It is that time of the year when couples are exchanging tender whispers of a lifelong pledge. Behind the scenes though, things are a bit chaotic and hotels and wedding planners are looking for a common ground where everything can flow smoothly. Hospitality Talk speaks with top planners to find out how many notches the wedding segment has climbed and the client’s evolving state of mind.
Wedding, the ultimate life event, remains one of the most aspirational moments in the life of Indian couples. These days, anything less than a destination wedding, even if it’s close by, is not brag-worthy. With millennial couples though, things get edgier and that’s when event planners can test their mettle.
Tamarind Global, one of the foremost event companies in India, undertakes an impressive number of weddings, especially high-end, celebrity weddings. Mahesh Shirodkar, Managing Director, Tamarind Global, has a beautiful take on what weddings are like these days. He says, “Hybrid weddings are the new thing this season where the larger functions like engagement, wedding, and reception are in the family hometown and a smaller select group is taken to an exotic destination for the sangeet, mehendi, cocktail, and other peripheral functions. Nowadays, clients are putting less emphasis on décor and more on experiential elements like food and entertainment. The regular format was three nights, but due to various reasons like escalating costs and pressure of entertaining guests, most people now tend to stick to two nights.”
Tamarind works closely with most of the big hotel chains, especially those with great outdoor venues and sizeable banquet halls. Shirodkar also talks about the impact of GST on the wedding business. “Weddings are a recession-free business. The variances in spending may occur with budget cuts. While tax percentage on rooms is up, the percentage on F&B is definitely down. Hence, there is no major concern for a direct impact of GST on wedding spends,” he says.
Having said that, the wedding business is no piece of cake. “It is an extremely demanding business, where customisation happens in every aspect of dealing with the families. Hand-holding and nurturing is a given. We handle weddings on a turnkey basis. We become the single point of contact, from hospitality and guest relations to logistics, RSVP, event production, décor, entertainment, and artists. Bringing the smallest of elements together in a seamless way is what we bring to the table. The wedding business is a growing vertical for us and the size and scale of weddings is getting bigger, evolving with the new trends. The pitch is what I like when you meet the family for the first time and they are assessing you and your abilities. From then on, once we are on board, the entire journey up to execution is what is exciting and the culmination of a successful event with gratification is the best part,” he adds.
Shirodkar expects the next few years to see an emergence of wedding ‘curators’ rather than wedding ‘planners’. “The business of weddings will get even more demanding and clients will want newer destinations and value for money. However, the cumulative value turnover for weddings will always be fairly exponential,” he says.
Destination weddings are this company’s main forte. Just over a year old, Milestones to Memories (MtoM) is a sister company of Harvey World Destinations, collaborative strategic business partners, so to speak. Aarti Manocha, Managing Partner, Harvey World Destinations, feels that the trend has been to host weddings in India and destinations close by. “However, people are happy to go to newer and experiential destinations for their weddings. The previous year has been relatively slow for weddings as compared to the one before. Fewer auspicious dates and demonetisation are to blame. Weddings the year before were on a smaller scale with tighter budgets and mostly within India,” she says.
There is also more emphasis on entertainment, especially the sangeet night that is bound to have a Bollywood music band and a trend of international DJs for after-parties. The company curates the entire project, from destination selection to finalising the décor designer, and from selection of artists to creating special menus and food experiences. The company is also flexible in getting involved with selective areas of work based on the client’s requirements. “We have an experienced and passionate team dedicated to wedding projects. I am personally involved in most of the projects. We ensure that we do limited and quality work, as the wedding season is short. We also do not take overlapping projects,” Manocha adds.
MtoM likes to work in destinations such as Udaipur, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Goa, and Hyderabad. They have partnered with most of the hotels in these destinations. “They all have their own uniqueness and strengths. In the wedding business, the selection of the hotel depends on a lot of factors, including the client’s dream venue and where they get a positive vibe,” Manocha says.
With the GST going up by three per cent for events business, the impact has not been direct, wherein the clients have an objection to pay the GST on their wedding billing. “But yes, indirectly it has affected business as the spend on weddings has reduced,” she adds.
