is picking up again. This week they’ve started opening a few factories and they are planning to reopen everything within the end of May. What’s going to happen with the flights and the destination events it’s something that right now we don’t know.
Today actually I had good news from Dubai. Emirates started to do a whole ‘We Care Process’ in order to sanitize and to start over their flights. Because the issue is not us being ready or being healthy, there is no actual way of going to Italy.

About the brides I have this year, we’ve postponed all the weddings that were happening within the month of July to be safe. Some of them have been rescheduled to mid-late October, some others to 2021. I don’t have a ball to see the future but most likely in a couple of months we’ll need to open again. We can see that the numbers of Covid19 cases are going down but we don’t know what is going to happen.
I’m in contact with several managers of hotels and hotel chains, smaller vendors etc, they are all trying to keep clients healthy and safe. This is something that everyone is working on, how to make it the safer way possible, but in a way that’s not intrusive.

What I’m working on is called the ‘We Care Policy’. The policy means we’ll have extra care with our clients, because the hotel and the properties we use need to adapt to our way of wanting to work with the sanitation, how things are done, the staffing, how many times they change.
For example, the staff need to be on rounds and not changing, and do full shifts. You know, we are trying to work so that we feel safe as well.
Other than that, I have to say that these times have really opened my eyes, for example if you look at Venice you’ll see you can actually see the bottom of the canal, this tells you that we were polluting too much. We were taking over too much. On the ‘We care policy” we have a policy for the cleaning, where all the material used needs to be eco-label and sustainable. But other than that, having a catering and food company, we are looking into avoiding spoiled food. Brides never go in the back, but you have no idea on how much good food is thrown out, as they produce double more of what is used. So we are trying to do a policy where we don’t throw away without any meaning. Because they are a way of donating, there are ways to create upon demand. So trying to re balance and not just being whatever you need and throw it away.

I think we are going to see a new tourism. If you feel safe and you feel good in a place you enjoy it more, so I think people will rediscover those places that are far away. Italians after the World War have explored all over the world. We have gone everywhere. But I believe that people will come back again, we have regions that nobody thinks of, not even for holidays. It’s gonna be a more hidden track.

Alessandro:
How do you reassure couples as a Wedding Planner for weddings in 2021?

Monica:
For sure next year there’s gonna be plenty of demand, because once we postpone the weddings of this year plus the new ones for 2021 we are going to see a big demand, while the dates are always those. But it’s also true that with the growing of destinations and the growing demand, the clients started to open their eyes to all the places Italy has that are not the usual highlights.
If you work with a planner, and she is a serious planner, you need to feel safe. Before you sign any agreement, you need to see a document that is a contract. On the contract you have to check out things, one is the payment and the other one is the cancellation policy. There are many and different ones, depending if its a group booking, if its a wedding but done on individual bookings. Even the cancellation policy could be up to 24 hours, depending obviously on the kind of vendor. But there are many solutions and the planner can help you go through, because people want your business but they don’t want to steal it from you, they want to make you happy. So you have to see them as a team.

I don’t know what is going to happen next year, but I believe it is not gonna be this. We are going to be able to find the way of doing things, maybe in a new way.

If you are in love with a specific place, or area, go on and book it. If you have that idea nothing is going to be like that. But, for example, if you have a budget issue and you go on Lake Como it’s going to be expensive. Either you have the budget to afford a wedding there or you compromise to have the most amazing wedding in any of the other lakes that we have, which are plenty. We have Lake Maggiore, Lake Garda, Lake Iseo and many more. So really depends on clients and our jobs as planners is to understand what you like and bring it to life. And making it even more that you think. But if you have a specific idea we are never gonna find a clone to that. What we need to understand is what clients like and give them solutions.

Alessandro:
Some couples are afraid of paying deposits to vendors for next year since they don’t want to risk it. What’s your approach on that?

Monica:
I always work and consider myself my first client. I wouldn’t do anything for my client that I wouldn’t do myself on the spot. So I totally understand when they say “I don’t want to pay the deposit for this and that…” but on the other side if I’m booking you on a specific date and that date is a high season date, in order for me to block myself I need a deposit. A deposit is usually a percentage of our fee. I personally ask 30%, but there are people who ask more or less. You can talk to your planner, but in order to block people you need to pay a deposit. If you have a venue and you are looking at it, you put it on hold, you look at the contract. Obviously if you are paying for your guests and the venue asks you for 20%, of course it’s going to be a good amount of money you have to pay. First of all you have to see the cancellation policy, meaning what happens if you decide not to go forward. Naturally the timing you have to tell this is very long and not just one month before, or a week. It could be 6 or 8 months. Also non-refundable deposits, if you put down deposits it means you want to confirm vendors, if there is a problem (even personal problems) and they need to be postponed you don’t lose everything. You need to figure out what’s possible to do and how. Maybe you can’t get 100% of what you wanted on that date, but that doesn’t mean you are totally spoiled. I mean, we are here to make things happen and happen in the right way.

Alessandro:
How can clients make your work easier?

Monica:
I think the base of everything is trust. I was talking about this with a bride this morning. She was telling me everything she liked and gave me a budget and I told her, with this budget you can do these things in these locations but you cannot do this. We planners are here, according to your life and budget , to give you different rows to get to your dream wedding. You need to trust your planner, you need to have them as your friend, brother, sister etc. And you have to be real to them, if you have a concern tell them. Don’t wait for the water to spoil. Because I know how to bring what you want, with your budget and make sure to make a good job. So talk, share ideas and think of solutions. What’s happening in the different countries in terms of budgeting for the different services, that does not reflect the destination you are going. It may reflect but it may not in most cases. So try to understand that planners know what they are talking about and trust them.

Alessandro:
Gathering together is going to be something more special

Monica:
Celebration, feeling good is going to be something will never stop wanting.

I also have another great service, specially in this period, we are planning Yacht Events for smaller celebrations and elopements. We work with Yacht brokers and we can do events on them. This is an incredible opportunity, you can gather with your family and you are in the middle of the sea and do the itinerary you want and you are safe. You only have near you the crew that have been checked according to the “We care policy”. It’s something you can enjoy, if you want you can go off-board or stay there. But any sort of celebration can be done.
There are also many off track places to visit by boat. For example, you have all Eolian Islands in southern Italy that are stunning. Also the Tuscan archipelago with the Elba Island.
These boats are available through the year going to different places, so that could be the Mediterranean, for example Greece Island and also the Caribbean in the winter time. So it’s a good solution not to be in crowded areas but still enjoy it.

Follow Monica Balli on the following links:
Website: monicaballi.com
IG: @monicaballievents
Fb: @MonicaBalliEvents
Catering: Tuscan Bites

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