COVID inspires entrepreneurs to launch elopement-style business

With less certainty in life thanks to COVID restrictions and job insecurity, there have been an increasing number of couples moving away from big weddings.

Elopements and outdoor weddings are tipped to be the latest trends, according to two local entrepreneurs, who are tapping into that market.

The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic inspired Gemma Dingle and Tanya Whitehurst to create a new business, Strawberry Umbrellas, that offers fun pre-designed ceremony packages - for just $420.

NEW VENTURE: North Dandalup family Gemma Dingle with husband Mark, daughter Mila, 9 and son, Seth, 6. Photo: Supplied.

NEW VENTURE: North Dandalup family Gemma Dingle with husband Mark, daughter Mila, 9 and son, Seth, 6. Photo: Supplied.

"Trying to plan a wedding during COVID - the brides are so stressed out at the moment, it's unbelievable," Ms Dingle said.

"One couple I'm supposed to be marrying is on their fourth postponement because most of the guests are supposed to be coming from overseas. Many people have had to re-organise things more than once and quite frankly, they're over it."

No-one understands better than her the stress of COVID affecting your big day.

Her wedding was scheduled for exactly this time last year. Her family and friends arrived in Western Australia from the UK on March 8 and just three days later Premier Mark McGowan announced everyone arriving in the state needed to quarantine. On March 13 countries around the world started shutting their borders and the next day she married her lover, Neil in a lavish ceremony.

Tanya Whitehurst and Gemma Dingle celebrate the opening of their new business, Strawberry Umbrella, together with their families. Photo: Supplied.

Tanya Whitehurst and Gemma Dingle celebrate the opening of their new business, Strawberry Umbrella, together with their families. Photo: Supplied.

It would be one of the last large weddings to go ahead in the state, as the world became gripped by the pandemic.

"We were all wide-eyed as we watched everything unfold and wondered if our wedding would even go ahead, it was sheer luck that we made it just in time," Ms Whitehurst said.

Her wedding celebrant was Ms Dingle - and now a year later the two of them are embarking on their first joint business venture.

SYNCHRONICITY: Celebrant Gemma Dingle (right) officiated the wedding of Tanya Whitehurst to Mark. Now the two women are going into business together. Photo: Supplied.

SYNCHRONICITY: Celebrant Gemma Dingle (right) officiated the wedding of Tanya Whitehurst to Mark. Now the two women are going into business together. Photo: Supplied.

"We've been brainstorming different ideas," Ms Dingle said. "Because we've been in the industry for a while, you start to see trends and people are definitely moving towards trying to simplify things. And we know people are busy so we wanted to take away the need for lots of different meetings."

Strawberry Umbrella offers four organised set-up venues including Navara Foreshore in Falcon and Silver Sands Beach in Mandurah.

Couples book their experience online, where they choose from three elopement style ceremonies that cater for up to 20 guests.

"What we're doing is quite different to anything else going on in the industry - we have done over 150 weddings between the two of of over the past four years," Ms Dingle said.

Couples book their experience online with a choice of three elopement style ceremonies. Photo: Supplied.

Couples book their experience online with a choice of three elopement style ceremonies. Photo: Supplied.

"We wanted to take out everything that's over the top, to make it about the couple and take it back to their love story.

"It's something a bit left of field for the wedding industry."

The elopement style doesn't appeal to everyone - but it's a dream for those on a budget and those wanting to keep things simple, whether that's because they're trying to build a house, are raising a family, or are unsure whether they will still have a job in a few months time.

Tanya Whitehurst (pictured with husband, Mark) says selecting Mandurah for locations was a 'no-brainer'. Photo: Supplied.

Tanya Whitehurst (pictured with husband, Mark) says selecting Mandurah for locations was a 'no-brainer'. Photo: Supplied.

Ms Whitehurst said Mandurah as a location was "a no-brainer".

"There is so much to do in the area. We're hoping ultimately we'll be able to attract people there to spend tourist dollars, to make a weekend of it," Ms Whitehurst said.

Up until four years ago, Ms Dingle was a stay-at-home mum in Silver Sands to daughter Mila, now nine and son, Seth, now six. Then she became a celebrant and together with her husband, FIFO worker, Mark moved the young family to a property in North Dandalup.