Destination Globe is well-known for dreamy weddings and they do one grand wedding in a year. Parul Mehta, Partner, Destination Globe, says, “That is the intention and we are good with that since it is not the only aspect of our business. We cater to the segment by putting in the right amount of time and energy. Since all our weddings are very high profile, I get involved personally.”
Speaking about the trend that is getting popular with such weddings, she says, “Pre-wedding shoots, themed youngster parties, brunches, ghazal nights, Bollywood star appearances, shooting the entire wedding like a movie, drones for aerial photography, full buyout of the resort or a small town and making it their home for the next few days mark the luxury in weddings. Most Indian couples want a grand wedding ceremony away from city life and so, choosing a beautiful wedding destination has become a trend.”
Mehta loves to work with hotels like The Oberoi Rajvilas, Leela Palace Udaipur, Taj Falaknuma Palace, and Umaid Bhavan in Jodhpur. “Having said that, we don’t do weddings only in India. We try to suggest destinations where no Indian weddings have taken place, particularly places that have direct flights,” Mehta adds.
Weddings are recession-proof
If there is any industry that is almost recession-proof, says Birju Gariba, CEO & Executive Director, Platinum World Group, it is the wedding industry. This is because it is usually a once-in-a-lifetime expense and has a prestige value attached to it. “Although the industry currently shows a bit of slowdown, the coming months will show a good spurt in spends. This segment, especially from a destination perspective, is exploding and the banquets of local cities are now passé. The options have expanded from within and around India to places like Europe, Australia, and the Americas. The change has also prompted a shift of functions and themes to bring alive a local flavour,” he says.
Of course, GST has had its effect. Gariba says, “It has taken our industry by storm, especially since it is one of the largest unstructured industries. It is undergoing a lot of transition presently. However, for a lot of HNIs who engage wedding planners, GST has already made its place and hence, it soon will for the industry as well.”
Speaking about some of the favoured hotels for weddings, Gariba names Umaid Bhavan Palace, Rambagh Palace, and Jagmandir Palace in Udaipur in India. “Each of these hotels has the most spectacular space and their grandeur brings a different level of visual appeal. Otherwise, the most conducive hotel chains are The Taj, The Leela, and of course, The Oberoi, with some Hyatt and Marriott properties providing good support, given the logistical requirements,” he says.
Platinum handles services from scouting venues to the honeymoon, only leaving out the matchmaking process. They have a special Operations and Client Servicing team that takes care of this segment. “The beauty of this business is that it works with the word of mouth and efforts to do BDM are minimal. The entertainment part takes a lot of focus. Reality TV shows have exploded the choice of entertainment. We have seen artists from Bollywood to international pop stars perform at weddings, but most popular are the playback singers on sangeet nights or performers from various dance reality shows. Foreign performing artists, too, are popular,” Gariba says.
Chennai-based Baywatch Travels, meanwhile, has taken a different route to stand out in the wedding segment. It usually undertakes the core of the wedding requirements, like ticketing, logistics, accommodation, banqueting, designing, and decoration. Manish Kriplani, Managing Director, Baywatch Travels, says, “We are an IATA agency, so our ticketing and visa department is our strength over other wedding planners. Our DMC arm helps us connect with hotels that we deal with on a daily basis for our leisure segment.”
Destination weddings are ruling the roost right now and most of his clients from Chennai are looking for new locations in Sri Lanka, Langkawi, Bali, Phuket, and Dubai. They prefer direct flights and visa on arrival. “When clients attend other weddings, they are convinced that this is the way to go as it’s practical and surprisingly cheaper than having it in their hometown, as they filter the crowd and get to spend time with people who matter. I believe that when a client gives me this responsibility, they are expecting an RoE (Return on Emotions), and we have to live up to it,” Kriplani says.
Baywatch has organised weddings that have no emphasis on entertainment, but the basics need to be provided, like in Phuket they have Simon Caberet and a Russian aerialist in Bali. “What is important is a luxurious venue, grand banqueting, and a lavish mandap. Initially, there was a slowdown because of GST as nothing was clear. However, parents don’t hold back when it comes to weddings,” he adds.
