Priyanka Chopra, Katrina Kaif, Kiara Advani, and even Katy Perry, Raveena Tandon, and Hardik Pandya have a thing in common— they all decided to tie the knot in the regal state of Rajasthan.
Besides being a centre of attraction for tourists, Rajasthan is one of the most sought-after wedding destinations in the country. Offering a beautiful blend of heritage and new-age locations, the land of palaces and dunes is now the go-to place for the big fat Indian wedding.
So what is the allure that pulls people in hordes to this Indian state to celebrate their big day? If one were to sum it up, it delivers the royal experience like no other place, with not just its plethora of forts and palaces, most of which have been converted into hotels, but also the vibrancy that one associates with a celebration, be its cuisine or culture. Over the years, the state has become self-sufficient in the wedding ecosystem, where designers and wedding planners set up base for the wedding season, delivering every bauble and service one could obtain in metros.
While it is debatable whether the hospitality players are boosting weddings in Rajasthan or it is the wedding business that is attracting hotel brands, largest garden for a wedding or largest hall for a wedding are common terms used even in the top hospitality brand websites. Lake Pichola in Udaipur, perhaps one of the most picturesque spots in the state, is surrounded by hotels, with one right in the centre too. Their biggest business? Weddings—be it for the nuptials or as honeymoon destinations.
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Jaipur, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Ranthambore and Bikaner are some of the top destinations. “Some of the properties in these places offer a spectacular experience, such as the Taj Lake Palace, The Leela Palace or the Udaivilas in Udaipur, Suryagarh in Jaisalmer, Six Senses in Ranthambore, etc,” says Tina Tharwani, co-founder of Shaadi Squad, a boutique wedding production and planning company based in Mumbai that conducted the wedding of Bollywood actors Vicky Kaushal and Katrina Kaif.
“The wedding business is a very large business and becoming larger by the day,” Puneet Chhatwal, MD and CEO of IHCL, had told FE in a recent interaction. IHCL has two new properties in the Pink City alone—both with an eye on the wedding business. It has a total of 16 Taj and SeleQtions, besides Ginger, in Rajasthan, and recently acquired the Fateh Prakash Palace in Udaipur, besides signing on the Gorbandh Palace in Jaisalmer.
In capital Jaipur, just before you enter the Pink City, expecting palaces and even finding them dotted generously across the landscape, there emerges a huge futuristic building, a little out of place amid the domes and trellises. What it offers is also a departure from the typical Jaipur brief. Grandiose, but not imposing. Palatial, but not traditional. Luxurious, and very modern. Taj Amer might well be the prototype for a new-age hotel that offers something for everybody—a perfect MICE destination, a hotel attracting the younger generation of travellers with top-notch food and beverage offerings, and, most importantly, a 16,000-sq-ft pillarless ballroom that can accommodate 1,200 wedding guests. With peacock-themed rooms and suites and motifs like the lotus flower and leheriya designs replicated in jaalis and chandeliers making for stunning interiors, the property offers modern luxury for those looking beyond the typical fort experience.
“Proximity to the national capital makes Jaipur an optimal destination for high-profile weddings,” says its general manager Devraj Singh. “Taj Amer offers ample space for weddings and business meetings, and supported by iconic Taj F&B brands like Shamiana, House of Ming, House of Nomad, and Emperor’s Lounge all under one roof, it pulls in the weekend crowd as well,” he adds.
Adjacent to the iconic Rambagh Palace in the heart of Jaipur, IHCL has also revamped the Sawai Man Mahal as a premier wedding destination. The property originally served as offices of Rambagh Palace, owned by Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II. With individual units having personal gardens and plunge pools, the rooms are custom-built to accommodate every kind of wedding party. And with photographs of Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II along with his wife Gayatri Devi generously displayed all over the property, guests get a feeling of living with royalty.
When French hospitality major Accor opened its first Raffles in India in 2021, it was in Udaipur. The sprawling property is situated on a 21-acre private island amid the Udai Sagar lake. And, as per Andrew Langdon, senior VP, Development, Asia, Accor, “Even though it is a new market and destination for us, I am told that the wedding market is beyond all expectations.” Unsurprisingly, the second Raffles in India is coming up in Jaipur.
For The Leela Palace, too, Rajasthan is the biggest wedding market followed by Kerala. The company has two sprawling properties, one in Udaipur and the other in Jaipur with both exuding royalty to the teeth. The Leela Palace Udaipur is situated on the bank of the majestic Lake Pichola, which, along with Oberoi Udaivilas and the iconic Taj Lake Palace, are the stars of destination wedding venues in the Lake City. “The wedding market is big and is set to grow given the young demography and the Indian diaspora abroad. There is a huge interest for destination weddings and we have a blend of portfolios catering to that, and we see that growing,” says Anuraag Bhatnagar, chief operating officer of The Leela Palaces, Hotels & Resorts.
