The Big Fat Global Wedding Industry
My friend is getting married this season. With a business startup venture that is raking in amazing moolah despite the economic slowdown, a string of intentionally/unintentionally failed affairs, and a Lexus car on top of that, at the age of 30, our man feels he’s ready for the ‘marriage market’ now!
Preparations are in full swing 6 months prior to the big day. Here is the ‘tentative itinerary’:
Wedding venue: A beach side resort
Baraat (wedding convoy): Helicopter
Guests invited: Around 3,000
Entertainment & Orchestra: Renowned Bollywood artists
Guest Stay: 5-star hotel
When I casually asked him an approximate cost estimate, he told me a whopping Rs. 1.5 crore ($262,579) – without batting an eyelid. And that is minus the shopping costs and the honeymoon, mind you! Despite my best intentions to make him realise the ever swelling wedding budget, he refused to budge. “Hey! This is my day, and I am not going to have any expenses spared. It is going to be the wedding of the century. If I can afford it, then why not?” my friend reasoned to my disbelief.
Welcome to the contemporary Global Wedding Arena, an industry that is thriving on swollen/borrowed wallets, fairytale dreams and unhindered extravagance.
Only 12 years to the new millennium and we have seen some of the most lavish weddings ever. From Chelsea Clinton’s $5 million wedding to Vanisha Mittal’s $55 million event, these larger than life weddings are fast becoming a global phenomenon.
In 2011 alone, the wedding industry was worth $321 billion. And it is only growing bigger with couples worldwide wanting the best there is on the D-Day. Though wedding planners and wedding event management industry did report a dip during the late 2008 to mid 2010 peak recession era, it is business as usual once again. There are several related small and medium enterprises that are thriving as well for example caterers, wedding consultants, bridal wear designers, beauty salons, jewellers, photographers, DJs, florists, honeymoon related tour operators, and hotel industry, that work round the clock to add aura to the wedding day.
The wedding industry is thriving on the mindset that epitomises marriages as the single most high point in our lives perpetuating the fairytale myth of “living happily ever after” and “until death do us part”. So couples, blissfully unaware of the “relationship liabilities” that lie ahead, invest their life savings and of their parents’, on this ‘single most important day’ of their lives.
Every year in the United States, there are approximately 2.5 million weddings, and the wedding industry has transformed into an empire that rakes around $40 billion dollars every year. The average wedding cost is close to $27,000 despite a much lower national saving rate. This has more to do with a psychological frame of mind of young people, than knowing the actual financial ramifications of such an event. Destination weddings, bachelor parties, clothing and reception arrangements make up for most of the expenditures. Couples determined to have an extravagant wedding most often receive money from parents, apply for loans, and/or simply pile up a lot of debt on their credit card for several months as they shop for the wedding.
Estimated at a whopping Rs 1,90,000 crore ($40 billion) and growing at an average of about 25% per annum, the Indian wedding industry is not just about riot of colours, traditional rituals, food, and Bollywood music — it is also about exotic locales.
India’s surging middle class, some 400 million-strong, is turning weddings into an event that showcases their economic might. Indian weddings have always been a ‘grand affaire’. From dowry to jewellery and the larger than life wedding receptions, the bride’s parents always have to dole out enough dough to give their daughters away. And this cuts across all economic and cultural barriers. The expense is mostly from the bride’s part of the family, while the groom enjoys all the perks that come with the package.
The most ‘in trend’ currently is to fly out entire baraat (wedding participants which are usually about 300-400 people) to distant locales and host the ‘big day’ there. Singapore, Malaysia and Macau are one of the most hot destinations.
According to wedding planners and event managers, the average middle class Indian wedding budget is about Rs. 19 lacs ($34,000). Even banks are lending wedding loans. Everyone is trying to have the ‘most talked about wedding’, and with economic wealth and increasing number of young millionaires, the extravagance at weddings is mind-blowing to say the least…
On a beautiful day of the Chinese lunar month, a convoy of ten BMWs led by a Mercedes limousine swivels around the street and stops at Park Hyatt, Shanghai, leaving the onlookers in awe. The newly wed couple step out of the limousine and are immediately surrounded by photographers, video cameras and a cheering crowd, much like any red carpet event…
This is a typical scene at a modern day wedding in China. Each year, around 10 million people get married in China, and with a growing middle class, the wedding industry in the country is worth around $57 billion and is soaring at an unprecedented rate. China apparently is the biggest market for diamonds, especially for ‘engagement rings’. The wedding gown market is the next most expensive. Bridal gowns are rare in China, and hence brides have to shop overseas to get one of their choice. As is tradition in China, the groom works very hard and saves up for marriage. Often the couple spends all of their annual savings for the ‘big day’. And since most of them opt for a Western-style wedding instead of the traditional one, expenses have only been spiralling. The Chinese bridal industry alone is worth $34.5 billion!
When Prince William and Kate Middleton got married, the whole world watched the royal ceremony with awe and admiration that took place on a ‘fairy tale’ proportion. Prince Charming’s suit, the beautiful commoner bride’s dress and the magnificent horse carriage costed $70 million!
It is not surprising that the British wedding market is worth $11 billion and the average bride spends between $33,000 and $39,000. The majority of the money, as in other countries, is spent on buying the engagement ring, gown, and paying for the reception and honeymoon arrangements.
Inspired by Kate Middleton’s wedding gown, the traditional Grace Kelly-style, A-line dress, with long laced sleeves, V-neck, buttons up the back, and a long train is on the rage in the UK Wedding gowns fashion list. Another surprising addition is the pre D-Day cosmetic surgery trend that is being followed by the British brides!
Perhaps the highest average spending for a wedding, by far, is in the UAE. On an average, brides in the UAE spend about $80,000 on their wedding day, and the UAE wedding industry stands at $700 million annually. With increasing high net worth individuals, the affluent population of the UAE is creating a demand for the most unique wedding extravaganza, propelling the Middle East wedding industry to newer heights.
In Arab culture, just like Indian culture, wedding is an opportunity to put an ostentatious display of wealth. It’s no wonder that bills sometimes run into millions of dirhams. A typical wedding lasts from 3 days to 1 week. Emiratis are offered marriage grants upto 70,000 dirhams ($19,000). Dubai has also turned into a favourite wedding destination. The increasing number of bridal shows capitalising on this market is a testimony to the large wedding spendings that exist.
All’s well that ends well. And yet this crazy spending for just one day, by two people, who are obviously smitten to even think logical; taking vows to spend the rest of their lives in wedded bliss…
Imagine if in times ahead, they may come to realise that perhaps things were not really meant to be, after all the pomp and glory! (This will need another entire new section dedicated to global divorce trends). But never mind, as I am a cynical realist who believes extravagant romanticism is only for the foolhardy. While you guys battle out the pros and cons of a big fat wedding, I am still trying to drive some sense into my friend’s mind and make him ‘swap’ the Baraat (wedding convoy) helicopter for the traditional horse!