CMA Guidance - Time to stay strong and look ahead

9th October 2020: CMA News Update

I (Hamish Shephard, CEO & Founder of Bridebook) would like to share a very important update on the CMA guidance on refunds for wedding venues and suppliers. Details of the CMA’s agreement with Bijou Weddings have been released and the outcome gives extremely valuable insight on what is deemed as fair and reasonable by the CMA. Here is the key information:

THE CMA concluded the fair and reasonable amount Bijou could retain was up to 37.2% from weddings affected by COVID from 24th March 2020:

  • The CMA allowed retained costs to include proportions of planning costs, staff costs, venue repair and renewal, and cleaning or gardening amongst others.
  • This gives much further clarity to the CMA’s most recent guidance of 7th September, which has been regularly misinterpreted as a directive for full refunds.

The CMA’s breakdown is explained here: 

The CEO of the CMA, Andrea Coscelli, confirmed the CMA’s confidence in the Bijou settlement as a benchmark for the industry in September. “It is good news that Bijou has agreed to offer fairer levels of refunds to its customers, and we encourage other firms in the industry to follow suit

Another key part of the Bijou agreement was that the CMA confirmed that “Bijou will not have to give refunds to people who have already received, or are going to receive, their money back through their insurance.” This again puts pressure on the insurers to honour and payout on their insurance contracts.

We know discussion on refunds has been an incredibly tense and challenging topic for wedding businesses and couples over recent months, and hope this insight aids in reaching fair and amicable outcomes for both parties. 

At Bridebook, we strongly encourage that the optimal outcome for all parties is postponement, rather than cancellation, in the majority of cases. This allows couples and businesses to not forgo incurred costs, for businesses to retain this future business, and all parties to enjoy the celebration at a later date. 

We believe this insight into the CMA’s opinion will help give ongoing business confidence to wedding companies, give existing couples increasing confidence in their venue and suppliers, and adds needed pressure on the insurers.

I know these times are incredibly tough. The rollercoaster seems to never end, and the end is not yet in sight. But stay strong. We will get there.

2021 and 2022 will be incredibly busy wedding years. The COVID backlog of weddings will ensure the rapid recovery of our industry, the reflourishing of our wonderful businesses and the joy of hundreds of thousands of couples. Bridebook and I are dedicated to ensuring everyone gets there. This week, I have been on BBC News live and BBC Radio 4 live fighting for our industry and will continue to do so. 

If I or the Bridebook team can help you in any way or you’d like to discuss anything further, please email business@bridebook.co.uk.

We will continue to add any updates directly to this article.

Stay strong,

Hamish Shephard

7th September 2020: CMA News Update

Wedding professionals, particularly venues, have been one of the most hard hit and under supported groups of businesses through the COVID-19 pandemic. Our industry, usually so full of joy and love, has been plagued by financial and emotional stress as weddings are postponed and cancelled. And sadly, the majority of venues are still sitting empty through our industry’s peak season

On 7th September 2020, the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) updated their guidance on refunds and cancellations of wedding services due to the pandemic. The outcomes of this for wedding venue professionals are:

  • There will likely be an increase in requests for historic refunds / settlements from previous couples 
  • The CMA want the venue to split the consumed costs with the couple, so be aware of this 
  • We expect venues will be having even more difficult discussions with couples, as they have the CMA guidance on their side

As always, we recommend that venues remain firm and fair: do the absolute best for your couples whilst protecting your business. Also, do remember that whilst these guidelines are presented by the CMA to encourage reasonable and fair behaviour, the final determination of individual scenarios would only be given by a judge via a court escalation. For more information on this please read Explanation of CMA Guidance on Weddings & Refunds.

This guidance may not be what we wanted to read, but now more than ever, we must hold our heads high and continue to support each other. We must look to the brighter future to get through the ongoing difficult times we face.

How can you support influencing CMA advice, as a venue?

