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Marriages Made in India >> Features Achieve >> Features

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Marriages Made in India [Suniaina Kumar, Indian Express]

Remember the rich American millionaire and his arm-candy in Bunty aur Babli who aspire to buy the Taj Mahal for the ultimate romantic wedding? Well, Steve and Julie of the United Kingdom were not quite as ambitious but close.

When they planned their wedding, the couple wanted to realise their long-cherished dream—to tie the knot at the ultimate monument of love: the Taj Mahal. So, they flew down to India, had a de rigueur Indian wedding, with the accompanying rituals, ceremonies and fanfare and then exchanged rings in the backdrop of the marble wonder.

Steve and Julie are not alone. As more and more couples from around the world look for unique ways to wed at exotic destinations, wedding tourism has become a multi-billion dollar global industry. Wedding tourism as a legitimate and upcoming part of the tourism industry is a phenomenon that has taken off worldwide in the past three-four years, with Britain, US, Australia and Japan sending out the largest number of couples worldwide to romantic cities for destination weddings, be it South Africa, Scotland, Thailand, Switzerland, the Caribbean, UAE or Sri Lanka.

Increasingly, India has been figuring on the agenda for this increasing tribe of adventure romantics. “India represents colour, culture and exoticism and all this is very appealing to couples on the lookout for exciting new wedding destinations,” says Jairaj Gupta, CEO, Shaadionline.

Take Anne Hawking and Robert Martin, graphic designers from Australia, who had an elaborate Indian wedding at a fort in Rajasthan, complete with Anne assuming the name of Chandni and arriving on a palki and Robert as Shergill lugging a prince’s armour. While their style was more exotic, for Sophie Kjeldsen and Luke Ormes, copywriters from UK, nothing less than a completely sanctimonious Hindu wedding with a pandit and mandap at a temple in Benaras and of course a Benarsi sari, would do.

The Ministry of Tourism has taken the cue and though it shares no official figures on inbound wedding tourism, it is considered the market for the future. Says Amitabh Kant, joint secretary, Ministry of Tourism: “We are taking wedding tourism very seriously and promoting it in all our foreign offices abroad and also looking at more initiatives to sell India as a top wedding destination.”

The Ministry is trying to market India’s festive spirit as its USP. “India has the best of food, culture and festivities and there’s a huge sense of drama, which is what international tourists love. People are coming in with chartered planes for the complete Indian experience of heritage hotels, elephants and camels. Bollywood has also helped a lot in generating interest in Indian weddings and getting tourist inflow,” Kant adds.

Most international couples making their way to India are looking out for two types of Indian weddings: the Maharaja Wedding and the Brahminical Wedding. The Maharaja Wedding experience is replete with riches, exoticism and palaces while the Brahminical wedding is all about spirituality, mysticism and Vedic rites. Needless to say, the much-speculated wedding extravaganza of Liz Hurley and Arun Nayar in February would fall in the Maharaja Wedding category, with the groom all set to arrive on a white horse, flanked by camels and elephants at the majestic Devi Garh Palace at Udaipur.

Even the hotel industry, typically oriented towards conventions, corporate meetings and sporting events, has realised the benefits of joining the wedding party. Says Vasudha Sondhi, VP Sales, HRH Group of Hotels, Rajasthan, which has hosted several such international weddings in Udaipur: “The wedding industry constitutes a fairly large segment of our total revenues. We have a lot of domestic and international traffic at peak wedding season. We're offering regal wedding venues and we like to give our clients customised packages. People come to our hotels for not only weddings, but also sometimes to retake their vows”

Indeed, the Hurley-Nayar celebrity wedding is expected to do for Rajasthan what Madonna’s wedding did for Scotland, set off a beeline for I-dos-in-India from across the world. Almost a third of all weddings that take place in Scotland now are tourist weddings with the tourism board stepping in to change legislation making it possible for couples to conduct their nuptials at castles, boats, even golf courses.

Wedding planners says India could well be a hot international wedding destination, but a little tailoring would be necessary. “Wedding tourism may be a low-volume market in terms of the numbers of tourists coming in but it is definitely a high value market, because the spends are so big. Weddings are the time for spending and all related sectors, including catering, décor, entertainment and transport benefit from it,” says Gupta of Shaadionline.

On an average, 5,000 international weddings take place every year, each wedding typically bringing in about 30 to 50 guests to the host country, who stay for about two weeks and spend big bucks, resulting in a win-win situation for all. Wedding planners say that with couples coming to India; Rajasthan, Goa, Kerala, Agra and Varanasi are the most popular wedding destinations.

And, not to forget the honeymoon. “What India offers is completely unique with combination wedding-honeymoon trips…A couple getting married in Varanasi can head to Goa for a completely different experience for their honeymoon,” says wedding planner Mehar Sarid.

Though wedding tourism is becoming a high-value bracket, wedding industry insiders are of the consensus that unlike other countries which actively market themselves as wedding destinations, the tourism board in India has not been able to cash in on this market.

“India offers everything, from beautiful resorts to beaches and palaces. Yet, it does not figure on the list of top wedding destinations. What would be ideal is for the tourism ministry to tie up with wedding planners and hotels and properties to target mid-budget weddings,” says Parthip Thyagarajan, director, Wedding Sutra.

The one major deterrent has been an archaic law, according to which foreigners who want to get married in India must stay in the country for 30 days. “We get so many interested enquiries from all over the world, but those people are put off when they learn about the 30-day mandatory stay. It's a law which needs to be changed,” says Gupta of Shaadionline, who organised a wedding party for Cathy and Horace of Germany. When the couple planned their great Indian wedding, they could only take out 10 days so they first got their marriage registered in their home country and then came to India with a bunch of friends for a gala Indian wedding party, the highlight being a red bejewelled odhni. Read rest of the article







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