For American hospitality major Hilton, its hotels in Rajasthan “currently focus on driving a mix of leisure, corporate and MICE travel,” as per Manish Tolani, vice president and commercial director—India, Hilton. The company operates Hilton Jaipur and DoubleTree by Hilton Jaipur Amer in the capital city. “We get over 30% of business from weddings in our hotels in Jaipur and we are actively scouting for more opportunities to expand our footprint across Jaisalmer, Udaipur, and Jodhpur,” Tolani says. “Given the fact that Rajasthan is quite in demand when it comes to destination weddings, we will be focusing on bringing our luxury and premium offerings to the state in the future,” he adds.
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International hotel chain Radisson, too, has considerable presence in the state. “Several players are developing properties specifically catering to the wedding and MICE market,” says KB Kachru, chairman emeritus and principal advisor, South Asia, at Radisson Hotel Group. Apart from the traditional Jaipur and Udaipur, the hotel group also has properties in Kota and Bhiwadi.
While cities like Jaipur, Udaipur, Jodhpur, and Jaisalmer, which have no dearth of heritage properties, remain the top picks, the demand is growing for places beyond these too. “The urban centres of Jaipur and Udaipur have experienced a noteworthy surge in demand by couples generating leads across all wedding categories, and we see an increase of 52% in Jaipur and 3% increase in Udaipur. Moreover, there has been a noticeable rise in demand across the entirety of Rajasthan, including smaller towns such as Alwar and Bharatpur,” says Anam Zubair, head of marketing at WeddingWire India. Similarly, Weddingz, which gets most of its demand for Jaipur, Jodhpur, and Udaipur, is also seeing a surge in demand for destinations like Kumbhalgarh, Ranthambore, and Neemrana.
An aspect that works for Rajasthan is the availability of destination venue options not just in the bigger cities but in smaller cities and towns as well.
Six Senses Fort Barwara in Sawai Madhopur suddenly came into the limelight when actors Vicky Kaushal and Katrina Kaif got hitched there. The architecture of this 14th-century fort-turned-luxury hotel exudes sheer Rajasthani regality, which, when coupled with the remarkable landscape and vegetation, makes for a wedding experience that is intimate and grand at the same time. The brand is part of the IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group) Hotels & Resorts. Then there is the Alila Fort in Bishangarh, which comes under the World of Hyatt brand. Tucked in the majestic Aravali range, this 18th-century fort is situated close to the capital Jaipur and offers a mix of regality and tranquility.
The state government, too, is working to promote the lesser-known cities and towns. “While cities like Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur and Jaisalmer are already popular wedding destinations, the government is now focusing on promoting lesser-known towns and cities to diversify the wedding tourism industry and distribute the economic benefits across the state,” says Vijay Pal Singh, director tourism and managing director, Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation (RTDC).
The official gives the example of Pushkar, a small town located in the Ajmer district, which is “emerging as a popular wedding destination”. “The government, along with private players, is promoting Pushkar’s heritage properties, sand dunes, and lakes as unique wedding venues. Additionally, the government is promoting towns like Bikaner, Alwar, Bundi, Ranthambore, Bharatpur, etc, which are known for their forts, palaces, and other historical monuments, as wedding destinations,” Singh says.
“In India, 70% of heritage properties are in Rajasthan state. The government is also promoting the small cities and towns which have well-maintained and lavish properties to attract domestic and foreign couples for destination weddings, like Alila Fort (Bishangarh Village, Manoharpura), Devgarh (Rajsamand), House of Rohet (Jodhpur), Samod Palace (Jaipur), Kumbhalgarh, etc,” adds Singh.
Shaadi Squad’s Tharwani attributes the state’s popularity to “the rich cultural heritage and decades-old palatial properties that have been converted into beautiful accommodation spaces”. “The food and hospitality there are an experience in itself. What perhaps draws people to this destination, year after year, is the fact that every wedding has the potential to look entirely different from the other, even if it’s at the same venue. The history of Rajasthan is deeply entrenched in its architecture and food, which is very interesting for anyone visiting this place for the first time,” she adds. The Kaushal-Kaif event notwithstanding, about 20-30% of Shaadi Squad’s revenues come from weddings held in Rajasthan, shares Tharwani.
Zubair of WeddingWire India, agrees. The Gurugram-based digital wedding planning platform, which connects engaged couples to wedding professionals, is witnessing “a significant year-over-year (y-o-y) growth of 32% in the demand for booking wedding venues and vendors in Rajasthan”, according to Zubair. “This trend can be attributed to the increasing number of options available to millennial couples both residing in India and globally. The state of Rajasthan is ideal for hosting both luxury and budget destination weddings, as it offers a seamless blend of rich heritage and vibrant culture that can be incorporated into a couple’s special day,” adds Zubair. Two out of the three top wedding market cities for the company are in Rajasthan, which are Jaipur and Udaipur, the third being Goa.
