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First published in ITIJ 96, January 2009

weddedHappiest day of your life, or a total disaster? Roger St. Pierre investigates how the insurance industry is helping protect wedding couples from the unforeseen

It’s meant to be the happiest day of anyone’s life, but even the best planned of weddings can turn into an unmitigated disaster – and the risk of that happening is bound to increase if they should decide to follow the current trend to tie the knot in some exotic far-flung destination rather than just down the road at the local church,

There’s a lot at stake, with a recent survey by the Association of Bridal Consultants indicating that today’s typical American wedding will involve four bridesmaids, four ushers and around 150 guests – and cost an average US$30,000. Even among ordinary working families, budgets of US$100,000 are now not uncommon and in Europe costs run even higher. It’s a US$80-billion industry Stateside alone, And as town halls, hotels, museums and other, sometimes bizarre, venues now licensed for the performance of wedding ceremonies intensify fight for a piece of the action the overall spend on the first day of hoped for marital bliss is mushrooming around the world.

The brochures of the major tour operators are now overflowing with tailored wedding and honeymoon packages and many of the travel companies, Thomas Cook, Tui and Kuoni included, have dedicated wedding travel brochures that are flying off the shelves, even in today’s challenging financial climate.

Risky destinations

Factor in the travel costs involved in staging the event overseas – with the Caribbean, Mexico, Hawaii, Fiji, Bali, Tahiti, Mauritius and the Seychelles among the popular choices these days, not to forget that old favourite, Las Vegas – and the need for insuring the big day – and its run-up  – against mishaps becomes even more pressing. Finland’s ice hotels, cruise ships crossing the equator or the international dateline, the basket of a hot air balloon, a rollercoaster car – the places where people now say ‘I do’ are becoming ever more inventive, each of them presenting its own risk factors, which means opportunities for the underwriter who’s quick off the blocks.

Venues are becoming ever more widely flung as destinations and tour operators alike cotton on to the potential of what has become one of the hard-pressed travel industry’s few vibrant growth areas at this trying time. With hotels and other places now legally entitled to stage weddings in an increasing number of countries, the future really does seem boundless.

"the places where people now say ‘I do’ are becoming ever more inventive"

Of course, the unforeseen can strike in many ways. I was on a flight back from Jakarta that was supposed to be landing in Amman en-route to London; except it got diverted via Bangkok instead, That was no great problem for most of us, except that the distraught young man sitting glumly in seat 14B was on to his way to his wedding, set to be in, you guessed it, Amman! And what if it’s not the groom but the bride’s trousseau that gets mis-routed? The old ‘Breakfast in London, dinner in Las Vegas, baggage in the Bahamas’ adage takes on a whole new dimension when you are trying to shift bride and groom, guests, wedding presents and attendant luggage from one continent to another.

Just consider the tick list of things that can go wrong. The bride, groom or a member of the immediate family could be injured or fall ill; a hurricane, tornado, flood or power outage wrecks the wedding or honeymoon; the wedding dress or presents get damaged, lost en-route or stolen; a guest is injured and sues; the priest, rabbi, imam or officiating person fails to turn up; the wedding pictures or video get spoiled or the photographer simply fails to arrive; caterers or other service providers go bust after taking a deposit or, worse yet, give everyone food poisoning. Or maybe the best man not only gets drunk and ruins the carpet but also manages to lose the wedding ring. All this and much more besides is now coverable, Some policies available today will even cover the cost of re-staging the wedding pictures if they have been ruined or simply didn’t get taken in the first place, because of a no-show photographer – and this will include the cost of a new cake, flowers, limos and other props, as well as the photography bill itself.

These and a wide range of other risks can all now be covered by widely available wedding insurance and there’s certainly a Lloyd’s broker somewhere who would cover the risk of the bride or groom getting cold feet and jilting the person who was set to become their partner for life. That’s traditionally been an exclusion, though, because it has been felt that it could encourage fraud scams, though some policies will now include a carefully specified ‘change of heart’ section that will, for instance, enable the father of a jilted bride to recover monies he has laid out to pay for the wedding that wasn’t to be.

There’s another eventuality that American and UK wedding policies now cover and that’s for the unexpected call-up for military service if the bride or groom happens to be a member of the armed forces or reserve.

Public liability insurance is another ‘must have’ for the sensible wedding planner. Injury to guests or staff, property damage and alcohol related accidents can all be covered.  What for instance, if a guest carelessly drops a lit cigarette and the wedding hall burns to the ground?

