Page last updated at 15:40 GMT, Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Wedding business blues in India

By Karishma Vaswani
Business correspondent, BBC News, Mumbai

Dancers at an Indian wedding
Indians are cutting back on their wedding budgets
December brings with it the onset of India's wedding season, but this year the economic slowdown is casting a shadow on the traditional Big Fat Indian Wedding.

Hundreds of ceremonies take place across India during the month, and families would usually spend thousands of dollars to make sure that the event is a special occasion.

At the Juhu Marriott, one of the fanciest five-star hotels in Mumbai, frenzied preparations are underway for the big night.

Labourers here are working overtime, hanging streams of flower garlands and assembling chairs to get the finishing touches ready for the evening wedding celebrations, due to start in just a few hours time.

A night like this can take months of work to organise and set you back over $20,000 (13,500) depending on your budget.

But the economic crunch here is curtailing the spending patterns of many Indian brides and grooms.

Spending cutbacks

Sudha Khanna has been a wedding planner for over a decade and she's in charge of the celebrations tonight.

She has been working with her clients to ensure that this wedding is a success. But even she's noticed that her customers are becoming a bit more stingy with their budgets these days.

"People are now a little more cost conscious these days because they're worried about the economic slowdown", she says as she directs one of the labourers to add more floral decorations to the ceiling.

"Over the last few years, we've organised hundreds of weddings - on a huge and lavish scale."

"But this year, clients are becoming a little bit more wary about spending more than they need to."

wedding planner Sudha Khanna
Customers are more cost-conscious about their wedding celebrations

"I'd say I've seen people pull back by about 5 - 10% in terms of how much is spent on a wedding in comparison to last year," she said.

That may not sound like very much - but bear in mind that a wedding is the most important occasion in an Indian family's life.

Parents start saving for their children's weddings from the day they're born, and how much you spend on a wedding is seen as a mark of your status and standing in the community.

It's estimated that over 15 million weddings take place in India every year, providing work for businesses ranging from wedding planners in fancy hotels to the bustling streets and alleys of Mumbai's flower markets.

But because of the economic crisis, cost consciousness is creeping in to these celebrations, and affecting all sectors of the wedding industry.

'Orders dropping'

Kalpana Sanganeria runs a flower boutique, catering specifically for grand weddings and special occasions.

Every morning begins early for her, as she heads out to the flower markets of Mumbai to pick out the choicest blooms for her clients.

But of late, she's seen a drop in orders. Customers just aren't spending as much as they used to.

As we walk around the colourful stalls of Mumbai's flower markets, she tells me about her concerns for her business.

"We've definitely seen a drop in orders this year", she says as she carefully inspects a bouquet of roses.

"I'd put it at around 15-20%. People just aren't spending as much as they used to on flowers."

"I suppose it's because they assume that if there's something you should cut down on at a wedding, it's flowers - because none of the guests will notice."

"But in the past, that wasn't the case. Bigger was better, but this year my clients are choosing to be a little more cautious. I hope next year the economy improves, so my business improves too!" she said.

That's a sentiment that's shared by many firms who depend on the wedding industry for their income.

Cheaper honeymoons

Travel agents have been hit particularly hard because the economic slowdown and higher air fares have forced couples to compromise on their honeymoon packages.

Rajesh Rataria
Indian couple are choosing to honeymoon nearer to home

Rajesh Rataria runs Cirrus Travels, a travel agency that's been based in Mumbai for over a decade.

He says he's seen a direct blow to his business because of worries over India's economic future.

"Couples are being more careful these days", he says.

"I've seen a 35% drop in business in terms of expensive honeymoon packages."

"It's not that young married couples aren't travelling, it's that they're choosing less expensive packages."

"Whereas before you'd see a lot of young people head off to the Caribbean or to Europe right after they got married, now people are staying closer to home, choosing Singapore or Malaysia instead."

"Everyone's worried about saving money - no one knows what's in store next year," he said.

Despite the gloomy environment though, the spirit of celebration, on the surface at least, is still very much in the air for brides and grooms in India.

A marriage is one of the most special events in an Indian family's life - a chance to show off and splash out.

Slowdown or no slowdown - the tradition of the Big Fat Indian Wedding is likely to continue - but in a slightly scaled-back fashion.

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