Culture & Society

The Demand For Off Beat Weddings In Exotic Locales

Young couples are now exploring the idea of stepping outside the traditional mandaps and scouting for unique destinations in India and abroad

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Illustration%3A%20Saahil
Representative Image Photo: Illustration: Saahil
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Around 2018, Lake Como had already become a buzzword for late-adolescent teens and young professionals. Be it in the form of a friendly jibe, banter or even aspirational promises shared among couples in middle-class circles, the imaginative lure of a destination wedding was a conversation starter.

Destination weddings have already been around for a long time now as a commonplace reality for the super affluent in the country and a conversation for the rest. However, when Delhi’s favourite on-screen wedding planners, Shruti (Anushka Sharma) and Bittu (Ranveer Singh) from Band Baaja Baaraat, chose the serene Italian destination to host intimate ceremonies for their respective weddings, the prospect of an exotic, yet offbeat wedding generated popular interest, especially among youngsters.

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In India, the destination wedding market has flourished in the past decade, witnessing a surge in demand. Factors such as hospitality sector growth, a burgeoning middle class, social media influence and diverse options have contributed to it. A survey conducted in September last year, by the research arm of the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) projected a record-breaking wedding season with approximately 3.5 million weddings and a business worth about Rs 4.25 trillion.

Photo: Illustration: Saahil
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Tamarind Global, a high profile, pan-India wedding planning consultancy since 2006, notes a shift in destination weddings from intimate gatherings to grand events in exotic locales, reflecting their decade-long experience in high-profile wedding planning. Traditional destination wedding regulars like Goa, Bali and Thailand remain popular for their beauty and affordability. However, there’s a growing trend towards unique locales like Jordan, Doha, Dubai and Rajasthan. These off-beat destinations cater to NRIs seeking distinctive wedding experiences.

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Destination weddings entail intricate planning, covering guest count, travel, lodging, catering and ceremonial details. For many, the excitement lies in conceiving and organising the event. Akshay Sinha, 29, chose Igatpuri in the Western Ghats for its comfort and managed all arrangements personally, setting boundaries through mutual understanding. Planning becomes an enjoyable aspect. Alternatively, some prefer relying on professional wedding planners for meticulous execution, prioritising trust and competence in the process.

Traditional destinations like Goa, Bali and Thailand remain popular. However, there’s a growing trend towards unique locales like Jordan, Doha, Dubai and Rajasthan.

According to Aashay Samel, Director, Tamarind Global, wedding destinations of late are chosen after factoring in the source location of guests, property capacity and personalised experiences within a budget. Planning involves detailed attention, including venue selection, design, catering and entertainment. It encompasses consultations, venue scouting, vendor coordination, logistics and on-site supervision for seamless execution. “The planning process takes six to ten months, depending on the scale of the wedding,” says Samel.

However, while the wedding market keeps booming with increasing revenue, the prospect of a destination wedding also brings with it numerous challenges. The locations in demand for such weddings, especially in India, are scenic places offering an exquisite experience away from the bustle of the cosmopolitan. To remain consistent in the market and carry notable goodwill, major high-profile wedding planners are ensuring that they strike a balance and mount weddings only backed by proper ideas of sustainability and balance while making sure such sensitive locales and their populations are not negatively affected.

Logistical management, including transportation, accommodation and permits, can pose challenges in remote or previously untapped locations, in addition to cultural differences and language barriers affecting communication with local vendors and authorities. We collaborate with local vendors, integrate indigenous elements and prioritise sustainability by sourcing locally, minimising waste and offsetting carbon emissions, according to Samel. “Conducting thorough research and consultations to understand the local culture, customs and sensitivities is immensely important,” he adds.

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Destination weddings offer curated experiences, but some critique their focus on trendiness over traditional significance. Akshay, discussing his wedding, highlighted its condensed timeline and flexibility in event selection. This trend raises concerns about preserving cultural and religious rituals amidst the allure of destination extravagance.

“While a few of the rituals were non-negotiable, we decided to get most of them done at home before travelling to Igatpuri. There was no point boring the guests and ourselves out with long drawn rituals when we were having a destination wedding,” he added.

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Destination weddings evolve to cater to personal preferences, offering options beyond extravagant affairs. While some opt for grand events with numerous guests in exotic locales, others embrace intimate gatherings, shifting away from traditional big Indian weddings.

Akshay and his wife were both nature lovers and their shared passion was a driving force behind choosing their wedding destination. “If we are considering our closest people who are taking time out of their schedules to come and enjoy the occasion, why not do something slightly different and make it special for them? Even, financially, it made more sense, because a grand wedding affair in Delhi or Mumbai (where the groom’s family hails from) with more invitees cost more,” says Akshay.

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Destination weddings, once reserved for the elite, now attract the Indian middle class, despite constraints. Popular destinations like Udaipur and Jaipur remain favoured, but offbeat locales such as Gaya and Vrindavan have also gained traction. Media influences fuel aspirational trends, challenging traditional middle-class sensibilities with desires for lavish celebrations and exotic experiences.

Arnesh Ghose, film writer, brand specialist and experienced lifestyle journalist, notes that the recent surge in the demand of planning a certain kind of picturesque wedding is fuelled by exposure to the spectrum of social media content.

Mainstream Hindi cinema’s influence on wedding desires has waned, with directors like Sooraj Barjatya representing a bygone era. Millennials and Gen Z are shaped more by social media, where giants of the film industry like Barjatya, Sanjay Leela Bhansali and ace TV producer like Ekta Kapoor play a lesser role, according to Ghose.

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“The current generation decides and acts by riding the wave of virality and a desire to do something different and one-up the next person, with a good percentage getting influenced by showbiz celebrities and mostly their rehashed templates. Somewhere, it is about putting it out there that even I can live a certain way, do things a certain way,” he adds.

Another factor, says Ghose, that contributes to more people across classes subscribing to such aspirational templates of marriage is the evolution of parental sanction. “While for many of our parents, weddings were burdened with heavy rituals and hardline notions, the media and 21st century content have influenced them to envisage grand weddings with contemporary enjoyable elements for their children,” he explains.

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With Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Wed in India’ call to make sure the thriving wedding industry contributes more to the country’s economy, numerous affluent families have gravitated towards Indian destinations, which has apparently been identified as a step in celebrating the natural and cultural diversity of the land.

However, outside these specific circles, the idea of destination weddings in India is a diversified notion, a cocktail of aspirations, limitations and preferences, which is also driven by a desire for novelty or social advancement where for many, it’s often less about the ‘why’, and more about the ‘why not’.

(This appeared in the print as 'Exotic Locales, Off beat Weddings')

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