The big, fat Indian wedding may well have been on a diet these past two years. In an unlikely fallout, Covid helped shed the financial flab off weddings, slimming down the scale, trimming down guest lists, and forging a new trend from what was considered the preserve of the uber rich. Destination weddings went desi—in more ways than one.
From luxurious jaunts in foreign lands and chic locations in the country, the concept has expanded to include smaller hill or beach weddings on a budget. The chic snobbery confined to a palatial Udaipur or an exotic Lakshadweep wedding has trickled down to hotels and resorts in unassuming tier 2 and 3 cities with beautiful locales. The Covid-confined Indian wants to break free from local, large functions to indulge in outstation, intimate celebrations.
“There has been a considerable shift after Covid, with people from all walks of life, across strata and smaller towns aspiring for destination weddings,” says Chetan Vohra, Co-founder & MD, Weddingline, a wedding management firm that has organised top-notch weddings for celebs like Priyanka Chopra, Yuvraj Singh and Vivek Oberoi, among others. “People are realising that a wedding can be a celebration with a vacation thrown in,” he adds.
“They now understand the value of close-knit weddings with 150-200 guests, instead of big, fat ones with 500-800 people, as well as the fact that it can be done in a much more fun, relaxed, creative and personalised manner,” says Shweta Acharya, Founder, Baraati Inc, a leading Delhi-based wedding planner. “Events can be conceptualised around two families instead of doing it separately,” she adds. “Another factor is that, after the pandemic, all the local properties are booked. So people are going out to have something different,” says Rituraj Khanna, CEO, Q Events & Weddings, a leading Noida-based wedding management firm.
This has led to the emergence of several new wedding destinations in tier 2 and 3 cities, apart from the traditional hubs in Rajasthan, Goa and Kerala. “We are seeing new destinations like Kalimpong, Wayanad and Dharamsala, where people want small weddings because they are not only close to the domiciles of bride or groom, but the logistics too are easily managed,” says Vikram Lalvani, MD & CEO, Sterling Holiday Resorts. Agrees Shreyas Kudalkar of Kings Hotel & Resort: “Places like Alibaug, Shimla and Coorg are affordable locations with extremely pleasant weather that offer a variety of travel choices and are easy to schedule things.” So if you, too, have been planning a destination wedding, read on to know how much it can cost and the cities you can pick.
How to choose a destination
The first step in planning is selecting the right destination and venue.
BUDGET: The choice of city will depend on several factors, the foremost being your budget. Fix the total amount you want to spend on the wedding and allocate 60-65% of this on destination and travel.
GUEST LIST: Next, decide on the number of guests attending the wedding. This will help you pick a property that has the required number of rooms. If the rooms fall short, you may have to book more than two hotels. “While I wanted a large Delhi wedding with 1,000 people, my husband wanted a small international wedding with very few people. We found middle ground by getting married in Jodhpur with 400 people,” says Aarti Goel, who got married at the Umaid Bhawan Palace last year.
DISTANCE: An important consideration is the distance of the location from your home. If it is too far away and flights are your only option, factor in the higher cost of travel. Drivable distances are preferable, especially if you have to carry a lot of wedding material and workers with you.
CONVENIENCE: You will also need to figure out the convenience of travelling if elders in the family are accompanying you. “We chose Jaipur because no flights were needed from Delhi and we had elderly people with us who were more comfortable driving down,” says Delhi-based Navya Kapur, who got married at the Leela Palace in October last year.
WEATHER: The weather and time of the year are other factors to be kept in mind as it will determine the ease of travel and booking. If it is peak tourist season, you will need to plan much in advance, and if the weather is hot and humid, you will need to worry about the wilting flowers and décor. Off-season booking is invariably the best in terms of both cost and travel.
How much will it cost?
Depending on your budget, the wedding destinations can be split into three segments: luxury, mid-segment and budget. The hotel costs typically include stay, food and use of venues. Most provide add-on services for an extra cost, while some include a few services and staff in the package, and yet others offer end-to-end wedding management for a higher cost.
