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Couples Are Still Opting For ‘Big Fat Indian Wedding’ Minus The Big Fat Crowd

Sandeep Lodha, CEO, OYO's Weddingz.in spoke to BW Applause & Everything Experiential about the wedding industry, business strategies for revival, support from industry bodies, upcoming trends and more.

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With youngsters wanting their wedding to be unique, everything from venue to shopping, food to photography is expected to be perfect. But getting it just right is also difficult. Planning and organising a wedding have evolved rapidly in the past few months. Digitalisation has left nothing untouched, including the wedding and event industry and has shown it the hassle free way. It has proved to be a boon for all wedding vendors and and couples, since more people can now access affordable services from any part of the country.

In conversation with BW Applause & Everything Experiential, Sandeep Lodha, CEO, OYO's Weddingz.in gave us a perspective of the wedding industry, business strategies for revival, support from industry bodies, upcoming trends of the industry and more.

Excerpts: 

In your view, what is the extent of loss that the wedding industry has faced due to the pandemic?

It was a tough time for the Indian wedding industry due to the pandemic-led nationwide lockdown. Since large social gatherings and events, including wedding ceremonies were prohibited as a precautionary measure to curb the virus spread, many small businesses operating local banquets and venues were shut for months together. With no customers walking through the door, business was down by 90% for most local banquets.

Ever since the unlocking phase began in India, the wedding industry learnt and adapted to newer ways to sustain operations and address the evolved needs of the customer with hygiene and safety at the helm of it all; event venues were converted to suit the requirements of intimate weddings by offering special all inclusive packages and various personalisation options. The industry was also quick enough to understand the growing emphasis on contactless celebrations and the role of digitalization in fulfilling demand. Gradually the sector is on its path to recovery. In December 2020, Weddingz.in witnessed a 75-80% of pre-COVID level demand with the highest number of inquiries received during the winter wedding season.

What will be the market scenario for the wedding industry in 2021?

The recovery of the wedding industry is highly dependent on the trajectory of the virus, government regulations and consumer confidence. We anticipate intimate functions to be the preferred choice for the immediate future; large scale events will still take some time to make a comeback. However, we believe that spending capacity on weddings will still continue to be inordinate as couples opt for ‘Big Fat Indian Wedding’ minus the big fat crowd. The average wedding spend for a wedding was down to approx. 1.7 lacs in August 2020, compared to 2.8 lacs in 2019. However, in December 2020, the average spend reached pre-covid levels with couples spending close to 2.4 lacs on a wedding.

We are cautiously optimistic that the industry will continue to bounce back steadily in 2021. However, these aspects need to make a strong comeback for the revival of the industry, namely - no. of events, no. of events per wedding and pre-COVID level guest list. In 2021, we expect the industry to be roughly at 35-50% of pre-COVID levels. If conditions come back to normal around H2 2021 or 2022, we can expect pre-COVID level guest list and number of events to come back.

What are some of your business strategies of revival post the lockdown?

Analysing the impact of the pandemic on the industry, Weddingz.in implemented a three pronged approach to resurrect, win customer confidence and build for the future. During these unprecedented times, Weddingz.in worked alongside its asset partners as a trusted support system, empowering them with technological innovations, introducing hygiene-focussed initiatives, demand generation and increasing their visibility across physical boundaries. With the support of our vendors and partners, the majority of the business recovery that has been witnessed can be attributed to online demand as people are steadily embracing digital solutions for their wedding requirements. All of these efforts have resulted in Weddingz.in contributing between 50-70% of revenue to our venue partners. We are also supporting hundreds of small, local banquets with online discovery and thereby demand generation through our platform.

Furthermore, owing to the increased impetus on overall hygiene, we also launched the ‘Wz Safe Programme’- a 20 point checklist to ensure highest levels of sanitization and safety across our venues. Also, with the situation changing by the day, we are giving flexibility to our consumers in terms of booking and payments and have introduced a slew of all inclusive value packages covering smaller events end-to-end. This has also helped various small vendors, artists and freelance professionals to get more leads for weddings through our website. Additionally, we will continue to invest in digital infrastructure to be future-ready and spearhead the digital revolution in the industry.

Is there a need for formalisation of the Indian wedding industry? How is the support from industry bodies and the government?

Formalisation is crucial for the growth of the wedding sector which is currently largely unorganized with several vendors that are dependent on informal contracts and discreet verbal agreements. Absence of a written or legally binding contract between vendors and consumers can cause inconvenience to many. For instance, vendors at times quote exorbitantly high rates and over-promise services, but fail to deliver on the quality of services. To avoid such understated experiences, it is crucial to establish an orderly system with the support from industry bodies and the government that will provide a level playing field for players across the board and give them a fair chance to put forward their services in a contractual and transparent manner, thereby, benefiting customers. Just like how RERA protects the interests of home buyers and boosts investments in the real estate sector, similarly we urge the government to create such a framework for the Indian wedding industry.

Over the past few years, several organised wedding planning aggregators and digital wedding services have gained popularity across India, driving transparency, standard procedures, implementing written contracts and quality. A well defined macrostructure will also encourage formal investments in the sector, enable customer convenience, increase demand on the digital front and ensure that customers have access to the most suitable services across destinations of their choice.

What are the dominating and upcoming trends of the industry?

With restrictions on mass gatherings, we’re seeing a rising trend among couples who are opting for intimate ceremonies and spending extra bucks on other services to make it a more elaborate affair, while practicing guidelines for safe community weddings. And, with the easing of travel restrictions, an increasing number of couples are interested to tie the knot at their dream destination or exotic locations like palaces, beach-side venues, outdoor farms or even in-city affordable resorts. We’re seeing a lot of inquiries for destination weddings in Jaipur, Udaipur, Goa, among others. Some couples are also opting for in-city resort weddings.

When it comes to dates, couples have started taking the unconventional route and tying the knot on non-muhurat dates, especially during long weekends or occasions, to avail higher discounts and better services. This trend can be attributed to a lot of cancellations or hosting smaller pre-wedding functions at home with close family and friends.

Besides, virtual weddings have also seen an uptake with couples booking banquets to accommodate their priority 50 guests while hosting the rest on digital platforms. The digitally-packed affair will also witness couples supporting it with ancillary ideas such as meal box dispatch, personal set-ups to meet and greet the couple, hiring an emcee to keep the guests engaged, virtual photo booths among others.

We’re also seeing a rising demand for all inclusive wedding packages that include venue, catering, decor, photography among others. Furthermore, due to much more reliance on digital or online services and the need to maintain social distancing, couples prefer choosing one-stop-shop service catering to all their wedding needs. This shows growing confidence among new-age couples to rely on online wedding planning platforms in the coming times as well.

What are some of your future plans for Weddingz.in?

We are working towards enabling India’s small banquet operators with wider visibility and discovery potential, offering training and introducing SOPs to ensure hygiene and safety. We’re also introducing cutting-edge technology across this untapped traditional market, as well as organising the sector.

The pandemic, in a way, was an accelerator for the wedding industry, since it has fast-tracked digital adoption in an age-old industry. Vendors are now embracing technology and digital platforms like never before to reach a wider consumer base and offer a great consumer experience, positively impacting the industry’s recovery from the slump of 2020. In the coming months, we will heavily invest in technology-led products to enable a great partner and consumer experience for our ecosystem.



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