Sonya D’Silva, WPICC is an Events Manager at the Westin Ottawa. She has an extensive background in wedding planning and events management, stemming back to her work with Kennedy Event Planning beginning in 2013. Prior to her career in the events world, she completed the Travel and Tourism Diploma, Event Management Graduate Certificate and Bachelor of Hospitality and Tourism Management through Algonquin College.
Among her other work, she has volunteered her time managing no-budget fundraiser events for various charities, worked numerous trade shows, and was a programming assistant for Easter Seals Ontario. She is WPIC and TICO certified, and now manages everything from large multi-day conferences to small social events in her position at the Westin Ottawa.
Why is a hotel a great venue for weddings? What unique things should you be looking for?
Plain and simple – Hotels are a one-stop-shop.
They have it all, the reception and ceremony space, the food & beverage, spa services and of course, the guestrooms.
The Bridal Party can get ready on-site, with hair and make-up artists working their magic in a suite, hotels can also provide breakfast and lunch service, or what about a mimosa bar for the ladies?
The Bridal Party can all sleep over the night before, in their own guestrooms all located on the same floor (or as close as possible) and be ready for the big day without having to worry about arriving late. No one ever has to commute!
Out of town guests don’t have to worry about trying to figure out how to get from their hotel to the wedding venue if they can stay in the same building.
Guests who live in the city can use this as an excuse to perhaps get away from their kids for the weekend, have breakfast in bed, attend a wedding, take in a spa service, and then head home.
You can have a staycation pre and post Wedding Day, and not just the guests, this, of course, could apply the bride and groom as well. The opportunities are endless!
What type of budget is needed to hold a wedding at a hotel?
Weddings come in all shapes and sizes, if we were to consider the following factors:
- 120 guests
- hosted bar all night
- up-scale hotel, in the heart of a city
- three-course dinner
- you could expect your total to be upwards of $16,000
- That would include the space (room rental), the food and beverage
- There are of course other costs that a hotel has like,
- Re-Sound & SOCAN fees if you’re hiring a DJ, they aren’t very high amounts, but they are amounts, nonetheless.
- There are also of course taxes and gratuities that cannot be forgotten and shouldn’t come as a surprise when it comes time to settle the account.
It is also important to note that most hotels and venues do not provide décor, florals, or entertainment. These are items that need to be sourced by the clients themselves, but venues are always happy to provide a list of local vendors to help narrow down the search.
What do you wish wedding pros would understand when they work with hotels?
Many properties are unionized. Although we wish we could always work ahead of schedule, it’s simply not an option.
Sometimes it’s hard to juggle everyone’s timelines – various vendors arriving for set-up can be a challenge if they aren’t properly planned in advance and patience with this is key. Everyone already knows everyone in the industry but sometimes venues, just like other vendors, have curve balls that are unexpected.
Load-Ins can be challenging and if a vendor has never been to a specific hotel before, it would be a good idea to familiarize themselves with the back of house spaces prior to the wedding day.
What has been your biggest challenge thus far in the wedding industry?
Is it too soon to say but COVID-19? Because this trumps everything I’ve ever been through.
Hailstorms ruining cocktail receptions, gail force winds blowing over reception tents, limos breaking down with the entire bridal party in tow, the wrong centerpieces being delivered, the mother of the bride refusing to attend the wedding at the last minute, and so much more. They all seem so easy to solve when I think about them now. I would be ever so grateful for those to be my only challenges with weddings.
COVID-19 has changed the industry, it’s so unfortunate, not just for us as employees but also the hopeful brides and grooms out there who had their weddings cancelled because of it.
Of course, they can postpone but that’s still incredibly stressful when you’re trying to manage finances, emotions, vendors schedules, and of course maneuver safely through a global pandemic.
As much as I am grateful for the moments away from my desk, more time with my family, more time to rest or enjoy longer walks with my dog I am ready to go back to my clients as soon as we overcome this.
What was your most memorable wedding and why? There are two sides to this coin. Memorable for two different reasons: because I’ve made lifelong friends with my clients, or because the experience was so surreal that I learned an important lesson and grew as an Event Manager because of it.
Both have changed my life in different ways.
The most memorable weddings teach those of us in the industry about what we want or don’t want for our own one day. We see the stress and chaos that come with it and the hours and hours of preparation that have gone into making it “perfect”. Clients always tell you, “I just want it to be perfect.” But nothing really is, and you can tell some clients that, but you can’t tell others. They put so much pressure on themselves and they seem to forget what’s important. The most memorable weddings teach us why we do what we do, we love helping people celebrate.
How long have you been in the wedding industry?
I started out as an assistant to a wedding planner in April of 2013 and have never looked back!
What is special about the Ottawa wedding industry?
It is the perfect size. And yes, I know nothing can ever be “perfect” especially when you’re talking about weddings. We never want to over promise perfection and under deliver but the Ottawa wedding industry is the PERFECT size. We’re a big city with a small(ish) team of incredible wedding professionals. We have remarkable talent in every aspect of a wedding day and we’re quite proud of it!
From planners to florists; from photographers to bakers; from decorators to musicians. We have it all within our big, small city!
Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?
What a tough question. It has always been my least favourite interview question. If I answer this hypothetically it would be that I’ve won the lottery and I’m living on a private island with my husband and all of our adopted dogs. I would still be remotely planning weddings because I would still want to work and weddings will never not be fun for me, I’d just be doing it on a tropical island. Since that’s not exactly realistic, I hope that I can continue to grow as an Event Manager, I would like to continue to develop my skills by trying my hand at as many different types of events. I would like to continue to meet new people in this big, small city, people who remind me why I’m glad my parents chose to call this place our home.
Tell us 3 fun facts about you personally.
– I am obsessed with my dog, Beau and with Nutella (it’s a problem and can’t compare to how much I love my dog but it’s a VERY close second)
– I used to be a competitive hip hop dancer but quit because weddings took over my weekends and I couldn’t commit to going to competitions AND planning storybook/Pinterest style/picture-perfect weddings at the same time – I have travelled to all the continents (excluding Antarctica, I figure since I live in Ottawa, the winter here provides the same experience I’d get and therefore don’t need to pay for).
Thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions, and for allowing us to get to know you better, Sonya!