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 enquiries with various wedding planners to organise a hassle-free event, which will double up as a holiday for family and friends.

While India’s colours 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 lakh 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 realised 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 Ashish Boobna, Director, FNP Weddings & Events.

“By 2002-03, farmhouse marriages were catching and we realised that a project approach could work in the business of weddings,” he adds.

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 lakh. While for most upper class people wedding budgets start at Rs 70-80 lakh, 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 lakh to over Rs 1 crore,” says Gunjan Bansal, who started Lamore Weddings two years ago after returning from the US.

A fashion designer married to an army officer, Bansal was familiar with organising events for the Army. When her friend in the US decided to take her help in organising her marriage, Bansal agreed. The event was a hit; word about Bansal spread and she continued to arrange weddings in the US before moving back to India in 2011. “Weddings are a much bigger business in India unlike in the US, where events tend to be smaller and more formal,” she says.

Rising Trend While weddings were a simpler affair about two decades back, economic liberalisation 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 Bansal.

With most people busy with their careers and the joint family system declining, there is neither time nor the manpower to organise 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 Bansal. 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.

“A lot of people are now working abroad. Their parents are alone in India. They are not even familiar with possible venues for weddings. I am a one-stop solution for everything from cards to photos to the location,” says Tina D’Silva, proprietor of the Bangalore-based TJ Weddings. She specialises in Catholic weddings and handles 10-12 every month.

But with increasing inter-religious marriages, she is also offering services like decorating the mandap created for Hindu weddings.

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.

“Florists are unable to create innovative structures and designs for decoration or even play with lighting and fabrics. That’s why it is mostly being done by professional planners,” says Boobna of FNP Weddings.

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, such as the Mumbai-based Marry Me Wedding.

“Over the past few years, we have noticed clients requesting for more detailed orientation and for extremely different weddings,” says Candice Pereira, Creative Head and Co-Founder of Marry Me wedding planners.

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 Bansal of Lamore Weddings.

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,” she says.

Bansal points out that a destination wedding in Goa for 200 people could easily cost upwards of Rs 1 crore (See Table). In contrast, farmhouse weddings work out cheaper and are appropriate when the guest list has more than 500 people. This is because there is no expense on flying down people and arranging their stay.

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.

“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.

The margin in destination weddings is higher because property owners don’t have to invest afresh in lighting, background or façade — it is already in place. For a wedding with a budget of Rs 5 crore, very common in Jaipur, the palace management can end up earning 30-35 per cent or about Rs 1.7 crore.

Rara says his firm also arranges photographers, beauticians and other services. “We fly in make-up artists from Bollywood for some of our clients, who have to pay for their travel and stay,” she says. Beauticians charge between Rs 35,000 and Rs 45,000 for the make-up.

Despite these high expenses, the Indian wedding industry is growing at over 25 per cent annually. And as Bansal 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.

> rashmi.p@thehindu.co.in

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