How COVID Changed Weddings and the Wedding Industry in China

2020 is in fact originally a very desirable year for marriage in the eyes of the Chinese. Not only does the number “2020” look parallel (symbolises perfect match and in pairs), but it also sounds like “love you love you” (爱你爱你) in Chinese. 

When the pandemic hit, cities were in lockdown, social distancing measures were implemented. Lots of Chinese couples delayed, downsized or even ditched their wedding plans altogether at the beginning of the year. Almost all wedding-related businesses were severely hit, and some even ran out of business. The number of wedding-related businesses registered in China was just 11,546 in January-February 2020, which was only a third of the number of businesses registered in the same period in 2019. Destination weddings are particularly hard hit. Most overseas weddings were postponed to next year or even cancelled.

Traditional Chinese weddings can be very elaborate. For many generations, weddings are considered some of the best opportunities to show off the family’s good wealth. Ideal Chinese weddings in the ancient times were often done in somewhat ostentatious ways, as seen from the Three Letters and Six etiquettes (三书六礼) during the proposal stage, to the loud marching gong bands and wedding parade on the wedding day. In modern days, of course, lots of wedding customs were toned down and modernized. But the concept of “everything had to be done in splendour and grandeur” is still present, especially in the minds of older generations.

How has the pandemic brought challenges and changes to Chinese couples and the wedding industry?

How did engaged Chinese couples adapt to the COVID pandemic?

February was originally a very desirable wedding month as both the Western and Yuanxiao (8th February), one of the Chinese Valentine’s days are within this month. Under the influences of the pandemic, most Chinese couples held off weddings until later this year. Some couples still chose to tie the knot during the hardest-hit months when COVID case numbers were high as some traditional Chinese parents think it’s bad luck to reschedule weddings. Some couples chose to sign the papers first and postponed the ceremony until later. Some couples turned to hosting their weddings through livestreaming (云婚礼) so friends and relatives could virtually join their weddings from a safe social distance.

Livestreaming wedding
Screenshot of virtual weddings via WeChat

Couples who decided to keep their weddings offline were putting safety first by hosting smaller-scale intimate weddings. They invited only the closest family members and friends to minimize mass gatherings. They were simplifying wedding arrangements by reducing the number of banquet tables, using simpler decorations instead of grand decorations, etc.

Couples were also becoming more cost-conscious because of COVID’s hit on the economy and also because they were inviting fewer guests. There was less need to put on a very grand show to impress guests. Another often unspoken but important consideration is that couples would hope to receive enough red packets from guests to cover the costs of the wedding. Fewer guests simply meant having fewer chances of receiving red packets to break even with the costs. 

There was also a much higher demand for hosting outdoor wedding ceremonies to reduce the risk of virus transmission, which is not typical for traditional Chinese weddings. Many newlyweds would have traveled abroad for their honeymoon, but that had to be cancelled or turned into domestic trips due to the pandemic travelling difficulties.

Outdoor wedding in China
Screenshot of a Chinese outdoor wedding via Xigua Video

How the pandemic affected the wedding industry

The wedding industry took a hard hit from COVID. The business conditions were very hard for the industry, even when it is accustomed to high-low seasons. 

For wedding service providers (production companies, wedding planners, wedding ceremony MC, wedding photographers, etc.): they went out of business for months at the pandemic’s peak and had to think of ways to cut costs as they still had to pay maintenance costs for their equipment for the time being. Some laid-off staff and moved offices to save rent while some had to take on a second job or even made a career switch.

For hotels and restaurants (where traditional banquets are held): most, if not all, banquets were cancelled or postponed at some point. There’s a limited capacity and flexibility for businesses within this sector. They can only accommodate certain tables and guests at any given time, so they are less agile and cannot cater to additional demand even if couples who cancelled in the first half of the year returned.

The drop-in customers in offline wedding-related retail shops such as wedding gowns, invitation cards, xitang (囍糖), etc. had gradually recovered after the cities reopened. Wedding planners now tend to provide one-stop service, from wedding venues, wedding planning, wedding photography/videography, banquets, etc. to save costs for couples and secure more revenue for themselves.

As the pandemic becomes more stable, more Chinese couples have resumed their wedding plans since August. That was especially true during the 8-day holiday for the national day and the Mid-Autumn Festival in early October. It is expected that the second half of 2020 will show a small boom for the wedding industry, although it is still unsure if that would be able to make up for the losses at the beginning of the year.

What wedding practices will stick around in post-COVID era?

The pandemic has definitely transformed the wedding scene. In order to minimise social contact with others after COVID was at its most serious, many wedding business practitioners have put their services into the digital space. Some wedding companies used AR to build wedding venue previews, so newlyweds will be able to see the details of the wedding venues on the phone. Some bridal brands started livestreaming showcasing wedding gowns and launched content marketing such as online tutorials for wedding makeup to attract consumers.

There were a few examples of weddings in the post-COVID era doing livestreaming with 200,000 accumulated views. Although China has been a leader in doing livestreaming in such large scale and extent, it remains a question as to whether livestreaming weddings would become a thing in the future. This would perhaps be a tug-of-war between younger generations (who prefer intimate, eco-friendly weddings) and traditional older generations (who prefer elaborate, extravagant weddings to impress relatives).

Livestreaming wedding on Huajiao
Screenshot of livestreaming weddings on Huajiao Live

Some industry experts view this pandemic as giving the industry a chance to improve their services and product offerings. After COVID, businesses would now compete against each other in terms of branding, services, and operations instead of just the price.

The pandemic has been a very turbulent time for the wedding industry as they went through a rollercoaster ride from mass cancellations to no orders to a surge in orders. We are excited to see what the future holds for the wedding industry as China recovers from the COVID pandemic.

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