April 22, 2020

DESTINATION WEDDING & COVID19 with BRENDA BABCOCK

PLANNING A DESTINATION WEDDING IN ITALY IN 2021

Alessandro: Hi Everybody, today’s podcast episode is with Brenda Babcock Celebration, a luxury boutique destination wedding in Italy, planning some of the most beautiful weddings there. In this podcast, our goal is to all those couples that are planning a destination wedding in 2021 and have any kind of concerns like, “What would be the new normal after this global pandemic?” So, let’s hop right into it.

Welcome, welcome Brenda to the 2021 Destination Wedding and COVID-19 podcast. I’m so happy to have you on the podcast. We got to work together like not so long ago on the Amalfi Coast, in a village in Ravello for a gorgeous 3 days destination wedding. And I’m very familiar with your beautiful work and design. Why don’t you introduce yourself and tell people kind of who you are?

Brenda: Thanks, Alessandro, it’s very nice to be here. I’m Brenda Babcock, Brenda Babcock Celebrations, and I’m an American wedding planner in Italy. I plan destination weddings for Americans and people from around the world who want to get married in Italy. And I live here full-time.

Alessandro: That sounds like getting exciting things to do.

Brenda: I have to say I enjoy my job. It’s been wonderful and I couldn’t be in a better country. There couldn’t be a better country than Italy in which to do this. It’s just such an amazing backdrop, and it’s such a big help to me. It’s the perfect foundation to begin a wedding on. I’ve been living in Italy since 2000. That’s going 19 years going on 20. I say I’m half Roman.

Alessandro: You’re a local now.

Brenda: I’m a local. I know a lot of the streets better than them. I’ve been here and I’ve been doing this since 2004. So, that would be 15, 16 years. It’s been an incredible 16 years. I’ve been doing this since the beginning when people didn’t even know what a destination wedding was.

Alessandro: I want to ask you, what are the challenges that you’re facing right now with your clients?

Brenda: Of course, it’s a very challenging year for everybody in the hospitality, tourism, business. I mean, particularly for everybody and for people who have clients who are from overseas, of course, it’s an additional degree of difficulty. We’re all doing our best and, you know, doing the best that we can. A lot of my clients have moved their weddings to either later in the year or to next year. We’re all in this together and everyone is very flexible. We want to help people to get married. It’s not like people are going to say, “Oh, well, we’re not going to get married now.” So, it’s not the right time to be celebrating. It’s just as well that it was postponed either by a few months, or by if hopefully until next year. But everybody is cooperating. Everyone’s doing their best. Everyone is really pitching in to make the situation as bearable as good as it can be.

Alessandro: Yeah.

Brenda: We’ll have very big parties next year.

Alessandro: Oh, that’s for sure. One of the most frequently asked question is postponing, cancel the wedding, or move the destination.

Brenda: I haven’t had anyone who wants to cancel the wedding. No one has even discussed canceling the wedding, because as I said, people are going to get married.

Alessandro: Yeah.

Brenda: They want to have celebrations. I have had a few emails from people saying like, “We canceled our wedding,” locally where they are. They want to run off to Rome and elope, you know, in September. So I deal with large weddings, large high-budget weddings. People want to have 100 people at their wedding, 150 people at their wedding, and so they don’t want to just celebrate by themselves at Town Hall. If it means putting it off by a year, that’s it is what it is. And like I said, it’s really not the time to be celebrating, we’ll wait for a happier moment. And so, none of my clients thus far have considered canceling.

You know, everyone is very happy to postpone to move the date, whether it’s to later this year or next year. The majority of people, it’s going to be at the same rate, same contract. For some people, there is a slight difference, but for the most part, there is very little. Everyone’s really trying to keep everything alive. At this point, most of my weddings for 2020 were already planned, they were already 80 and 90% planned. So, deposits have been made, significant deposits have been made, retainers and things like that. Everyone is happy to move it over. You know, I mean, it hasn’t been an issue of refunds. Refunds are difficult because we are all in this together. I mean, it isn’t fair for the onus to fall just on one side. Right now, I don’t have to think about that. I mean, it’s happier time so putting it off. But it’s the clients are going to have to wait, the couples are going to have to wait, but the vendors are being very cooperative, as I said. And it’s going to be a very, very tough year for them.

Alessandro: Yeah, I think it’s about finding the right balance between both the vendors and the client. And you’re just the middle man finding this balance. And it’s a challenging task, but I totally get it.

Brenda: Obviously, obviously, I represent the client, but at the same time, I’m an honest broker. Nobody wants to take advantage of everyone. The deposits that have been placed it’s going to help vendor keep their business afloat and allow them to be able to be there next year. What we don’t want is to see a lot of bankruptcies and this can be very tragic for everybody. This is going to help keep everybody afloat and then they’re going to be able to fulfill the job next year. It’s as close to a win-win as there can be.

