One-upmanship? Celebratory celebrations? A zest for life? Whatever the reason, weddings are becoming larger, more involved and more expensive, and hoteliers in India have taken note of this developing trend.
REPORT FROM INDIA—“Marriages are made in heaven,” a cynic once said, “but expenses have to be borne on earth.”
However, with weddings in India, perhaps more than anywhere else, that line between heaven and earth is becoming increasingly blurred.
Purse strings are being loosened in grand style in India, with hotels hosting the celebrations required to organize Bollywood-style entertainment and reaping large rewards in revenue.
Today at a wedding celebration guests can expect—and do expect—Bollywood dance classes, lavish food and beverage and entertainment, celebratory appearances and perhaps the groom turning up on the back of an elephant.
All comes at a cost, hoteliers have noted, and those costs are increasing as a spate of celebratory betrothals have become social media, tabloid and TV sensations.
“Weddings are an important part of the (meetings, incentives, conventions and expositions) business for hotels. The MICE segment has historically contributed about 15% of the overall pie,” said Achin Khanna, managing partner at business consultancy Hotelivate.
“However, now with every passing year its contribution is growing. We are quite certain that on a pan-India level, it could be as much as a quarter of the business of big-box hotels,” he said.
A major portion of that growth comes from the wedding segment.
“Weddings in India are one of the most sustainable revenue streams, regardless of the economic situation. Over the years, we are witnessing an increasing demand for destination weddings, a mix of intimate and large weddings and, most importantly, growing demand for unique and themed weddings,” said Arif Patel, VP of sales, marketing, distribution and loyalty at AccorHotels India.
As Indian weddings have moved from banquet halls to hotels, Khanna said it’s interesting to see how major hotel firms have strategized to capture a chunk of this business.
For example, Marriott International unveiled its “shaadi” (Hindi for “wedding”) campaign in 2017.
“A broader assumption is that in the last two years the shift to hotels has been helped by demonetization. With the decrease in cash-led transactions and payment by way of check, it has levelled the playing field. The organized players have been able to penetrate the market that they traditionally lost out on,” Khanna said.
As Indian weddings occur on auspicious dates, hotel sales and marketing teams are aware of these dates and ensure that inventory is not sold out, sources said.
A significant portion of inventory often is retained to take advantage of the bulk business of weddings, which includes rooms, banquet and F&B. Properties are also being developed to take advantage of these trends, according to sources.
One of the earliest entrants in this field is Lakshyaraj Singh Mewar, executive director of HRH Group of Hotels and the third generation of his family to manage Indian heritage hotels.
“(Back at the end of the century) it was a conscious and concerted strategy to position HRH Group of Hotels as the most preferred hotels for weddings … regal weddings as a concept, an unforgettable, unique experience for families,” Mewar said.
“There were hurdles, and it seemed an uphill task. But soon the momentum built up and each of our historic properties—Shiv Niwas Palace, Fateh Prakash Palace and Jagmandir Island Palace—became the most sought after and exclusive venues for regal weddings,” Mewar said.
AccorHotels India’s Patel added his firm develops hotels in India with the wedding market firmly in mind, even adding extensions to cater to increasing demands.
One example of this is the Novotel Kolkata Hotel and Residences, which recently debuted an 18,000-square-foot terrace banquet space, Le Jardin, accommodating up to 1,000 guests.
Other key AccorHotels assets in India popular for weddings are the Fairmont Jaipur, Novotel Hyderabad Convention Centre and Novotel Visakhapatnam Varun Beach, Patel added.
Aiming for the spectacular
HRH Group’s Mewar said he realized the advantage of his hotels’ spectacular architecture, tradition and landscaping.
“HRH Group’s branding is built around (the slogan) ‘Experience the original in the abode of kings,’” Mewar said. “Our palace-hotels are where Indian royalty has lived and entertained for generations. Twenty-first century guests are able to relive a magnificent past, a real slice of history while enjoying today’s facilities.”
Large, specialist hotel teams are in place to literally roll out the red carpet, often for complete buyouts of public spaces and guestrooms.
“Families are booking the entire hotel for all their wedding ceremonies, instead of just choosing to do a single function,” Patel said.
He added pre-wedding events such as poolside “mehndi” (“henna”) rituals, sundowner parties, bachelor and bachelorette parties and “haldi” (turmeric powder being applied in a beauty ceremony and ritual) also are moving from homes into hotels.
Such parties and ceremonies are well-known to all Indians, and thus, Patel said, hotel staff understand the importance and minutest details involved.
Mewar said his hotels have “a large in-house team of professionals who ensure that every demand is met” and “work in tandem with external agencies on every request, be it the best of flowers or the finest of cuisine.”
“Entertainment today is a big draw. We work with the finest agencies who can fly in … dancers, musicians and DJs to make weddings rock. It matters little whether Chilean wines were served or Californian, what matters is whether the guests had a terrific time and will remember the regal experience,” Mewar added.
“Where else can you recreate such a magic? Each of our suites and palace rooms has authentic period furniture, rare paintings, chandeliers, mirrors and object d’art. Guests experience the original and take back memories that often last a lifetime.”
Khanna noted India “witnesses approximately 10 to 12 million weddings in a year.”
“We are the youngest nation with an average age of 29 years, which means (it) will be big business given the consumerism trend to spend and have grand weddings,” he said.
The mega-celebrity weddings are huge trendsetters, and the market already is very large, (but) despite that we are still scratching the surface of the wedding marketing,” Khanna said.
“It is humungous in pure marketing terms and percentage share. … We are still in the infancy stage. The potential to grow is tremendous,” he added.