It’s not even been a week since Swati Garg and Sanchit Jain got engaged in an intimate yet extravagant ceremony that had all the hallmarks of a post-COVID event. Their families made sure that they had the recent medical history of every guest ready and temperature checks and hygiene protocols were in place. The grand venue could have easily accommodated 1,000, but their guest list was confined to just 150 because in the present social distancing scenario, it's better to book a large place and keep the guest list limited.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives forever. Times have changed and big fat Indian weddings are not the same any more. With social distancing being the buzzword, weddings have become smaller and more intimate.
The pandemic has affected the entire wedding events ecosystem that includes wedding planners, caterers, decorators, florists, bandwallahs, artisans, freelancers, performers, and choreographers, among many others. There are simply no assignments and wedding companies are trying to find a way to sustain themselves while adapting to the changing times with new innovations.
Entrepreneurs and planners are integrating technology and enabling couples to interact with loved ones from around the world without having to be physically present.
Simran S Kohli’s company Occasional Alley is offering immersive experiences to clients that enable guests to be a part of the couple’s special day via live streaming and also ensure an interactive experience for all the attendees. Kohli has organised 14 weddings during the pandemic at upmarket hotels, private farms and even at clients’ homes.
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According to Kohli, there are three major challenges in organising a wedding right now: safety, costs, and permissions. The wedding planner thinks that it is her team’s responsibility to ensure the safety and security of clients as well as their own staff. “We ensure client safety by following all prescribed protocols in our events and also make social distancing a big mandate - our seating (and standing) layouts are also planned accordingly. Besides compliance with staff hygiene and protective gear protocols during events, we have to ensure our staff safety when they are out in the field for sourcing for events as well.”
Smaller party sizes, Kohli says, lead to higher fixed costs, so she has find ways of ensuring that her clients get the same experience as a big fat Indian wedding on an intimate scale, but at a good price point. The entrepreneur also tells us how getting the necessary permissions has been a bit of a struggle. “They are quite problematic, with authorities stepping in at multiple levels to ensure compliance with protocols,” Kohli says.
Another challenge that came her way was the fact that hotels now limit the staff to a certain number due to which the wedding planning team needs to start setting up a day before the event, which means paying the labour for extra hours.
The destination weddings ecosystem has also witnessed a major shift as affluent Indians are ditching foreign locations. They are either having intimate ceremonies within city limits or choosing unexplored locations within drivable distances. Dehradun-based wedding planning company Whistling Teel had to cancel as many as 20 weddings across the country, which were scheduled for April and May. Smaller weddings have kept the company afloat.
The company, which specialises in Himalayan destination weddings organised a couple of events in June, including two in Mussoorie. While clients and hotels took utmost safety measures and the weddings went off well, Managing Director Gaurav Channa thinks that organising 50-people weddings hasn’t been a profitable venture for them. “Clients have the same number of functions that they would have in a 200-people wedding, but for us the costs have come down due to lesser number of guests,” he says.
On the brighter side, Channa’s company has been receiving a lot of queries for November and December. “We’ve already booked four destination weddings for November and five destination weddings for December,” he informs. Channa says that people are now looking for destinations that are within driveable distances. “Earlier we used to do weddings all over the country because the destinations enjoyed good air-connectivity with the rest of the country. But now, people are looking for nearby destinations and so we are not getting clients from far off states.”
Channa tells us that clients from Punjab are inquiring about places like Jaipur, Mussoorie and Jim Corbett while those from Delhi are only willing to go up till Udaipur and not beyond that. “This is why we are not getting weddings for Goa, Sri Lanka and other NRI weddings,” Channa says. The wedding planner suggests that hills are the safest for destination weddings right now but they too have their own limitations. “On one hand, labour and transport cost has gone up, on the other, our workforce struggles to find an accommodation for themselves, especially if the wedding is in the interiors of a hilly region,” he says.
Speaking about the future of destination weddings in India, Pramod Lunawat, founder and CEO of Marriageuana says that the only destination, people are worried about or considering right now is survival of life, followed by readiness of the vaccine. “For those who were considering luxury destination weddings, postponement has been the only option given that they do not wish to curb their dreams and in other cases they are considering truncated versions of their dream wedding but not committing yet to any particular destination or venue,” Lunawat says. When asked about the growing trends, Lunawat tells us that small intimate weddings will be big for the next year or two.
According to Lunawat, once international travel takes off, countries that will benefit may be the nations that have controlled the pandemic well till date viz. eastern European countries like the Czech Republic, Austria, and South East Asian destinations like Thailand, Vietnam and Bali in Indonesia. He thinks people will choose the Czech Republic, for its reasonable costs and beautiful venues; Portugal for its beautiful landscapes and competitive costs; Austria for luxury and super expensive options; Greece for the sun and the sea and north Cyprus for non-requirement of visa and beautiful sea and beaches.
Talking about how Indian destinations can meet the expectations of couples who had always wanted an international destination wedding, the wedding planner says, “We have some of the best beaches, palaces, hotels and resorts that are well equipped to host luxury weddings. Given that they provide the relief of security of home to us and have a clear understanding of the government regulations, Indian destinations tick all the boxes. Rajasthan, Goa and Kerala will lead, as always.”
India has no dearth of upmarket hotels that offer high standards of cleanliness and hygiene. Lunawat says that the service standards of Indian hotels are also at par with international hotels and the Indian hospitality industry has been consistently improving, which is reflected in the number of weddings on the rise in star hotels.
A spokesperson from leading hotel chain IHCL tells us that despite the pandemic, guests are choosing to go ahead with wedding ceremonies, albeit on a much smaller scale. “These intimate weddings, where only the closest family members and friends are invited, have been received with tremendous enthusiasm among our guests and we have been seeing a number of bookings for these occasions.”
Himanshu Kapsime of ShadiSaga believes that till the time we don’t have a vaccine, people will be reluctant to travel for a destination wedding. According to Kapsime, while some people are definitely not in a mood to risk their lives by having a destination wedding, some want to utilise this opportunity of having a wedding with limited guests. “Now that people know that there will be limited guests attending their wedding, they are pondering about having intimate destination weddings with their close relatives and friends. Something that they had always dreamt of!”