Alessandro: What would you say to those newly engaged couple that are starting right now to plan the destination wedding or to even look at it, and then of course, million of ‘what if’ question about the future?

Brenda: People need assurances and certainty in this uncertain time, as far as they can. I am talking to people for next year, new clients and we’re working into the contract that if this were to come back, that they could roll it over. That’s particularly for locations because they are actually booking up for next year because so many people rolled over their weddings from this year. Lot of dates have already gone. Particularly, if you’re talking about an exclusive 6 weekends, or an exclusive 3 days in buyout someplace in Tuscany, for example, or the location.

So, yeah, we’re working into the contract that there will be the same flexibility. But if for some reason that, you know, force majeure, or for some reason people cannot, then it would be rolled over to the following year. I mean, people are going to get married and to give up your dream of coming to Italy and celebrating your wedding is an unbelievable thing. I mean, it’s a lifelong memory for the couples and for their families and their friends. I mean, I’ve been doing this for 15 years, people write to me now and say that’s changed lives and people in their family who have never had a passport before.

This is what I hear from a groom that I helped marry about 15 years ago, and I hear from him every once in a while, he drops me in line to say, “You wouldn’t believe that it’s changed the lives of some people.” And I remember how hard it was to get those people to come here. I hear from a lot of people that, for their friends and family, a lot of them are telling them this was the best time of their lives, and it was the best weekend of their lives. A year seems like a long time, we’re trained to think that a year is a long time, but time flies.

Alessandro: Yeah.

Brenda: Even if you’re planning on getting married in 2021 and you’d have to put it off by 6 months or a year whatever it happens to be, don’t give up on your dream of celebrating in Italy with your family and friends. It’s something that is a memory of a lifetime.

Absolutely. The locations in particular, everyone has been great. I mean everyone down to the person has been very flexible. However, the locations in particular have a responsibility. As a videographer or wedding planner, we’re going to go there for the days. We’re not responsible if people get COVID-19 while they’re there. But the Villas are. In the beginning, I thought that they would be trying to protect the dates and the economic part. But it’s been exactly the opposite. The Italian Villas are very concerned about the liability, about their personal liability. So, they’re the first ones to want to move the dates if they think it’s going to be a problem and sometimes even refund if it’s going to be a problem. They’ve been great. The locations have really been great.

Alessandro: And I was also thinking, since next year will be pretty packed, should couples still stick to the peak dates like those weekends, those specific venues? Or should they be more flexible and listen to wedding planners like you maybe, and helping them guide them maybe on a weekday or in a different venue?

Brenda: So, the flexibility, if you’re getting marriage, flexibility is always good. Even when there’s not COVID-19, the more flexible you are, the more likely that you can get to your favorite videographer or you can get your favorite location. If you can be flexible, that’s always going to help in any wedding situation. And sometimes the option that you haven’t thought about is actually turns out to be a great option. I’m dealing with a client right now and they have specific dates that they want.

If you’re looking at specific dates it depends on how flexible you are. If your dates are gone, your dates are gone. If you need to have a weekend, then, again, weekends are always higher demand. There are lots of great locations for different reasons. But one of what I consider my strengths is really finding the perfect location for the perfect group. Whether it’s budget and size and experience. That’s not something to be taken lightly, because the entire wedding is going to be built on the foundation of the location.

If you’ve got 10 people, fine, you’ve got lots of options. I’m thinking Tuscany for sure, if you have more than 80 people, your options are more limited. If you’re committed to getting married in Italy, then this is not a nonnegotiable. They’re getting married in Italy. They’ve been dreaming of this and everything is built around it.

So that’s my thing is if you have specific dates and the dates are open, go for it, get the contract signed. I understand that everybody’s worried, but they need to think, what are their options? They may not be able to get married in California if they’re from California, if they can’t get married there, they may not be able to get married right now, you can’t get married anywhere. Is an option to get married with 10 people at your favorite restaurant? You know, is that an option, a real option? For my clients, that really isn’t a real option. So, with everything in life, the situation isn’t perfect right now by any means, but you have to look at what your options are. If you’re American, would you rather stay and get married locally or would you rather wait a little bit longer? get married and wait for your dream? So, It’s just the way I phrased that shows you where my heart lies.

Alessandro: Yeah. Well, actually, I think also, these are 2 different kinds of clients, like those that really are looking for a destination wedding and those that are fine with a local wedding. When you have a destination wedding in your mind and you planned that your whole life or the past 2 years, you don’t really want to give it up. You really want to travel there, especially to a beautiful country like Italy.

