One Year After Lockdown, Indian Wedding Industry Clocks Fragmented Growth
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One year after COVID-19 virus brought India to a standstill, economists are predicting different alphabet-shaped (U, K, W, etc.) economic recoveries across sectors. The one sector which doesn’t typically make it to expert’s research notes while gauging the country’s economic health but is following a sharp V-shaped growth trajectory is the wedding industry.
The big fat Indian wedding industry, which is made up of social gatherings and flourishes on human interaction, was among the worst hit due to the abruptly announced lockdown last year. While some chose to cancel the grand affair and perform a small intimate one with family or virtually over Zoom, others postponed to a later date when things would get ‘better’.
As the lockdown restrictions started lifting May, 2020 onwards, weddings too resumed. “We planned weddings even in June and July when COVID-19 was at its peak,” says Navpreet Singh, owner of Chandigarh-based wedding planning company Kreative Events. Of course, the number of weddings was not even close to the pre-COVID levels.
The industry witnessed a real turnaround in November and December, which is believed to be an auspicious period for Hindu weddings.
“During the lockdown, our business had dropped by 80 per cent, but we saw a turnaround in December and reached pre-COVID levels,” says Anand Shahani, co-founder and CEO, WedMeGood, a wedding planning website that provides information on wedding-related service providers.
The reasons for a swift upturn are many, he adds. “There was a pent up demand from those who originally had wedding dates fixed in April-June but had shifted them to November-December and there were those who had smaller ceremonies during the lockdown but set a later date for bigger ceremonies. Moreover, one cannot indefinitely postpone a wedding if they have chosen to get married so by November most people had realized that the virus isn’t going anywhere and it just made sense to carry out their wedding with the necessary precautions.”
That said, WedMeGood’s business revival can also be attributed to an overall growth in digital businesses across sectors as customers have moved online for all their needs in view of the pandemic, planning a wedding being no exception.
Moreover, even if the number of weddings may have come close to pre-pandemic levels, they have squeezed in size and budgets, impacting the revenue of various businesses involved in the supply chain.
For instance, hotels and caterers that Entrepreneur India spoke to reported about 80 per cent recovery in the number of wedding bookings this winter season compared with the previous year, but revenue recovery stands lower at 45-70 per cent.
“A significant number of weddings happened from November to January but the business traffic was not comparable to pre-COVID times,” says Divyata Shergil, founder, ShaadiWish, an online wedding services aggregator. “As the vaccination drive ramps up, we are hopeful for businesses to bounce back completely in the coming months.”
The numbers further vary across metros, tier-II cities and tier-III cities. Interestingly, hotels and caterers in tier-II and tier-III cities have fared better compared with those in metros. “We hosted weddings with 200-500 guests throughout the winter season,” said the owner of a 3-star hotel in Agra on condition of anonymity, adding that the rule of cap on the number of guests was not followed seriously anywhere in the city. Owners of four other hotels and banquet halls in Jaipur (Rajasthan), Dehradun (Uttrakhand) and Ludhiana (Punjab) corroborated a similar trend.
Emails sent to hospitality chains Marriott, IHCL and the Oberoi Group did not elicit responses.
The essentials and non-essentials of weddings
Recovery has largely varied on the basis of the nature of the business in a wedding’s supply chain. For instance, photographers and make-up artists have reported a strong recovery. “Our business has recovered completely both in terms of number of bookings and revenue compared with pre-COVID levels,” says Aastha, co-owner of wedding photography company Hitched & Clicked that covers weddings pan-India.
The reason perhaps is that they are an essential element of a wedding that nobody skips irrespective of the size of the budget.
“Whether it’s a small ceremony or a grand affair, the bride has to deck up,” says Dehradun-based make-up artist Deepika Bhardwaj, adding that she is taking as many projects as she used to before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Notwithstanding the strong recovery, the virus continues to pose challenges. “I get ample queries but my business has recovered by only 60-70 per cent due to various challenges,” says Preet Kaur, a Lucknow-based make-up artist. “We had to forgo some bookings where the client wanted us to visit them at their home as they were hesitant to come to the salon. Moreover, at any point I can’t have more than four clients in the salon to maintain social distancing even though my salon can accommodate many more clients.”
On the contrary, wedding planners, venue owners and caterers continue to reel under the economic setback of COVID-19.
“People are opting for small, intimate weddings so fewer people are taking wedding planner’s services because there isn’t much to plan,” says Fuhar Jhabak, owner, Elysian Events by Fuhaar, an Ahmedabad-based event planning company. “We’re getting 40 per cent less wedding planning bookings compared with pre-COVID period.” Fuhar caters to budgets of INR 80 lakh-1.25 crore per wedding.
Raghuveer Singh, owner of Delhi-based wedding planning firm BMP Weddings concurs and says COVID-19 has majorly hit spending on weddings. “With the guest list cut to 50-80, people are viewing wedding planning as a non-essential service and not willing to spend on it.” Singh’s business was tepid in the November-January period but he is bullish on the upcoming months.
People are also increasingly adopting a digital approach to wedding planning with the help of online aggregator platforms in place of shelling out a huge amount on a wedding planner.
Intimate and destination weddings the new norm
With guest lists pruned and budgets opened up, destination weddings have become the preferred choice.
“Earlier, 70 per cent weddings happened in the same city whereas 30 per cent were destination weddings. Now, the trend has reversed,” says Singh. “People are using the money saved on hosting a thousand guests on enlarging the experience.”
Similarly, intimate weddings are also expected to become the norm over grand affairs with guest lists running in thousands. “Even after the cap of 50 guests was lifted, people continued to keep the guest list small,” says Jhabak.
“The celebrations have become more personalised and there is a paradigm shift from the grandeur to the intimate soirees,” says Shergil.
Jhabak adds the weddings are becoming about the couple and not so much about hosting a huge party. “With only close friends and family attending the wedding, people are not stressing over impressing guests.”