Speaking about his preferred hotels, he says that there are a few hotels that have weddings booked every single day during the season and that is when the rates soar. But if it’s out of India, there are several options. “Whether in India or overseas, we are comfortable with Marriott and Starwood because the GSO not only connects us to the right people in the hotel but also helps us with negotiations and hand-holds us until the end of the wedding,” he says.
Your advice to hotels
“Hotels should have professional event managers on payroll who can focus on wedding requirements, as just sales and operations managers at unit hotels are not enough. Flexibility of buyouts, flexibility of outside catering, and having qualified Indian specialty chefs, helps. Also, hotels must adopt technology to make process implementation in this segment more effective.”
Managing Director, Tamarind Global
“Some of the hotels we have worked with have tried to deal directly with clients, which I feel is not ethical. The hotel should exhibit integrity and in fact, encourage the client to communicate through the planner.”
Managing Director, Baywatch Travels
“Hotels should be flexible and understand the sensitivity around Indian weddings. They should look at having an expert in their team who can be the point of contact just for weddings.”
Managing Partner, Harvey World Destinations
“Hotels that are geared up to do Indian weddings are doing a fairly good job already.”
Partner, Destination Globe
“The biggest challenge with hotels is the venue and banqueting space. They must first plan venues keeping in mind the average size of Indian weddings. Also, they should not look at weddings as another P&L account, as the involvement of emotions is bigger. They must step into the shoes of the family and try to work around their dreams without comprising on revenue.”
CEO & Executive Director, Platinum World Group
Top five places in India for a destination wedding – By MakeMyTrip Expert
Goa is just perfect for a romantic wedding by the beach. Goa is undoubtedly a great choice when it comes to tying the knot and you will be spoilt for choice for the kind of wedding you want. Choose between a beach wedding, a garden wedding or even a sunset wedding. Your Goan wedding can also be revved up with Portuguese music and dance, fireworks, and even fire jugglers. Hire a wedding planner to plan the ceremony or use the wedding planning services provided by many five-star hotels to their patrons. Popular wedding venues in Goa include The Taj Exotica, The Leela, and the Turiya Villa and Spa. Beach weddings require a permit, which your wedding planner or hotel can help you get.
If you’ve always wanted to feel like royalty on your wedding day, then India’s royal state, Rajasthan, is your best bet. From grand havelis, to royal palaces, you have a plethora of choices. Udaipur remains a popular wedding venue in Rajasthan, owing to its romantic ambience and many beautiful lakes and royal palaces. Also known as Venice of the East, Udaipur has many gorgeous wedding venues, such as Devi Garh, a rambling eighteenth-century fort and palace, or the City Palace Complex, where the Mewar royal family still lives. Pink City, Jaipur is another wonderful city for your wedding and you can choose from venues such as the Jal Mahal Palace, situated in the middle of a lake, or the Samode Palace- a heritage venue nestled in the Aravalli mountains. Jodhpur, popularly known as the Blue City, is also a great place to tie the knot. If opulence is what you’re looking for then you can either choose the spectacular hill top Umaid Bhavan Palace or the majestic Mehrangarh Fort. Those on a modest budget can choose between the equally impressive Ranbanka Palace or Ajit Bhavan.
God’s Own Country, Kerala is the ideal place for those looking for a quiet, yet picturesque wedding. Choose between a wedding by the emerald backwaters, the beach or a resort. Many hotels and resorts assist patrons with their wedding planning and the beautiful Zuri Kumarakom resort near Allepey is a popular choice. If you want a beach wedding then The Leela in Kovalam is a great venue. Looking at doing something different? In that case you can opt for an elephant-themed wedding, in which the groom rides into the venue on the back of an elephant. You can also choose a traditional Malayalee wedding ceremony, complete with food served on a plantain leaf and a classical dance performance by a local troupe.
Home to the Taj Mahal, Agra needs no introduction. And what better way to tie the knot than with the symbol of eternal love in the backdrop! Hotels like the Jaypee and Radisson have special wedding packages and will help you plan that perfect wedding. Exchange your vows in the city of the Taj and take back memories to last a lifetime.
