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Monday, 05 June, 2017, 10 : 41 AM [IST]

Packaging India for Destination WEDDINGS

Akansha Pandey

As per the Wedding Tourism Report by MRSS India, the wedding market in India is pegged at INR 110,000 crore of which around INR 23,438 crore can be attributed to destination wedding. The figure is slated to grow at a staggering rate to INR 45,000 by the end of 2020 as per leading ecosystem players. This in itself speaks volume of the opportunity that India has to place itself on the global map of wedding tourism.

India enjoys considerable advantage when placed head to head with the prime global destinations of wedding tourism. But sadly, the sheer lack of promotion and marketing of India as an experiential wedding destination coupled with the high tax burden has dampened the spirit of even Indian nationals to hold luxury thematic destination weddings in the country.

The competitively priced destinations such as Thailand, Dubai, Mauritius, Maldives, Sri Lanka, etc., have moved faster into the space and realised the immense potential thereby targeting and attracting the wedding business from India. On the long-haul front, destinations in United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, France and Scandinavia have also up their ante in grabbing a pie of the wedding business.

Speaking at the maiden edition of FICCI Wedding Tourism Summit at The Lalit, New Delhi, organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) in association with Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, Suman Billa, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Tourism (MoT) lamented, “The high tax burden has come up as a big blow to the wedding business where from hotels to wedding planners every vendor will levy taxes on customer, thus making the event expense costlier. This will not only make the destination wedding business more expensive but also less attractive in the country. For India to retain the business of big fat weddings, it is vital for the tax to be competitive as compared to the neighbouring destinations.”

At the same time, he also asserted to cash in on the rich base of Non- Resident Indians (NRIs) and Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) to boost the wedding tourism business in the country. He added that social media can play a vital role in influencing and spreading awareness about new wedding locations, thematic experiences and on ground facilities. Targeting the 54 lakh non-resident Indians come to India annually, early this year MoT also ensured its participation at the 14th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas Convention at Bengaluru, Karnataka.

“India has a lot to offer and keeping in mind the target we have set for the tourist arrival by 2020, we need to boost all other prominent segment simultaneously. Wedding travellers stay longer and spend more, thus it is essential to tap this segment. The idea is to connect all the stakeholders in the wedding tourism sector, identify the challenges and work on it thereafter,” Billa stated.

Unfortunately, at the event among the participants from State Tourism Boards, there was only one state – Rajasthan which showcased its offerings at the event, while others were conspicuous by their absence.

Preferred Wedding Destinations in India
Once thought of as a dry and arid state in the 1970’s, Rajasthan with its wide array of forts, palaces and luxury hotels has emerged as a preferred wedding tourism destination. Actor Raveena Tandon and her film distributor husband, Anil Thadani chose the romantic city of Udaipur to solemnise their vows while singer Katy Perry and comedian Russell Brand got married in a true traditional style wearing Rajasthani dresses and circling around the fire in Ranthambore.

Rajasthan promotes wedding tourism as a niche product in its policy and provides assistance by listing wedding tourism destinations online. It’s palatial and heritage properties and gardens in government undertaking are also open for hosting wedding events. Siddharth Chaturvedi, CEO, Event Crafter, said, “Rajasthan attracts INR 2,500 crore of wedding business annually, growing at a whopping rate of 25- 30% y-o-y. Though Jaipur, Udaipur and Jodhpur observe the maximum wedding events, other towns of Devgarh, Jaisalmer, Bikaner, Mandawa, Pushkar, Alwar, Neemrana and Ranthambore are also emerging as prominent wedding hubs waiting to be explored.”

Similarly, Ramoji Film City, the location which has become synonymous with wedding tourism in South India showcases grandeur, opulence and convenience at its best. Rajeev Jalnapurkar, Director and CEO, Ramoji Film City, admitted that the potential of wedding business was recognised by their business partners who further pushed them to leverage end to end wedding solutions.

“Indians love the Hindi movies and weddings at Ramoji are enriched with the cinematic touch. The locations where famous movie scenes are shot are most in demand by the wedding hosts. On a continuous basis, Ramoji Film City is working hard to market and offer a flawless wedding ecosystem,” he added.

With event space spanning 10,000 acres, offering capacity of over 1,000 people and the facility of providing turn-key wedding solutions, Aamby Valley City in Maharashtra is another jewel in India’s crown when it comes to lavish wedding locations. Rajesh Mohan, GM, Aamby Valley City and Hotel Sahara Star laments that mini destinations like Macao are over-powering India in wedding business figures. Even other South Asian destinations are scoring wedding business with better campaigning in place.

Wedding Planner’s Perspective
With intriguing culture and heritage, folk music, the authentic way of life and eternal stories, several destinations in India qualify as a ready wedding destination wherein the stakeholders can simply plug and play. Unlike the West, the wedding events in India can be organised with a high degree of personalisation. The middle class has gone aspirational and India has observed a growth in their disposable income. Celebrity endorsements of destination marriage and the NRI connect has also paved way for India as a wedding hub. Still, wedding planners feel that there a number of challenges waiting to be addressed.

Samit Garg, CEO, E-Factor Entertainment, asserts that a number of niche destinations in India offer apt setting for experiential weddings from across the globe. However, due to the dearth of scheduled connectivity to such remote locations, the Government of India must be open to non-scheduled connectivity by foreign charters.

“Foreign charters operate at ¼th the price of their Indian counterparts, but are not allowed to fly to India unless the Indian carriers aren’t able to give quote. This challenge of connectivity is a big deterrent in attracting big volumes of wedding business. The government must work on disabling this clause,” he outlined.

Simultaneously, the tax structure in India is exorbitant and very demotivating, not just to the suppliers but also to the customers. People are willing to pay for the experience, but shy away after seeing the additional heavy tax burden on the bill. Thus a policy framework needs to be designed to take wedding business in India to newer heights, he stressed.

Garg also highlighted that among the outbound markets, wedding business from Israel and Azerbaijan can be attracted as they also have the same big fat weddings.

The demands and requirements for each wedding is different which is why all weddings that we are handling can’t be hosted at the same venue, said Chetan Vohra, Founder, Weddingline adding, “Niche and experiential destinations in states of Assam, Meghalaya and Odisha must be promoted by the state governments to cash in on the high paying segment of wedding travel. There is no dearth of amazing destinations in India offering local flavour and authentic experiences. States just need to come forward and spread the word and the work environment should be enabling. This would shift our business going outbound to India.”

Aarti Mattoo, Founder & Chairperson, Momentum Group, also agreed on the same lines saying, “We need to take the wedding business beyond Rajasthan to other destinations of the nation. India is blessed with diverse destinations offering a range of experiences, food and culture. The Government of India needs to give a fillip to the sector by developing a policy framework for wedding tourism, in participation with all stakeholders. This will forge a better co-ordination and ensure swifter decision-making.”
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