When Lucy and Aaron, British expats based in Dubai, tied the knot in October this year, it was more than 18 months since the wedding was originally scheduled to take place in April 2020. Grappling with the uncertainty of the pandemic, the couple had put their plans on hold. But now moving on, like many others, embracing the new normal, they decided to go ahead with whatever best life had to offer – even if it meant saying their vows in front of a small number of guests, replacing their bridesmaids and streaming live on zoom, to let elderly relatives participate in their special day, from afar.

Although Covid-related restrictions have washed down most couples’ dreams of big fat weddings, many of them have found unique ways to make their special day memorable. "Couples don’t want to wait any longer. They have been separated for many months and want to move on with their lives. They are fine to go ahead with their weddings even with social distancing norms in place; without dancing, ushering in the festivities wearing masks," shares Tania Kreindler, founder of My Dubai Wedding.

Couples are going ahead with their weddings even with social distancing norms in place; without dancing, ushering in the festivities wearing masks, says Tania

Undoubtedly, in the past year a lot has changed for people across the world. It led to loss of jobs, financial difficulties, demise of loved ones, uncertainty about travel and virus variants. This paradigm shift in circumstances has impacted every aspect of wedding planning as well. In August, the social activities guidelines of the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) were relaxed allowing 60 per cent capacity of venues with a maximum of 300 people. Even with this much-needed relief, expats are struggling to fly down their relatives for their ceremonies.

Typically, weddings organised by Vivaah Weddings, UAE, included between 250 and 1,000 people. "But for the first time in 10 years of my career as a planner, we organised a micro wedding just for 10 people in April this year," says Arun Bablani, founder and Owner of Vivaah Weddings. Just like the bride and the groom, his company too had to adapt to the feasibility of planning smaller, intimate events.

Interestingly, the positive upshot of the shrinking guestlist is that there is more money to spend. The budget for décor, menu and giveaways has shot up. While some couples want to splurge those extra dirhams on elaborate event settings, others are looking at creating a magical D-Day experience. "The emphasis is increasingly on turning the wedding celebration into an unforgettable experience, not only for the couple, but also for the guests. After months of not meeting their loved ones, now more than anything else, they look forward to sitting down, being with each other, connecting and catching up," points out Stefanie Heller, founder and managing director of Jam Wedding Planners, Dubai. In the midst of planning a wedding for a Saudi family in Dubai, Stefanie reveals, that on top of the bride’s wish list is to make her wedding an exceptionally bespoke affair.

The emphasis is increasingly on turning the wedding celebration into an unforgettable experience, says Stefanie

From themed party invitations to monogrammed ‘Thank You’ notes and paper napkins, today’s close-knit wedding celebrations are all about serving memories. "At a beach wedding, for instance, I would recommend a tent with fairy lights, in the backdrop of the setting sun, and a saxophone player or a guitarist adding to the ambience. Including little details, make a lot of difference," shares Tania.

The bottleneck of pending weddings, coupled with the advent of the pleasant weather have, in fact, led to a rush in venue bookings. Planners say if you don’t lock something in soon, you are probably not going to have that dream wedding in 2022. "The season for outdoor weddings usually lasts till April. If that is what you have in mind, book as early as possible," suggests Tania.

Thanks to an effective pandemic control strategy, the UAE has emerged as a hot destination for weddings. Families are flying from as far as US, Canada and Australia to make the best of the opulent ballrooms and open spaces that the UAE has to offer. "In the past we have arranged weddings in over 25 countries, but this year everyone seems to be choosing Dubai for their nuptials. We recently planned a Hindu wedding here, for an Indian-origin couple, based in Spain and Indonesia, among many others," tells Arun.

Regardless of where a couple plans to say ‘I do’, the pandemic has definitely united them all to be mindful of their environment and surroundings. Covid has been a wake-up call for the youth to embrace sustainability, even in their nuptial plans. Reusable cutlery, organic food, recycled paper and locally produced products are all trending. "This month, we are prepping for both a vegan wedding and a sustainable wedding in the UAE. Everything is sourced locally, absolutely no plastic, zero wastage, using recycled or seed paper signages, calculating the carbon emissions of the wedding and offsetting it by planting Ghaf trees," points out Arun.

For the first time in his 10 years as a planner, Arun organised a micro wedding just for 10 people in April this year

Along with sustainability, technology is also much in demand – live broadcasts and weddings apps are sought after. The apps are a convenient mode for guests to plan and communicate about various events, share pictures and get updates on dress codes during the wedding. "At a wedding we planned for a Nigerian couple in the UAE, a special team of photographers and videographers made it possible for most of their family members in Nigeria to take part in the celebrations through live telecast," shares Stefanie.

While navigating your wedding plans through the uncertainty of the pandemic, you are still going to ponder over a million ‘What if’ questions. Accept that the virus is not in your control. So, be flexible with your plans and venues, follow the news closely, get your covid clauses in place while negotiating with your vendors and budget mindfully to sail smoothly to your life together pledging ‘forever and always, no matter what’.

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