Brenda: Even if you get married in a great location, even if you say like, “Okay, well, we’re going to give up with our Italian dream and we’re going to get married in…” even if it’s a great location, it’s going to feel like a compromise. I mean, you’re getting married. So, let’s just say it’s a wedding. And if you’re marrying the person you love, life is great. You’re a very lucky person and things are very good. You found the right person, so already it’s good. But you’re giving up on something that you really wanted that was the dream. And you don’t want to feel like you’ve compromised it. And so, the compromise is, do you give up on that dream? Or do you just put that dream on hold? You know, and like I said, we need to get through this first before anybody can think about really doing much of anything aside from. We need to get through this, and then it’s time to celebrate and to plan and to be happy and just think how much more joyous it’s going to be, how much more we’re going to have to celebrate.

Alessandro: So, how people right now can make your work easier?

Brenda: As I’ve said and I keep saying, we’re all in this together. You know, it’s my job to make their lives easier. It’s my life to be a warm blanket to them, to know that they’re in good hands and that I represent them as best as possible, and then I’m going to make sure that things are good for them. People have taken great comfort in that. How they can make it easier is to be patient. I love this word, it’s an Italian sort of this expression ‘with calm’, ‘with calm’. We all have to be calm. We all have to be patient.

And that’s why, flexibility, it’s always great. If you can’t be flexible, think about it for a moment. Maybe you can’t be flexible, but think about it for a moment, sometimes we’re just so fixed on one thing that we think, “No, no, it can’t be any other way.” Instead just think like, “You know what? Maybe I could get married on Friday instead of Saturday, or maybe I could get married on a Tuesday.” For Americans, weekdays are better anyway because the guests can travel on the weekend to get there and they can travel on the weekend to get home. So, it’s actually better during the week. I tell this to all my American clients, and people traveling from, whether it’s Hong Kong or from further away, it’s actually better for their guests,that gives them more flexibility as well, in terms of dates and stuff like that.

Just try and take a step back and think about, you know, that we’re all in this together. The vendors are all very understanding and really want to make this. I’ve said to my clients, “I am going to make sure that you will be married in Italy. This is my mission.” The one thing is that I have vendors who have been waiting 2 and a half years, we’ve had the dates booked for 2 and a half years. So, it’s all good, we’re all going to be there, but it’s, you know, we’re all doing the best way we can.

Alessandro: Some clients, they’re asking to pay smaller deposit for next year because they don’t feel safe, they have some concerns, so they want to be more like, take it slowly, but also speed it up. So, it’s kind of a…

Brenda: A lot of vendors have been flexible and asking for like maybe 20% instead of 50%. But so, for like 20% now, chopped up to 50% by November, and then the regular terms of balance, in a month or 2, whatever happens in the weeks before or months before the wedding. I know even if they’re paying 10% or 20% or 30% right now, they do need to top it up later like in November, because your vendor, your videographer is turning away businesses on that date. And so, they do need to have a firm commitment. And we will have a better idea by November what’s going on.

Alessandro: Yeah. I mean, I really appreciate that. But every vendor actually, from the wedding planner to florist, any kind of vendor.

Brenda: Exactly. They’re turning away the opportunity to take other business. And they maybe turning away the opportunity to take local business, which might even be more reassuring for them. Everyone has to be fair, if you normally ask for 50% now to ask for 25%, perhaps 25% in November, something like that. But people, the vendors do need to have enough time to hopefully rebook if you’re turning away their business. Whether you’re a videographer as an example, or wedding planner, I only take one event at a time. In fact, I only take one event within a several week period. And, you know, you can only be in one place at one time. So, we are turning away on the business when we take business.

When we accept somebody’s promise that we’re going to take their wedding, we are turning away other people. So, it’s very costly to us if we end up that we can’t replace it. I only take about 5, 6 weddings per year because I do large, very elaborate weddings. I personally plan all of them and I’m personally there from start to finish. It’s a decision that I have made that I couldn’t do it any other way. I need to be there until 5 o’clock in the morning if that’s when it ends, because I just need to be sure that it went as well as it could possibly go. Our time and our talents are all that we have to sell. And so, there has to be respect for that as well.

Alessandro: I have a last question for you and it’s, can you find a positive outcome out of all this situation?

Brenda: You always have to be a optimistic in life, you just have to be optimistic. You have to believe that things are going to come out well. This is the beginning of your lifetime together. You just have to believe it. To find a specific silver lining at the moment, maybe a little more difficult. But I’m hoping that this will increase our humanity. You know, I’m hoping that this will make us all better people, all better citizens, all better people, better fellow human beings on this planet. We have to appreciate when we are able to celebrate, appreciate that much more and understand how lucky we are in so many ways. Nothing should be taken for granted. I’m hoping the silver lining is going to be that we will end up being better human beings.

Alessandro: That’s some great advice. Well, Brenda, thank you so, so much. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today. And before wrapping up, can you tell us where people can find you, can look at your work, can reach out to you?

Brenda: Yes. My website is brendababcock.com. And I’m on Instagram, Brenda Babcock Celebrations and that’s where you can find me!

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