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Big fat Indian weddings to the rescue of 5-star hotels

By Shally Seth Mohile
August 24, 2020 11:27 IST
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Hotels are also relying on couples who had earlier planned destination weddings but are now considering options within the country.

Five-star hotel chains in India are counting on weddings to see them through in a pandemic-hit market.

Though on a smaller scale, most hotels are seeing a recovery in bookings and enquiries for the wedding season in November and December.

They are also relying on couples who had earlier planned destination weddings but are now considering options within the country.

 

Take, for instance, the Indian Hotels Co Ltd (IHCL).

Since hotels re-opened in June, the Tata Group’s hospitality arm has seen bookings touch 70-80 per cent of pre-Covid days.

The months ahead look promising, with the booking register running busy from September to December.

“If there’s any business enquiry, it’s for weddings,” says Renu Basu, senior vice-president-global sales and marketing at IHCL.

The scale, however, she adds, is much smaller, given the government’s guidelines limiting the congregation for social gatherings to 50.

One of the reasons why wedding, as a business segment, has remained relatively resilient even in the current situation is the high importance given in India to the date on which one ties the knot.

The event has strong regional influences, Basu points out.

There are also many instances where people have got married at home, hosting small ceremonies, and are now looking to celebrate with close family, she adds.

Parul Thakur, senior area director-Sales and Distribution, South Asia at Marriott International, echoes the sentiment.

Since lockdown restrictions were eased, weddings and related events have been leading the recovery for Marriott hotels, she says.

“In the last two months, these events have constituted nearly 70 per cent of our leads, contributing to our group and catering revenues in the country,” she says.

The remaining months of the year show a similar trend, with a strong wedding and social events’ pipeline across its portfolio of hotels.

Not everyone, however, is cheering these signs of recovery.

Nandivardhan Jain, MD and CEO, Noesis Capital, a hotel consulting firm, doesn’t read much into these bookings, given the scaled-down events.

“As long as restrictions remain on the number of people who can attend a wedding, these bookings will hardly help the hotels,” he says.

In terms of revenue and profitability, they’ll fetch a pittance.

The food and beverage segment, which accounts for half of a hotel’s revenue, has been completely wiped out, he adds.

Meanwhile, ITC Hotels, too, have been hosting a fair number of weddings, says the company’s spokesperson.

These include virtual weddings. with the bride and groom’s families and friends at different locations.

“Our specially curated menus (“Gourmet Couch”) are planned around the preferences of the families and are delivered pan India in a synchronised manner, so that they can all dine together,” the spokesperson adds.

The restrictions have led to hotels offering bespoke services to guests, including aesthetically crafted meals and desserts, says IHCL’s Basu.

While IHCL has seen several enquiries for its properties in Mumbai, Rajasthan, Gurugram, Kolkata, Chennai and Bengaluru for the latter part of the year, for Marriott, Delhi and the National Capital Region, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Chandigarh currently take the lead in the wedding business.

Most bookings at IHCL are for day-long ceremonies.

People aren’t staying on longer, as in the past.

Also, places in Rajasthan and Agra in Uttar Pradesh are seeing more demand.

Rajasthan, for instance, had several weddings in June, says Basu.

With the restrictions on movement easing, she adds, the trend of getting married in a city like Jodhpur, Hrishikesh, Nashik and Goa is catching up.

Photograph: Amit Dave/Reuters

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Shally Seth Mohile in Mumbai
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