The rise in affluence has transformed the Indian wedding into a lavish affair. Every little thing from the venue, to the decorations, to the food, has to be the best. And this has created a $40 billion industry, says Ajay S.Rathore

When US nationals Janet and Michael decided to get married, they ditched Florida and Las Vegas for Jaipur as the wedding destination. More surprisingly, the duo also decided to follow Indian rituals, replete with pandit and pheras, and got married in a palace in the Pink City.

Cut to Mathura in Uttar Pradesh. A traditional Jain family, which has lived in the town for six generations, is planning a beach wedding in Goa this February. Their son, working with a law firm in London, does not want the conventional wedding. The family is currently busy making inquiries with various wedding planners to organised a hassle-free event, which will double up as a holiday for family and friends.

While India’s colors and customs are luring foreigners to tie the knot here, it is the rising affluence and desire for ‘memories with a difference’ that is making Indians themselves splurge more than ever on weddings. And this has created an industry estimated to be worth $40 billion (around Rs 2.5 lakhs crore). Interestingly, allied industries such as beauty and fitness and photography are also benefiting from this surge in spending while exchanging vows.

The planners

Irrespective of economic downturns, weddings remain a stable business as it is a once-in-a-lifetime event for most people in India. The stability of, and rapid growth in, the business of marriage is what prompted florist Ferns ‘n’ Petals to diversify into wedding planning almost a decade ago.

While making floral arrangements for events, including weddings, the company realized that a lot more could be done apart from decoration. “We felt there was a gap that could be filled by moving beyond flowers to everything else, ranging from invitation cards and catering to entertainment of guests and photography,” says Atishrey Sharma, Director, We for Weddings & Events.

The fee for making weddings memorable is quite steep — wedding planners charge 10 per cent of the wedding budget as consultation fees.

This means a Rs 1 crore wedding will leave the planner richer by Rs 10 lakhs. While for most upper class people wedding budgets start at Rs 70-80 lakhs, it can go up to even Rs 10 crore for industrialists and businessmen.

But for most people, the big amount does not pinch as they try to outdo each other in opulence and extravagance. “We have handled weddings with budgets ranging from Rs 2 lakhs to over Rs 1 crore,” says Ajay Rathore, who started We For Weddings a years ago after running Happy Globe for 3 years.

Rising Trend

While weddings were a simpler affair about two decades back, economic liberalization and the rise of the middle class have prompted a change in attitudes. “In India, people are spending a lot of money on weddings. Gradually, the trend of hiring a planner is growing,” – Says Akshay, Creative Head, We for Weddings.

With most people busy with their careers and the joint family system declining, there is neither time nor the manpower to organised big weddings. “The nuclear family system is firmly established now and it is almost impossible for people to make elaborate arrangements for weddings without professional help,” says Rathore. This is boosting the business.

Hindu weddings, including Gujarati, Marwari and Punjabi, are spread over five days. Christian weddings last just a day, requiring decoration of the Church and catering services. And yet Christian weddings, too, are a big business for planners.

Simple flower decoration for a budget wedding can be done for Rs 20,000, while an elaborate arrangement at a five-star hotel can cost up to Rs 5 lakh.

Turning to professionals

But, increasingly, the business of flowers at weddings is moving away from standalone florists to wedding planners.

Many planners have tie-ups with specialist florists and photographers, who work with them on an assignment basis. Others have in-house teams dealing with everything from the mehndiwalla and beautician to invitations and caterers.

While going to places like Singapore and Bali is still catching up in India, Jaipur, Goa and Udaipur are more popular destinations.

“These places are popular because of good infrastructure and availability of big palaces and hotels,” says Rathore.

Destination is in

Since a lot of people now prefer to combine wedding with holidays, destination marriages are in. Pereira says most functions take place at these destinations with a smaller group of people. “There is usually a final reception back home for all the other guests. This allows clients to have a more memorable intimate celebration with their family and friends,” Rathore says.

Some properties in these popular destinations are focusing only on weddings to make money. The Raj Palace at Jaipur arranges not only the doli (palanquin) for the bride, but also camels, horses, elephants and drummers and dancers to be a part of the marriage procession. By spending a few crores more, the baraatis can include Bollywood stars and the sangeet ceremony can have singers such as Roop Kumar Rathod, Mika and Sukhwinder Singh. Silver cutlery and tables and the buffet linen can be customised for the client.

How to plan a destination wedding that’s cheap on the wallet?

A few savvy decisions can lead to big savings for your big destination wedding. Peak season is bound to be an expensive affair, but off-season could be a bummer on several fronts too. Choose to wed during shoulder season, which is the time period between peak and off-peak seasons, to enjoy the best of all worlds. If you want to invite everyone from your kindergarten teacher to your co-worker’s new-found boyfriend, then a destination wedding may not be for you. Limit the guest list to your closest kith or kin to maximise the celebrations.

Choosing a property that can house your guests and host all your functions will be more wallet-friendly than scattering your invitees and guests across multiple venues. Wallet-friendly destinations like Goa, Kerala, Thailand and Sri Lanka will cut down budgets, so will under-explored places where prices haven’t skyrocketed yet.  

How to plan a winter wedding

If you plan to ditch a summer wedding for a time with more nip in the air, be sure to create a cosy ambience so that you are not distraught by falling temperatures. Choose a destination with a balance of indoor and outdoor venues, so that your guests are not left freezing. Arrange for heaters and lounge areas with bonfires to keep the wedding weather-friendly. Give everyone a heads up on the expected temperatures so they can pack accordingly. A welcome gift of a shawl or a scarf will also make for a thoughtful touch that is sure to be appreciated by your guests.

“NRIs, who are our biggest clients, get a chance to re-connect with their roots through weddings here. Also, since they are unfamiliar with India, we help them arrange everything under one roof,” says Ankur Rara, General Manager at The Raj Palace, which handles about 25 weddings every year.

Despite these high expenses, the Indian wedding industry is growing at over 25 per cent annually. And as Rathore says, this is just the tip of the iceberg. When tier II and tier III towns wake up to the trend, wedding planners will earn more than ever before.

Happy Globe

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