"a hurricane, tornado, flood or power outage wrecks the wedding or honeymoon"

Most venue sites will automatically include insurance in their hire costs while home risks policies may also cover some elements, but there’s always the unforeseen and not already covered disaster to worry about. UK specialist wedding insurer E$L can even offer a policy extension to insure a ceremonial sword against loss or damage!  Their standard policies start from as little as £26 and cover the wedding and reception from up to two years before the actual date of the ceremony.

angrybrideWhere it all began

The wedding insurance business was born in Britain in the 1980s and spread to the US over the following decade. First on the American scene was Weddinsurance, developed by Robert Nuccio of RV Nuccio & Associates in the early 1990s and upgraded to a new component-based product in 1997. The programme is now underwritten by Fireman’s Fund and is sold throughout all 50 states by brokers and agents, on a commission basis. Besides weddings, the company also covers bar mitzvahs, reunions, anniversaries and other such celebrations, with premiums generally ranging from US$100 to US$1,000.

Among common claims that arrive in Weddinsurance’s in-tray are the cancellation or postponement of weddings for such events as sudden illness, such as a heart attack or appendicitis, serious car accident injuries, or the unexpected closing of airports, such as occurred in the wake of 9/11.

“Only those who could manage to pay for the same wedding twice over without wincing should be without wedding insurance,” observes Nuccio, whose company’s standard cover limit is US$500,000, adding, “A US$10,000 wedding might well be more of a financial stretch for one family than a US$100,000 outlay is to someone else – it’s all relative and most of us will eventually spend far more than we can really afford, so it really does make sense to insure it. Ordinary travel insurance does provide a degree of protection, but is not comprehensive enough for everything, not by a long-way. It does, though, pay to take into account what is already insured on existing travel or home all risks policies and then to get the wedding insurance tailored to fill in the gaps, says Amsterdam-based travel consultant Dirk Van Est, who currently facilitates around 30 overseas weddings a year.

WedSafe, which now shares domination of this sector in the States with Weddingsurance and is a subsidiary of Aon, was started in 2000 as a direct result of the experience of company founder president Karen Sandau and her husband Roger when they realised just how much cash was at stake in connection with their own planned destination wedding on the romantic Hawaiian island of Maui. “It was a massive investment for us and we felt we needed protection against mishap,” remembers Karen.

WedSafe’s tailored range of policies is underwritten by Markel North America and covers, among other things, deposits that are lost through cancellation or postponement for such wedding list items as accommodation, transport, catering, entertainment, wedding attire, photographs and flowers – with some interesting exclusions, such as the bride or groom violating parole and being sent back to prison, a divorce from a previous marriage not having been finalised in time, or inclement weather, excepting where it is severe enough to prevent the bride, groom, immediate family members or the majority of guests from attending.

Tailor-made cover

British wedding insurance provider Dreamsaver Wedding Insurance, a part of Voyager Insurance Services Ltd, markets its product primarily on-line: “We offer four different levels of cover and can also include marquee cover if the event is to be staged outdoors,” said their spokesman.

Ecclesiastical, Confetti, Churchill and Swinton are other British insurers already very active in the market: “Our policies can be tailored to cover everything from spoiled cakes to cancellations, unreliable cars to wilting carnations,” said an Ecclesiastical spokesman.

SecureMyWedding.com was launched back in July by Bermack, Champion & Lewine, who have been in the insurance business since 1962; “Wedding costs have soared and the personal and financial investment can be endangered by circumstances unrelated to prudent planning,” a spokeswoman told me, adding: “Inclement weather, unreliable caterers or a reception venue that closes down unexpectedly are all things over which those planning a marriage have little or no control. Wedding insurance helps to buffer the emotional and financial toll that outside influences can have on what should be a special day.”

Debenhams is a British department store chain that offers its own range of wedding insurance packages. Their cover includes up to £1,000 for loss of documents that are essential in order for an overseas wedding to proceed and, unlike most other policies on the market, offers up to three months’ after the event cover for items on the wedding gift list. Public liability is covered for one month before and two months after the ceremony.

"there’s certainly a Lloyd’s broker somewhere who would cover the risk of the bride or groom getting cold feet"

Not surprisingly, from small beginnings wedding insurance has become very much a growth business, with less than one per cent of American couples currently taking out any form of wedding insurance cover: “For just one or two per cent of the wedding’s cost you can insure it, and, given the sums at risk, that has to make sound sense. The potential market out there is absolutely enormous,” says Kyle Brown of the Bakersfield, California, based Bridal Association of America.

New Orleans-based professional wedding planner Jennie Keller used to insist her clients took out wedding insurance for any events planned to take place in hurricane season. Now she insists on it year round: “I believe it’s crucial to be properly protected. It’s horrible to start off a new life together with a disastrous wedding day but at least proper cover can mitigate the pain.”