Choose between a beach wedding, a resort wedding, a high adrenalin adventure wedding on a speedboat or even while swimming with elephants in the sea. The Havelock Islands are a popular wedding venue in the Andamans, and hotels and resorts like Barefoot at Havelock can help you plan your wedding, right from arranging the wedding ceremony to caterers, florists, and decorators.
Top 8 hotels around the world for destination weddings
- Komaneka Bisma, Ubud
Location: Ten minutes from Ubud Market.
Why destination wedding: Celebrate your big day in a stunning Wanasmara wedding chapel. A terrace restaurant and mini amphitheatre for live music make the occasion perfect.
Wine and Dine: Lobby and pool bars; fine-dining restaurant with Indonesian, Asian, and Mediterranean delicacies.
Hotel USP: Treetop picnic lunch, Balinese cooking class, pool villas overlooking river valley and rice fields.
- The Royal Pita Maha, Ubud
Location: Five minutes from Royal Palace and Ubud Market.
Why destination wedding: Say ‘I do’ in an intimate setting at Sacred River Pavilion amidst tropical gardens and spring water pools.
Wine and Dine: Three gourmet restaurants with the best of traditional and global food; Dewata Lounge for evening cocktails.
Hotel USP: Balinese-style villas with sun terrace and canopy, Royal Kirana Spa, classes for wood carving and painting.
- Adaaran Hudhuranfushi
Location: Near Kani Beach on Lhohifushi Island.
Why destination wedding: With a cool breeze, sound of the ocean waves, and an air of romance, your wedding will be a memorable event for life.
Wine and Dine: Four bars (including poolside ones) and four restaurants offering international cuisines.
Hotel USP: Uber-cool villas with private sundeck and 24-hour access to the surrounding ocean; volleyball, surfing and more to keep guests busy.
Location: Few minutes from Laguna Beach.
Why destination wedding: The perfect beachfront ceremony with Maldivian Boduberu folk music, followed by a sunset cruise in a traditional Doni.
Wine and Dine: Five restaurants that offer pan Asian seafood, Spanish tapas, Mediterranean, and international favourites; sundeck and beachfront bars for a night out also available.
Hotel USP: Spa treatment in over-water rooms, night fishing and snorkelling, the hotel’s very own PADI-certified dive school.
- Ramada Udaipur Resort and Spa
Location: Near Sajjangarh Fort (Monsoon Palace), Lake Pichola.
Why destination wedding: Ten venues with traditional stonework, a central courtyard and lawns on three levels to host your royal wedding.
Wine and Dine: Myra for all-day dining, Amber for poolside dining, and Liquid Lounge Bar.
Hotel USP: City-facing swimming pool and Sohum Spa, cocktail making and cooking sessions, eco-friendly resort with themed rooms.
- Purple Seas Heritage Resort
Location: Near Eklingji Temple.
Why destination wedding: If saying ‘I do’ in a heritage property has been your dream, then an outdoor ceremony against a scenic backdrop will be perfect.
Wine and Dine: A multi-cuisine restaurant with vegetables and fruits sourced from farms; barbecue and bar.
Hotel USP: Luxurious rooms with jharokhas, pet-friendly accommodation.
- Resort Rio
Location: Five-minute drive from Baga Beach.
Why destination wedding: Whether you choose a grand celebration or go simple, the wedding planners here will make it a success.
Wine and Dine: Four dining options (pure vegetarian, multi-cuisine, Goan, Italian), a lounge bar for drinks at night.
Hotel USP: Ayurvedic and herbal treatments at Zaara Spa, yoga centre, in-house salon with mineral makeup products.
- Phoenix Park Inn
Location: Close to Calangute beach and Candolim beach.
Why destination wedding: Make it a stylish affair in North Goa, along the shores of Candolim. A perfect beach wedding indeed!
Wine and Dine: Multi-cuisine restaurant, snacks and light bites, poolside bar and barbecue with al fresco setting.
Hotel USP: Proximity to popular Goa beaches, landscaped outdoor pool.