When the CMA first released their guidance on business refunds due to the pandemic, the  Association of British Wedding Businesses’ Venues Committee members were impacted as venue owners, along with much of the wider industry with customer refund claims and threats of action from the CMA. They considered the guidance to be unbalanced and unfair, so formed the Wedding Venues Support Group (WVSG) to mount a legal challenge on the CMA. Over 170 venues have joined the Company and pledged over £60,000, used to instruct solicitors and deliver Target One, outlined in this flyer. 

In light of the new CMA guidance, the WVSG are continuing their mission and are asking more venues to join this industry wide wedding venue initiative, as a united front. You can join as a member and pledge to support their fund HERE. New members will receive the full benefits of Target One legal advice and defences, and their subscriptions will be used to fund (for the benefit of all Members) Target Two, a Wedding Industry Standard Contract based on Counsel’s expert opinion, designed to be authoritative and CMA proof. If you have any questions, please email the team at info@wvsg.org

Keep looking ahead – the future is brighter!

Keeping your head up and pushing to fill the diary with bookings for 2022 and beyond is the only way to keep afloat through these tricky times. The new CMA guidelines mean venues may need to issue a higher number of refunds, so continuing to bring in new revenue to support your cash flow is crucial. The end of 2021 and 2022 are going to be the busiest years for weddings in history, so now is the time to be securing that business as early as possible. After all, the pandemic has not stopped couples getting engaged; Bridebook has seen 17,500 new couples sign up since the beginning of August, which is up 15% YOY! 

The Government update of 9th September limits social gatherings, indoors and outdoors, to 6 people only. Whilst this may feel like a step back, the good news is that this does not include weddings, which can go ahead with receptions of 30 people. Venues have been battling huge challenges of couples wanting refunds, only to go and host bigger receptions at home or in the pub. Couples who wanted refunds are already starting to request receptions for 30, now that their plans have been made ‘illegal’. Venues need to use this update to their maximum advantage, and market all availability for 30 person receptions to keep revenue coming in. 

There are many ways to support your revenue stream to get through the storm. We highly recommend optimising your Terms & Conditions to promote a healthy cash flow. For example, securing upfront deposits & booking fees for future weddings will be much easier than trying to find the equivalent cost savings this year. 

Secondly, make sure you take the time to review your Pricing Strategy. Pricing is your single biggest lever for revenue growth as a venue, so ensure you are being dynamic. For example, you should have very different prices for your Saturday in August, than a Tuesday in February – you need to be thinking how you can use your dynamic pricing to support your sales. Hamish Shephard, Bridebook CEO & Founder will be hosting a virtual Masterclass on creating a pricing strategy and using it to recover your business, so watch this space! 

Finally, in order to be securing those new bookings, you need to get your venue in front of couples. This is not the time to drop your venue marketing – quite the opposite! Make sure you keep up your social media, website content and keep any online profiles up to date. If you are a VenuePro member, make sure you keep your Account Manager informed of any Special Offers you are promoting so we can push them to our community. If you are not a VenuePro member and would like to see how we can boost your marketing, please leave your details HERE. For advice on how to make the most of your social platforms, how to build content, the benefits of video tours and more, see our articles & videos here. 

We are stronger together.

Our community is like no other; we are so lucky to be surrounded by genuinely caring, fun and resilient individuals in the wedding industry. Whilst coronavirus has caused terrible times for our industry, the one positive has been wedding venues coming closer together, which continues to be crucial during these turbulent times. The UK Wedding Venues Slack Group has been an incredible source of support for its 1000+ members, and we invite any venue who is not yet a member to join. A recent survey showed that 87% members would recommend the group to a friend, so what are you waiting for! We have been uplifted seeing venues coming together in all sorts of ways; whether it is to offer advice on a tricky situation, share personal experiences or just to jump on a video call with a glass of wine to de-stress. 

Whilst the updated CMA guidelines are not what our industry was hoping for, we urge our venue community to not feel defeated. By working together, continuing to push for support from the Government and maintaining a view for the future, we will get through this.