The big fat Indian wedding is a dream come true.
For Krishma Sood Bhojwani, that meant hosting a four-day celebration at the JW Marriott in Phuket, Thailand. The bride imported wheels of cheese from Italy, sourced Iberian ham directly from Spain and hired a team of photographers from Mumbai. She flew in Indian and Japanese chefs, and cooks prepared fresh dishes at 24 food stations.
The wedding consisted of eight events spread over four days, all set against the backdrop of the seaside resort where lush jungle meets the province’s coastline. The 120 guests, who flew in from around the world and wore black tie attire and intricately embroidered lehengas, were treated to cocktail parties by the beach and parties in the ballroom.
Bhojwani had organized a floating altar and wore traditional outfits made by luxury designers like Sabyasachi, whose designs can cost $30,000 apiece.
As for the cost? About $400,000 for wedding events alone, Bhojwani estimates — and that doesn’t include the couple’s jewelry and outfits.
“I had a strict budget – money doesn’t grow on a tree. We were specific on costs and didn’t spend a dollar on what I said we would do,” Bhojwani said, who is from Australia, to Insider.
India’s wedding industry is worth $50 billion, and it’s not uncommon for wealthy families to spend astronomical sums on weddings. In 2018, billionaire tycoon Mukesh Ambani splashed out $100 million on his daughter’s wedding, with guests including Beyonce, Shah Rukh Khan and Hillary Clinton.
But even for the rich, weddings can be very expensive: Indian families have been known to spend up to $800,000 on destination weddings at five-star hotels and resorts across Southeast Asia. Traditionally, the bride’s family would bear the costs of the wedding, but this is now considered an outdated practice – many families, including Bhojwani and her husband’s, choose to share the expenses. As Bhojwani put it, Indian couples usually get “tremendous parental support” to finance the costs of their marriage.
Now, as luxury resorts across Southeast Asia emerge from the pandemic, many are vying for those lucrative Indian weddings. Many of these establishments are still suffering from the financial impact of the pandemic and are sparing no effort to attract business from wealthy Indian couples to fill the gaps. After all, that big Indian wedding may just be the deciding factor between ending the year in red or black.
The Big Business of Big Indian Weddings
One of the reasons why high-end Indian weddings can be so expensive is that they are often not one-day events – Sikh wedding ceremonies, for example, take place over several days, said Vin Ramash, a Singapore-based wedding planner. Alangkaar company.
“At the high end, Punjabi weddings start at $100,000 a day, so it’s possible to spend $500,000,” Ramash told Insider, explaining that this is typical of weddings held at high-end hotels like Capella, St. Regis or Ritz-Carlton.
But bells, whistles and torque quirks also contribute to the high price.
Handmade mandaps or altars and custom-designed decorations can cost around $40,000, Ramash said — and additional requests like fireworks can cost even more.
And then there is the travel element.
As destination weddings become more popular among wealthy Indian couples, many couples are looking to Thailand. Ramash said Alangkaar’s tourism partner in the country is planning 400-500 “big sale Indian weddings” in 2023 alone.
“Couples love destination weddings in Thailand because of the value you get for every dollar spent. People want an experience – it’s not just about status,” added Ramash, who organizes weddings in Thailand. Singapore, Bali and Phuket.
Bhojwani and her husband originally planned to hold their wedding at the Intercontinental Hotel in Phu Quoc, Vietnam. After confinements, travel restrictions and four postponements, they finally decided to organize their wedding in Thailand.
Phu Quoc vendors and planners didn’t understand what they wanted for their wedding “no matter how hard we negotiated”, Bhojwani said. Planners and the venue in Thailand, meanwhile, “got the vision, scale, grandeur and experience” she and her husband were looking for.
Tourist offices and luxury hotels fight for weddings
Given the pent-up demand and in a bid to return to pre-pandemic business levels, tourist boards and luxury hotels are prioritizing marketing campaigns that target the ultra-luxury Indian wedding segment. This means that destinations like Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Maldives often compete for the same big budget weddings.
Resorts leave no stone unturned to become the destination of choice. Hotels cater to all kinds of requests from weddings, including making special arrangements for religious rituals, such as providing a Hindu priest to perform the wedding. In some cases, they’ve even offered to rebook guests at partner locations if a larger wedding party wants to book the entire property.
Tourist offices are also getting involved.
For Thailand, wedding receipts are included in tourism receipts for the year. Thailand expects a 600-700 billion baht, or $16-19 million, increase in tourism revenue this year from luxury weddings and honeymooners, Reuters reported, citing a senior tourism official . Indian tourists are the “priority” this year, Tanes Petsuwan, deputy governor of Thailand’s tourism authority, told Nikkei Asia.
Other tourist boards, like that of Indonesia, are also on the prowl to woo these bright-eyed couples. These exclusive weddings can cost between $200,000 and $500,000, Sanjay Sondhi, CEO of Om Tourism and director of Indonesia’s tourism board for India, told Insider.
Indonesian tourism officials often work with the biggest wedding planners in countries like India, and in some cases are even present when resorts propose to the bride and groom.
The fruits of this labor can be sweet. For a planned high-profile wedding on the tropical island of Bali, talks now revolve around a charter flight for around 250 guests, Sondhi said. The couple were previously considering a destination wedding in Thailand.
Hotels roll out the red carpet
With the main Indian wedding season, which runs from October to December, just around the corner, hotels are seeing an upsurge in enquiries.
Demand for Six Senses properties across Southeast Asia for Indian destination weddings has increased, with Six Senses Uluwatu in Bali being the absolute “favourite”, said Agnes Poon, director of sales and marketing for Six Senses in Asia, at Insider. In August, the five-star resort hosted the wedding of an upscale family based in southern India, Poon said. And at the end of 2021, the hotel chain hosted the wedding of Bollywood stars Katrina Kaif and Vicky Kaushal. The wedding took place at the chain’s flagship property in India, Six Senses Fort Barwara.
Poon said requests were coming in for a minimum of 200 to 250 rooms at the resort, which sits on Uluwatu’s famous limestone cliffs and opens out to sweeping views of the Indian Ocean.
Of course, it’s not just Indian weddings that are big business. The global wedding services industry generated $160.5 billion in revenue in 2020 and is expected to generate $414.2 billion in revenue in 2030, according to a report by Allied Market Research.
Luxury hotel Capella Singapore hosts weddings every weekend of the year, Victoria Lim, content marketer at Capella Hotel Group, told Insider. Demand for venues is exceeding pre-pandemic levels – but the type of demand is also diversifying. Capella is seeing an increase in small and intimate celebrations, especially for couples who have put their weddings on hold due to the pandemic, Lim said.
But for many who take the traditional route of grand Indian weddings, it’s worth doing, even if they’ve had to change their plans several times along the way.
“I always dreamed of having a beautiful wedding,” Bhojwani said of her wedding in April. “It was really difficult, it was delayed for three years but we finally got there. It’s definitely worth it.”