The wedding industry in India was one of the first to take a major hit due to COVID-19. What are the current trends in this famously extravagant market and how are things shaping up for the months ahead? We find out. By Riaan Jacob George
Arguably the biggest question mark in the minds of large hospitality stakeholders was when and how the lucrative wedding market would bounce back. This segment has traditionally been a massive cash cow for hotels—and destinations—but it took an unfortunate hit in the pandemic. Currently, there seems to be a slow but steady comeback from stagnation, as more and more weddings are being hosted regularly. The format and the wedding trends, however, have changed. The guest count has reduced markedly and event planners are playing keep-up.
Ali Safdar Zaidi, COO of Scoop Brand Holdings, which specialises in big-ticket weddings, talks about how the scene has changed dramatically. “Pre-pandemic weddings were more about experiences in large venues with large gatherings. In the current scenario, however, clients have started looking at personalised experiences for guests. They have also moved away from installing monumental, themed structures at their weddings and embraced the beauty of natural-heritage sites.” Zaidi also indicates that technology plays an important role; seeking blessings of elders via a computer or television screen, for instance. “Instead of spending money on temporary decorations, families have invested in ancestral homes and have used the simplicity of existing structures and resources around it.”
The Waiting Game
Expectedly, leading hoteliers in the country have had to tweak their sales and marketing policies to accommodate the new normal weddings and its evolving trends. Flexibility is a major factor. “In terms of bookings, compared to pre-lockdown, the booking window for weddings has reduced and we are confirming at least 50 per cent of social events in a 45-day period,” says Ahemer Shaikh, Director of Catering Sales at JW Marriott Mumbai Sahar, a major wedding destination in the city. “Pre-COVID-19, couples would get married on auspicious days and weekends, making it easier for friends and family to travel to the destination. But due to pent-up demand, weddings are being conducted on non-auspicious dates and on weekdays,” Shaikh highlights.
Jaipur being the country’s nerve centre for big-ticket weddings, we asked Indu Khatri, Deputy Director, Sales & Marketing at Fairmont Jaipur about how wedding budgets have been affected. “The provision of sanitisation and safety, as well as increased manpower to accommodate new expectations, have increased expenses. However, there is an increase in the demand for destination weddings at luxury hotels since international borders are restricted. The average price for weddings has, therefore, gone up by 15-20 per cent, as compared to before.” Be that as it may, Khatri is optimistic about the upcoming quarters. “We already have multiple inquiries for intimate weddings for Q4 this year due to restrictions on international travel. We are expecting similar trends to continue in Q1 of 2022.” Shaikh, nevertheless, points to the inevitable drop in prices across the board. “Keeping the celebration close-knit has now become a social necessity. We have seen a drastic reduction of 40 per cent in the total billing currently, due to restrictions and government regulations.”
Zaidi opines that while guests are willing to spend more on F&B and personalised dining experiences, they are happy to keep the budget lower at the venue-hiring end. “There has been a stop on reckless spending and we notice an emphasis on frugal celebrations and even sustainability, in terms of opting for locally sourced florals and décor items.”
Talking about spending patterns, we get some perspective from the South Indian market, where patterns are quite different from the rest of the country. Srijan Vadhera, general manager at Conrad Bengaluru tells us, “As things are opening up, we see changes in our guests’ behaviour. Earlier, we took care of rooms, venues, and culinary aspects. But now the demand is end-to-end—from their engagements to bridal make-up, photo shoots to dedicated wedding specialists, and personalisation options. The umbrella group’s Wedding Diaries by Hilton is a one-stop solution for post-pandemic weddings.”
Vadhera also highlights that the rates have been a reflection of the market condition. “In the southern market, the last few months have seen a fair number of wedding and celebration events, but in keeping with all government guidelines. The acceptable number of guests in our event spaces is dynamic and keeps fluctuating due to changing government regulations.”
Back in Mumbai, hoteliers are looking extremely optimistic about the times to come. Shaikh concludes, “The years 2020- 2021 have seen the introduction of new wedding trends and creativity in event planning with micro-events, intimate weddings, and virtual audiences gaining popularity. Most guests are choosing to conduct their weddings in a residential format over a two-and-ahalf-day period with all their functions—starting with a mehendi/ sangeet, all the way till the reception.”