Destination Weddings - Is India Losing Out?
By Manav Thadani, Founder Chairman and Juie Mobar, Director - Special Projects at Hotelivate
The size of the global wedding industry is estimated to be upwards of US$300 billion according to various sources, and destination weddings make up a substantial portion of it. The past decade has witnessed a remarkable growth of this segment, which is not surprising when one considers the following:
- A couple planning a destination wedding has several locations to choose from - beaches, mountains, palaces, backwaters…you name it; local weddings can be very limiting in this regard.
- Planning, though being a very critical aspect of a destination wedding, is usually easier with most of the preferred locations having hotels and resorts oriented towards taking care of every aspect of the event.
- Destination weddings often have a guest list that is smaller and more intimate, allowing the bride and groom to spend quality time with family and friends.
- Also, contrary to the common perception, away-from-home weddings actually tend to be less expensive than high-end local weddings. Fewer guests, with many paying for their own transportation means that only the stay needs to be budgeted for.
- The wedding and the honeymoon are often combined, allowing for an extended celebration in a cost-effective manner.
- And most importantly, a destination wedding offers a unique experience with unforgettable memories for the couple and the invitees alike!
Within Asia, Thailand, Indonesia, the Maldives and Malaysia are the most popular countries for hosting a destination wedding. Surprisingly, India is not the foremost choice for such events despite its multi-billion-dollar wedding industry and the diverse locales the country has to offer. This is not to suggest that India does not host any destination weddings. Palaces of Rajasthan, Agra, Mysore and Hyderabad; the hills of Dehradun and Himachal; the beaches of Goa and the Andaman & Nicobar Islands; and the backwaters of Kerala are popular with NRIs and foreigners, albeit on a much smaller scale compared to the other countries mentioned above. In fact, over the last five years, more Indian weddings than ever before have moved out of the country to international locations. According to the Tourism Authority of Thailand, the country hosts close to 400 Indian destination weddings each year, with an approximate average length of stay of a week.
India witnesses about 10-12 million weddings annually contributing to several related businesses such as hotels, catering, travel, apparel, wedding planning, decorations, beauty and photography, among others. Weddings in the country are among the most opulent in the world, generally serving as a "status symbol", where splurging is expected. In fact, according to some industry reports, a person in India spends one-fifth of the wealth accumulated in a lifetime on a wedding ceremony. Moreover, the median age of the population in the country is forecasted to be 29 years by 2020, making it the youngest country in the world, further increasing the prospects of the Indian wedding industry (Franchise India, 2017). Yet, ironically, the nation's hotels and destinations are far from tapping into the true potential of this lucrative segment. The sheer lack of venues oriented toward hosting a wedding, together with an increase in the disposable income as well as aspirations, have been the major drivers for Indian couples seeking foreign locales to host a destination wedding. Condé Nast Traveler released a list of 22 great hotels for a destination wedding in Asia in 2017, and not even a single Indian hotel/resort featured in it - this says something! With limited inbound travel for destination weddings in the country and a rising outbound movement to Southeast Asia, Europe, Turkey and Africa, to name a few, the country is majorly losing out to other locations in capturing a pie of this flourishing business. With that established, let's evaluate how this trend can be reversed.
Develop a destination:
Taj was the first branded hotel chain to establish its presence in Goa back in the 1970s, accurately estimating its huge tourism potential. Today, the state is one of the most popular beach destinations in the country, with close to 8 million tourists visiting last year (Goa Tourism Statistics, 2017), including wedding parties. The hotel chain is also credited with pioneering the destination wedding concept in the country with its palace hotels in Rajasthan, starting with the Lake Palace Udaipur. India is bestowed with diverse, picturesque landscapes and several unexplored locations. With good connectivity, quality accommodation, participation of the local community, environmentally sustainable practices and adequate security, these places can transform into great travel destinations, not just for a vacation, but also for weddings. That said, it is necessary to maintain the sanctity of these places in order to retain the very characteristics that are likely to be a draw for visitors in the first place.
Align the hotel and resort's offerings to the needs of this segment: Destination wedding customers, while being part of the leisure segment, are a very different set - managing expectations assumes a whole new meaning here. Therefore, to capture their business, hotels and resorts in the country need to learn from their counterparts in the region - from the hard aspects such as adequate event space and number of rooms to the softer elements like the services offered. For instance, all-inclusive resorts, are extremely popular with destination wedding couples as they are relatively more cost-effective and convenient. All-inclusive resorts in Thailand, for instance, offer adaptable packages for different faiths, tastes, traditions and budgets. These include everything from rooms, meals, spa treatments, the wedding events and entertainment to an on-site coordinator that helps plan for every little logistical detail - vendors, currency, local taxation, obtaining a marriage certificate/related documents, local communication, travel concierge, time zones and weather, among other things. And, above all, these properties are flexible, eager to meet the unique needs and desires of couples on their special day.
Use of effective marketing channels: Marketing is a critical factor in attracting destination weddings. Aspiring couples want to know everything about the place before they finally decide it to be the venue of their choice. Additionally, they seek a personal connection with the venue, which is especially true for the millennials. This generation seeks authentic experiences, which it wants to learn more about and share with everyone electronically. Thus, hotels and resorts keen to tap this segment will benefit from developing a robust online presence through their websites, social media channels, blogs, mobile applications, electronic advertisements and collaboration with wedding portals and related businesses.
Zank You, for example, is a global wedding portal eyeing the Indian wedding market. Focussed on providing information and access to various wedding vendors as well as venues, the platform, reportedly, already has 4 lakh users and about 5,000 registered brides (The Economic Times, 2018). Moreover, to give due credit, some hotel chains in the country are beginning to tap the destination wedding segment and using effective marketing channels to attract this business such as Marriott. The chain successfully promoted its properties in Mussoorie, Paro and Goa as a one-stop solution for dream destination weddings via its "Shaadi by Marriott" campaign. Hyatt launched a creative global campaign "Anything is Possible" - a web video series based in France, the Middle East and now India - that takes the viewer through the journey of a young couple, who meet, unite and celebrate their wedding day at the chain's hotels. Another example is ITC Hotels, which has a dedicated webpage for weddings on its website showcasing 7 hotels across 7 destinations, promising to coordinate and perfectly execute a memorable event.
In closing, we do realize that there will always be a segment of the Indian population that will choose an overseas location for a destination wedding over a domestic one - after all, it carries the unmistakable tag of being "one-up". Having said that, India undoubtedly has tremendous potential to become one of the most popular countries for destination weddings in the world for both international and domestic clients alike; however, there needs to be a coordinated effort in that direction by all stakeholders of the hospitality industry, including the government. With our world-renowned service, beautiful locales, and thousands of aspiring couples across the globe seeking a destination wedding, why should India lose out on their patronage and billions in revenues to other countries? Ultimately, destination weddings, which is still somewhat of a novelty today, may well become mainstream tomorrow, and hence, the industry will be well-advised to go after this lucrative segment more proactively now than later.