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A wedding on the lawns at Taj Falaknuma Palace, Hyderabad
Business

I Do, The Taj Way

If marriages are made in heaven, then wedding vows must be exchanged at the Taj!

October 2019     |     1783 words     |     7-minute read

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Standing on the values of ‘Trust, Awareness and Joy’, the Taj brand, under the aegis of The Indian Hotels Company Ltd (IHCL), has made a mark in the Indian wedding market, offering signature experiences and unforgettable weddings to couples seeking to tie the knot.

With several generations of the same family, celebrities of international acclaim and the biggest names in the country making a beeline for its hotels to utter the magical words ‘I do!’, IHCL continues to be a leader in the weddings business.

The Indian wedding, once a simple affair, has evolved into an extravaganza of events, giving rise to a full-fledged industry. Indian wedding celebrations nowadays are all about creating memorable experiences at every stage — the marriage proposal, a bridal shower or bachelorette, a pre-wedding photo shoot, elaborate wedding events, a post-wedding bash, and even honeymoons and vow renewal ceremonies thereafter.

A royal wedding feast awaits the guests at Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur

Lavish nuptials & destination weddings

According to a KPMG report, the Indian wedding market is estimated to be $40-50 billion in size, growing at a rate of 25-30 percent annually. The report estimates the cost of a luxury wedding between Rs. 2 crore and Rs. 25 crore, and forecasts approximately 60.5 million weddings taking place in India from 2017 to 2021.

Says Renu Basu, senior vice president – global sales and marketing, IHCL, “The wedding market in our country is recession proof because of the inherent importance given to weddings in the Indian culture. In fact, the three most important responsibilities of the Indian family are education, marriage and a home. Indian weddings have transformed from simple and intimate affairs to large-scale festivities spread over a few days. In the past, one never heard of Parsis hosting a sangeet, or wedding festivities in South India lasting for three to four days. But today, cultural influences are determining the planning of an Indian wedding. Unlike western cultures, in India, parents take on the financial responsibility of their child’s wedding, while the bride and groom play an important role in planning their dream wedding. This, coupled with the growth of wealth creation in India, has led to the luxury wedding market growing annually at a rate of 20 percent.”

According to a FICCI report, the destination wedding industry in India is expected to grow by 25 percent and will be valued in excess of Rs. 45,000 crore by the end of 2020. IHCL too has witnessed a growth in weddings by 51 percent, of which 15 percent is attributed to destination weddings. This may be a relatively new trend, but IHCL’s first, high-profile destination wedding took place 20 years ago at its luxury hotel, the Taj Exotica Resort & Spa, Goa.

“In its earlier avatar, the Indian wedding was restricted to a simple ceremony, followed by a grand reception. This changed as Bollywood films paved the way for a larger format, involving celebrations spread over two to three days. It was in the mid-’90s that we saw a real change in the way weddings were conducted, leading to an era where the big fat Indian wedding got even bigger. Aspirational young couples started looking at destinations beyond their hometowns to celebrate their big day with family and friends. NRIs especially the Palanpuri diamond merchants from Belgium and the Sindhi businessmen from all over the world followed suit, hosting their children’s weddings in India,” states Renu.

The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai, has been hosting big Indian weddings for eight decades. From being the destination to host a wedding, today it is also the most sought-after heritage hotel for a destination wedding. The flagship hotel of IHCL has been the chosen venue for many family weddings over generations.

Zafar Hai and Colleen Hai (nee Bhiladvala) at their wedding reception in the Crystal room at The Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai in 1980

On March 18, 1980, Zafar Hai, the renowned filmmaker of Keepers Of The Flame, married his wife Colleen Hai (nee Bhiladvala), then the chief airhostess and face of Air India, in a grand wedding reception at The Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai.

Their wedding was the most talked about wedding of the ’80s and even made it to the cover of the Bombay magazine. Twenty-five years later, Zafar’s niece Aida Noorani, married Aftab Malik at the very same venue in a traditional Hyderabadi wedding. “When it comes to hosting weddings, brand reputation, quality of service and competence determine the choice of a hotel partner. For over a century, Taj has been hosting memorable weddings and has been chosen by different generations from the same family,” confirms Renu.

The 'vow' factor

The Taj brand is associated with trust and quality, both of which are of paramount importance to the families of the bride and groom. A trendsetter in the luxury wedding space, Taj Hotels continues to be a leader in the business, with its varied spread of hotels, the impeccable service on offer and its dependability. Taj’s offerings range from royal weddings to iconic city weddings, from resort and beach weddings to international destination weddings.

