The Caribbean wedding industry like so many others has been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and the attendant restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the virus.
Though the vaccination drive across the region is giving some glimmer of hope and people are still saying “I Do” albeit in smaller, micro-weddings, curfews and restrictions on venues and fluid protocols on gatherings in some countries still provide a challenge especially for many independent vendors.
Still, Natalie John is hopeful that the sector will recover and she is already seeing increased demand for destination weddings from tourists.
John is the owner of Dreamy Weddings, a wedding event business that operates across 13 countries in the Caribbean.
She is also the founder of the Caribbean Wedding and Events Professionals (CWEP), a non-profit regional organisation that represents Caribbean professionals and business entities.
As a regional champion for event industry excellence, she created CWEP as a platform for industry professionals to network, leverage their creativity and growth.
As part of Romance and Black History Month celebrations in February, John also launched her first book, “Covid-19 Protocols Guide for Weddings & Events”.
The publication, available on Amazon, provides standard guidelines of operation that event professionals should follow to ensure the health and safety of guests, employees, vendors and the community.
“As a planner, I am responsible for all the vendors around me and we make up that team and I need to make sure everybody on that team is of the same mindset. I have always advocated for oneness, I’ve always said the competition is not here in the Caribbean, it is overseas. And so while Governments were doing these broad protocols and there was nothing for our industry, I went about getting the research done and putting it in a book so our vendors across the Caribbean would have something to use as a guide,” she said.
Natalie John, owner of Dreamy Weddings and founder of CWEP
The book, she said, has blank pages to allow vendors to make notes from their own experience as well.
John said the book is also for brides and their guests to reassure them that their vendors are following proper protocols to avoid contamination.
The organisation, CWEP, was formed to go beyond the book by providing a network and support for small and micro-businesses.
“When you look at it from a Caribbean point of view, you don’t have associations that support us from a micro level. You will have a Caribbean Hotels and Tourism Association, but that is for the big hotel players, you don’t get organisations that speak to small and micro businesses to provide support,” she said.
“The other thing we don’t do well in the Caribbean, we do not network well when it comes to business. We are great at friendships…I don’t think it is something taught to us in terms of sharing and networking. CWEP is an avenue for us to learn, share and network and to develop best practices,” John said, stressing that if nothing else, COVID has taught us the importance of collaboration and community over competition.
A strong advocate for Caribbean unity in business, John said her organisation aims to encourage collaboration across the region.
“The pandemic has slowed everything down, some of us won’t be able to survive it until it actually comes back fully but that doesn’t mean we can’t collaborate and put off a wonderful event and we share in the profits. It may not even be for profit but maybe for some promotional value that enhances my business and your business,” she explained.
“Another thing COVID would have done for us is to see what are the non-profitable aspects of our business and to collaborate with somebody for whom it is profitable, it still makes for a great experience for the client. My aim is to show as the Caribbean we can unite…why can’t we have somebody in Trinidad network with somebody with Guadeloupe?”
Destination wedding decor on a beach in Barbados. Photo courtesy Dreamy Weddings.
The pandemic, she said, has shown areas where the Caribbean wedding industry needs to improve.
Contracts, she said, are now more important than ever to protect vendors with refunds and cancellations now more prominent.
She said in the digital space, vendors need to have a social media presence and do more with branding by showcasing the work they have done in the past.
The ease of doing business is also important, she said.
“You know in the Caribbean everything is no problem man, we would get back to you but we never do. For the ease of doing business, you need to have a response time. Is the same way if they walk into your store there would be somebody to greet them, that is what they want in the digital space,” she said.
CWEP conducts free webinars every month to educate vendors on some of these business practices as well as host mixers for members in each destination.
About Natalie John
John has been working in the wedding industry for 22 years.
Born and raised in Saint Lucia, she studied Commerce, Finance and Marketing at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Following her studies, John was working at the Central Bank in St Kitts when she received an email from a random person about arranging their 10-year anniversary vow renewal in St Lucia where they were married. The man had plucked her name from an email list online.
Even though she had no idea what she was doing, John put together a package, arranged for the couple to be married by the same judge who married them a decade before, arranged transportation and the ceremony at Pigeon Island.
“At the end of it, I paid everybody and I had EC$300 left and I thought to myself that was easy. I am here in St Kitts, this happened in are in St Lucia and they came back and said everything was so wonderful, they would love to be a testimony for my next client and there was no next client, so I said wow, maybe this is what I need to do,” she recalled.
She got a website, found the name for her company and about two years later Windjammer Cruises contacted her to partner with them to do weddings in St Maarten, Antigua and Nevis in addition to St Kitts and St Lucia where she was operating.
The Dreamy Group now includes Dreamy Weddings and Tours Inc., Dreamy Floral and De cor Bar Ltd., Dreamy Proposals, and Dreamy Rentals.
Recognised by leading media outlets, John has been the recipient of the A-List Wedding Planner designation by Destination Weddings and Honeymoons magazine in 2010, Caribbean Wedding Planner and Off-Site Wedding Planner of the Year 2018/2019 by Caribbean Wedding Industry Awards and in 2019 won the St. Kitts Business Excellence Awards by the St. Kitts Tourism Authority.
In addition to being a certified wedding specialist, she is a Chartered Governance Professional with the Chartered Governance Institute of Canada and a trained florist with experience in securities, tourism marketing and export credit.