Weddings are recession-proof. “Kuch bhi ho jaye, shaadiyan to honi hi hai.”
What was, for the longest time, considered a fail-safe, slowdown-proof industry, the Indian wedding market is now staring at some hard reset in the face of a global pandemic. India’s wedding market – a trump card pegged at $50 billion by a KPMG report – upended by the COVID-19 crisis, is not only up for a reality check but some major readjustment as it absorbs the blow and preps for a new order.
The big fat Indian wedding is truly no more.
“Bookings have been cancelled, leads are down, and it is clear that the industry will look very different post-pandemic,” says Sanna Vohra, the CEO and Founder of The Wedding Brigade.
A one-stop destination for wedding contents, curated wedding fashion, and verified vendors and services, Sanna’s startup, founded in 2014, has also been bracing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the global economy.
In fact, Sanna, who earlier worked with Morgan Stanley in New York as an investment banker, is sure that the economic transformation will change the wedding market status quo.
She says, “In 2019, weddings were at their peak – large guest lists, exotic destinations, bachelorettes, and theme parties, reigned supreme. However, weddings post-pandemic, are likely to be the exact opposite.”
Move over ‘grand’, enter ‘small and virtual’
With cancellations and postponements raging high, the coronavirus crisis has and will continue to hurt this sector at large. As Sanna explains, even when weddings do happen, budgets and guestlist will be smaller. It will be particularly hard for a lot of small businesses to survive. But, the businesses that do survive will be the ones that will evolve to suit the needs of the new wedding market.
But what new trends will the transformed wedding space in India entail?
For starters, brides- and grooms-to-be can say goodbye to grand, lavish ceremonies. Wedding of the future will be a much more intimate affair, minus the unnecessary indulgence (and this could very well include exotic destinations), focussing only on celebrating with close friends and family.
“Wedding planning will increasingly become digital as the effects of the lockdown will spill over into daily life,” explains Sanna, adding, “On account of travel restrictions and smaller ceremonies, we also expect an increase in virtual weddings, either by streaming or broadcasting the main ceremony for family and friends, or even by sharing more intimate wedding moments like an at-home Haldi, or the post-wedding bride and groom games.”
Particularly, with regards to overseas travels, most wedding and event planners are, at the moment, awaiting more clarity from the governments and the airlines. With airlines factoring in social distancing protocols in the near future – which is if they impose one or two passengers per row in the aircraft policy – inevitably, the cost of travel is also expected to surge significantly.
In this new reality, destination weddings – one of the biggest contributing sectors in the wedding industry – might have to embrace a few alterations.
“We will see more home destination weddings within India, as international flights could become quite expensive,” says Divya Chadha, the Founder and Director of A Klass Apart.
The Mumbai-based wedding planner, though wary of the coronavirus-induced constraints in the economy, is still confident in the viability of these high-end events in the future. Destination weddings are meant to be intimate affairs and this factor will not change, she adds.
But how does this affect the wedding business?
A reason why Divya is assured of destination weddings and its place in the Indian market could be because of the clientele she handles. Dealing with only a handful of high-budget weddings a year, the bespoke wedding planner says she is “fortunate enough to not have to cancel any upcoming weddings.”
All her current clients are scheduled for their events in late 2020, starting from December this year, and continuing through February 2021 till October/November 2021. But just because she could steer clear of cancellations, does not mean her business has been immune to the circumstances.
“As a business, the income that I would make in the form of fees, is unlikely to materialise until closer to the time of the weddings due to the current situation,” says Divya.
Her situation resonates with Delhi-based event designer Gautmi Khanna, who runs her namesake company Gautmi Khanna Designs. Due to COVID-19, says Gautmi, many planned weddings between March and September have been majorly affected.
In fact, there has been a 60-70 percent decline in weddings this year alone. However, oddly enough, this makes the lockdown period a crucial time for the business and her clients.
“We are using this time to know our clients/couples’ preferences better to customise accordingly,” she says, adding, “Couples will now prefer smaller gatherings, less contact with people, and proper hygienic measures for their marriage day.”
This means a slew of safety measures on part of the wedding managers as well. Or, as Gautmi puts it, necessary precautions like hand sanitiser stations at regular intervals throughout the venue and indoor venue over outdoors.
Navigating through the crisis – a guide
While the wedding industry reels from the crisis and prepares to adapt to a new normal, the upheaval has also taken a toll on another section – the couples. They are the customers who had (or were in the process of) investing, in time and money, towards their big day. And believe it or not, most experts in this space believe there is a way to turn the situation around.
This is the best time to get to know the clients better, says Wedding Stylist and Founder of Styl.Inc Meha Bhargava. Through our ‘virtual shopping’ service, she explains, her team is utilising the time to decide on wedding outfits, and make the most of the discounts offered by various designers.
But there’s a lot more than what brides- and grooms-to-be can do than just window shop and avail discounts. For instance, weighing in on what really matters as a couple.
“Create your dream vision board, ask your partner to do the same, and then compare notes. Use this time constructively,” suggests Divya Chadha of A Klass Apart. She also urges to take the time to talk to the planner, venue, and suppliers, and “ask them about what kind of contingency plans they can recommend or suggest.”
Depending on what stage of the planning process one is in, chances are some deposits might be refundable or vendors might be willing to use that deposit against a future date, says Divya. Apart from this, the wedding planner also recommends postponing rather than cancelling the event, and investing in wedding insurance to avoid losing on financial investments.
It is a crisis of a grand magnitude for sure, but like most difficult times, this too shall pass. Ultimately, weddings are very much a part of the social DNA in India – they may transmute, adapt, or recast, but they will persist.
(Edited by Suman Singh)