Rajasthan’s association with royalty is very strong, and as the custodian of royal palaces in India, Taj has a major leverage in this region. There are five palace venues on offer, including Rambagh Palace, Jaipur; Jai Mahal Palace, Jaipur; Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur; Taj Hari Mahal, Jodhpur; and Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur; with Umaid Bhawan stealing a march on the others. Taj Falaknuma Palace, Hyderabad, is popular for intimate royal weddings.

When it comes to city hotels, The Taj Mahal Palace and Taj Lands End in Mumbai, and Taj Palace and Taj Mahal in New Delhi are favourites. In the popular outdoor weddings space, Vivanta Surajkund, NCR, with its expansive landscaped gardens, and Taj West End, Bengaluru, in its scenic location, lead the way.

In the diaspora too, Indian parents prefer a Taj hotel over any other brand for their children’s special day. The Pierre in New York, Taj Dubai and St James’ Court, London, are well known for hosting these weddings.

The Sukh Niwas suite at Rambagh Palace, Jaipur, in all its grandeur

Goa is a popular destination for beach weddings, and Taj Fort Aguada Resort & Spa, Taj Holiday Village Resort & Spa and Taj Exotica Resort & Spa are the favoured choices. For couples who would rather have an enchanting ceremony in the middle of a rainforest, Taj Madikeri Resort & Spa in Coorg provides the perfect setting.

“With the added advantage of having more than two hotels in every city, we are able to cater to a diverse set of customers, from industrialists to corporate CEOs,” says Renu. “The destination wedding trend is one that will continue to grow.”

Business trends

In 2000, IHCL introduced a dedicated team to cater to the wedding segment. “When hosting a wedding at any of our hotels, families expect senior management to be involved so that they feel reassured about getting the best. We ensure we give them that comfort. We also ensure our teams build a bond with the families, playing the role of extended family members to deliver a flawless wedding,” says Renu.

Taj strengthened its online presence in the wedding space by setting up a microsite and social media presence under the ‘Timeless Weddings’ label. For over seven years, IHCL has been participating in an exhibition that showcases the latest, exclusive wedding services. The recent edition of the show was hosted at Taj Palace, New Delhi.

“The influence of wedding planners is increasing. Last year, the ratio of business from direct sources to intermediaries was 35:65 which is 16:84 this year. While we understand the importance of these influencers, we are also aware that families usually prefer to deal with us directly because of the longstanding relationship and comfort they share with our brand,” says Renu.

IHCL has been a frontrunner in the business of curating weddings. The team understands the needs of its diverse clientele. They proactively map dates and follow celebrity weddings closely, reaching out to customers who are planning their big day. Says Renu, “Over a period, we have also honed our skills and penetrated deeper into this segment. We know that Sundays are preferred for Sikh weddings and that younger couples prefer to get married during the Thanksgiving and Memorial Day weekends so that their friends from overseas can be part of their celebrations. The business of weddings is like a private wealth management relationship and the Taj brand is revered.”

Timeless weddings

The Timeless Weddings Concierge by the Taj, launched in 2016, seamlessly puts together intricate nuances and themes in varied settings to offer personalised experiences. The concierge is a one-stop shop for weddings, facilitated by experts. The complete wedding suite is delivered with attentive service, magical settings, inspired cuisine, wellness packages and beauty offerings.

“We have a complete panel of stylists, florists and photographers — there is a whole ancillary ecosystem growing for this small and sacred institution called marriage,” says Renu. “Recently, for a big wedding at Taj Palace, New Delhi, fashion designer Varun Bahl was roped in to design the mandap and the décor.”

Personalisation is key for a Taj wedding. Sometimes there are requests to include a family recipe in the wedding menu. Taj goes the extra mile to recreate the dish by engaging the best chef from one of its hotels. “Food is of great significance in an Indian wedding, and chefs are an important part of the wedding planning. We harness our culinary expertise through our renowned chefs from across the country and the globe,” says Renu. “So for Bengali fare, the chef from Taj Bengal plans a menu, for chaat, the chef from Taj Agra steps in, for kebabs, the chef from Taj Lucknow is consulted, and for exotic sushi, the chef from Wasabi is flown down. For one wedding in Mumbai, we were requested to prepare a Lucknowi biryani using a traditional family recipe. Our chefs managed it with élan, much to the delight of our customers.”

Fulfilling their clients’ every requirement is sacrosanct to the team at IHCL, and in this aspect, the company excels. “For one of the weddings at Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur, we arranged for the bride to arrive for the varmala ceremony on the gangaur boat, which was once the royal barge of the Maharana of Udaipur,” shares Renu. “We also fulfilled the bride’s desire to have the Ganga aarti performed by priests from the holy city of Varanasi, by flying them down to Udaipur.”

It’s moments and memories like these that the Taj team aspires to create for couples on the most important day of their lives. With Taj Hotels, weddings are truly timeless!

—Farah Dada


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