The top segment includes premium 5-star hotels, palaces & forts, with costs starting at Rs.35,000 per room for a night and can go up to Rs.5-7 lakh a night. The total costs can run up to Rs.3-5 crore for a 2-day wedding for 200 guests, but can go up even further depending on the family’s requirements. Most such venues, with plush regal settings and services, are in Udaipur, Jodhpur and Jaipur in Rajasthan.
The mid-segment includes 4- and 5-star luxury and heritage hotels, starting from Rs.20,000 a night per room, and the total expenses can range from Rs.45 lakh to Rs.2 crore. Some top hotel brands in this segement include the Hyatt, Leela, Taj, JW Marriott,
Welcomhotels, among others. The budget segment includes 3- and 4-star hotels and resorts with costs ranging from Rs.8,000-20,000 a night per room, and the total cost adding up to Rs.15-45 lakh.
These include Radisson, Sterling, Lemon Tree Premier and other local resorts. While destination weddings are perceived to be more expensive than local weddings, it may not always be the case. Since your guest list for destinations is cut drastically, including only close family and friends, you save on the costs that would have gone into a bigger local wedding with 800-1,000 people. Besides, you can cut down your costs on décor and entertainment if you choose a scenic locale that does not require too many flowers or decorations.
Need a wedding planner?
While Indians have been planning elaborate weddings on their own for a long time, destination weddings require more evolved planning and logistics to deal with travelling, outstation guests, decoration and entertainment at the location. Wedding planners charge a flat fee for defined services, which typically add up to 5-10% of the total wedding cost.
This is a small price to pay for the convenience that comes from planning and dealing with complex dynamics of a destination wedding. “For our Goa wedding, the planner not only negotiated a good hotel discount, but also handled the transfers of guests without any delays, which is considered a big hassle in Goa,” says Bengaluru-based Swati Verma.
Bigger planners usually provide end-toend services, including guest hospitality, travel and transfers, food and beverages, entertainment, and décor, leaving the host family with a no-stress celebration.
How to cut costs
Whether it’s a luxury or budget destination wedding, there is always a possibility to cut costs (
see Cut your wedding costs…). While hotel discounts have dried up after Covid as demand has surged, there are other ways you can slash your expenses. “A good option is to negotiate with the hotel during off-season when the demand is low, bringing down your costs by 20-25%” says Vohra. You can also use local vendors and artists, which drastically reduces the travel and stay costs for the staffers you would otherwise carry with you. Choosing a beautiful location can also help you bring down decoration charges.
How to plan
The planning should begin at least six months before the wedding, staring with fixing your budget, guest, ceremonies, and destination. You will have to do a recce of the shortlisted places along with the wedding planner at this point. After finalising the destination, you will need to go there personally for deciding on the food and beverages, venues for different ceremonies, themes and décor ideas, etc, at least 2-3 months before the wedding.
If your planner has good contacts with local vendors, it will turn out cheaper and more convenient. Typically, however, people prefer their own make-up and henna artists, choreographers and DJ or singers, who will need to be booked in advance. About a month or 15 days before the wedding, the planner should have finalised all the details without any loose ends.
Get wedding insurance
While planning extravagant weddings, people often leave out a crucial detail: insurance. “Even if they want to, many are clueless about how and where to get it,” says Acharya (
see FAQs on wedding...). The sum insured should be roughly the size of expenses incurred for the wedding. “It will cover cancellation or postponement of wedding, burglary, damage to valuables, accident, death, and even third-party liability,” says Raghavendra Rao, Chief Distribution Officer, Future Generali Insurance India. “The policy will cover the non-refundable expenses incurred in connection with the wedding,” adds T.A. Ramalingam, Chief Technical Officer, Bajaj Allianz General Insurance.
Top cities for destination wedding
Here are some popular and upcoming locations for destination weddings. These cities offer a range of options, from premium luxury palaces and 5-star luxury hotels to 3- and 4-star heritage hotels, affordable boutique hotels and budget resorts. The hotel packages typically include stay, food and venues for functions, with costs ranging from Rs.5,000 to Rs.5 lakh a night per room.
The prices listed here are not the total wedding cost but hotel rates for a 2-day wedding for 150 guests, which form the bulk of expenses. As some hotels in smaller cities may have fewer rooms, you will either have to cut your guest list to 50-75 people, or book more than one hotel.