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The great Indian weddings business is bouncing back as the covid pandemic shows signs of receding. Wedding planners, venue operators and hotels said high-end weddings are likely to make a full recovery by March.

FNP Venues, a unit of flowers and gifts retailer Ferns N Petals, which operates wedding venues in Delhi-NCR, hosted 1,000 weddings at its 11 luxury locations in 2019. Vikaas Gutgutia, founder and managing director, said he expects the business to return to normalcy by March.

This year, wedding companies will likely make up for all the losses of 2020-21 and may even be able to charge a 10-20% premium, he said. “People have saved up a lot over the last year-and-a-half, so a lot of weddings are either happening or waiting to happen. If we were to apply our regular yardstick, we should be doing double the weddings till the end of this fiscal as compared to 2019."

Weddings bookings for the January-March period have come back strongly, said Darshan Shroff, partner at Momente Weddings. “Most good venues are booked out for January, February and March, especially in Rajasthan and Goa. We are finally doing the same number of weddings as in 2019," he said.

There is a surge in enquiries for 2023 as well.

Several states have allowed 250 people at weddings. In Delhi, the number has been capped at 200, but authorities have 50% capacity restrictions in parts of NCR. In Mumbai, too, venues are allowed to operate at 50% capacity. Rajasthan is allowing 200 guests.

While there are no exact numbers on the size of India’s wedding market, WedMeGood.com, an aggregator of all-things-weddings, estimates the pre-covid market to be nearly $40-50 billion. To be sure, people still prefer smaller weddings, Shroff noted. “It has become very acceptable to call fewer people now and improve the quality of the wedding. People don’t want to call more than 250 people in most cases and just send gifts instead to their acquaintances in place of a wedding invite," he said.

Hospitality firms are also making the most of the return of weddings.

Hotels at several locations have hiked their rates by at least 10-20% from pre-covid levels. Since many international locations are still off-limits, the demand for destination weddings is mostly domestic. Many of the existing inventories are sold out for January and February in popular resort destinations.

Niraamaya Surya Samudra, Kovalam, a member of Relais & Chateaux—an association of individually owned and operated luxury hotels—foresees a 20-25% increase in destination weddings at their property.

At House of Rohet in Jodhpur, the wedding business is up from 5% of total business to 30% this year. Samode Hotels, Jaipur, has seen a 40% growth from a year ago for its weddings business. In FY23, it is expected to match the 2019 wedding business.

Shroff of Momente said he is working on at least three multi-crore ‘destination wedding’ projects in Rajasthan and Goa for January-March. Since luxury wedding venues are limited, the top 5-star hotels in Rajasthan and Goa are charging a 25-30% premium on auspicious dates between January and March. The Westin in Gurugram, New Delhi and its Sohna Road resort is sold out until the end of 2021 for wedding dates.

Vikram Mehta, founder at Mpire Events, which helps plan luxury weddings, said the pricing of hotels he works with has shot up by 30% post the second wave. “It’s a steep climb due to multiple enquiries on the same dates. With regards to vendors, more than the pricing, it’s the lack of availability on some dates. Overall, weddings are at least 25% more expensive than before covid," he said.

In the Maldives, Soneva, a luxury resort, said it expects to grow its Indian wedding portfolio by 30% by the end of March.

Following the fluctuating graph of covid-19, the wedding industry experienced a massive downturn in April-May 2020, said wedding platform WedMeGood. It was only between 20 September and 21 February that some restrictions started to ease up, but this too brought only temporary relief as the second wave hit in March. Following this, new restrictions were rolled out where the guest list was capped at just 50-100 people in popular wedding destinations like Delhi, Mumbai, Rajasthan and Goa.

While the weddings may be smaller, the spending has not declined.

Aashna Saran, founder at Aash Studio in Mumbai, agreed that post-pandemic weddings have become expensive as the cost of procuring perishable items such as flowers have risen substantially. Experiential themes and personalized décor have become popular and costly, needing a separate budget to be allocated by most families for décor and detailing.

Saran added that couples are now willing to explore more experiential and fun options —for instance, they’re keen to throw sundowner parties.

Rahul Puri, multi-property general manager, Westin Gurgaon, New Delhi and The Westin Sohna Resort and Spa, believes that as the country returns to normalcy, weddings will keep witnessing a gradual uptake in the guest list as well.

“Intimate weddings will continue to prevail as an individual choice, but as an industry, we will see gravitation towards larger gatherings and the bounce-back of grander ancillary pre-wedding events," he said.

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