Weddingz.in, another digital wedding planning platform that recently conducted the wedding of OYO Rooms founder Ritesh Agarwal and Geetansha Sood, is also witnessing an increasing interest in Rajasthan. “Over the last year, we saw over 4 lakh inquiries for weddings in Rajasthan. This demand has grown by 19% over the last two years,” says Aditya Sharma, country head, Weddingz.in.
Official figures further corroborate the increasing demand for Rajasthan. According to the Rajasthan tourism department, about two lakh weddings were held in the state in 2022. Their estimated budget was around Rs 70,000 crore, with destination weddings amounting to Rs 20,000 crore.
Commenting on what makes the state attractive for weddings, Vijay Pal Singh of RTDC says that apart from heritage buildings, hotels, and havelis of grandeur, Rajasthan also has “places for travel and tourism”. “Dunes, camels, deserts, forts, monuments, colour, music, heritage, tradition, and a lot of charm. Given its rich history, Rajasthan has a lot of options to choose from when it comes to the wedding destination. You can go for a Maharaja-style wedding as well as a close-knit gathering,” he adds.
All these, along with the warm hospitality and connectivity with major cities, too, play a role here. “Rajasthan’s easy accessibility from major cities is yet another factor that makes it an attractive wedding destination. The state is well-connected by air, rail, and road, making it easy for guests to travel to and from the wedding venue,” explains Singh.
Themes & budget galore
According to Shaadi Squad’s Tharwani, “there is no limit to the spending potential in Rajasthan”. “It can start anywhere from a couple of crores, going all the way up to Rs 15 crore or even more,” she adds.
According to Weddingz.in’s Sharma, “80% of bookings in Rajasthan are for a three-day event with each event costing over Rs 15 lakh”.
As per Zubair of WeddingWire India, “the state witnesses weddings across budgets, and with the royal theme, they sometimes cost more than regular weddings”.
While Shaadi Squad does not work around themes but offers couples something unique as per their choice and preference, “the traditional Rajasthani theme is the most highly favoured among couples seeking a wedding with a distinct aesthetic,” says WeddingWire India’s Zubair. “Other popular themes include the opulent royal weddings reminiscent of the state’s historical rulers, as well as fusion wedding themes that blend the classic cultural elements of Rajasthan with modern amenities,” he adds.
Not just hospitality players and wedding planners, about six lakh people are directly or indirectly connected with the wedding trade, Ravi Jindal, chairman of the Rajasthan Tent Dealers’ Association, was quoted as saying in a media report. These include event planners, caterers, florists, choreographers, etc.
Commenting on the state’s wedding industry, Praveen Khandelwal, founder and general secretary of the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), says, “The industry there has a unique feature that almost 80% of expenses of any wedding is taken by a third party and that money rotates in the market keeping the financial circle alive. Almost about 20 verticals do find their business possibilities in one wedding. It also gives a large number of temporary employment as well.”
“Not particularly,” says Tharwani of Shaadi Squad on whether it gets the entire ecosystem for organising a wedding in the state. “It’s a fair mix of both locally sourced resources plus collaborating with certain specific vendors from outside of Rajasthan whenever required. For example, When we talk about photographers, videographers, and décor designers whose work is predominantly creative and subject to one’s preferences, we like to keep it open and not geography-specific. Otherwise, we like to work extensively with local resources so long as the couple is happy with their body of work,” she says.
The craze for extravagant pre- and post-wedding shoots has risen manifold in the wedding-obsessed country. The scale of these professionally choreographed routines often shot at movie-style sets is such that they can cost even more than the honeymoon, as per a recent report by Bloomberg.
Evidently, how can Rajasthan, which offers all things regal, remain behind?
An eccentric trend emerged in Kishangarh, where a marble dumping ground turned into a pre-wedding shoot hotspot, as per media reports. The white trash looked like snow to people of the country obsessed with SRK romancing in the Swiss Alps.
Not just Kishangarh, Rajasthan has no dearth of heritage buildings that always remain popular among couples. Given the popularity of pre- and post-wedding shoots, the state government in 2021 gave access to ticketed monuments of Rajasthan to shoot the videos. “We have over 30 ticketed monuments across the state where still and video shoots can be done by paying a charge of Rs 5,000 for two hours. If couples want to avoid crowds or want exclusive shoots, then they will be allowed before or after the office hours for Rs 15,000 for an hour,” Prakash Chandra Sharma, archaeology and museum department director, had told the media.
“We used to charge for still photography and it was for office hours only, but now a guideline has been issued which includes permission for video shoots along with still photography during and before or after office hours,” he added.
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The state push
Given the potential and worth of this market, the state government, too, through schemes and policies, “attracts hospitality players to the later advantage of investment in this sector,” says RTDC’s Singh. It includes the tourism and hospitality sector being accorded ‘industry status’ in the Rajasthan State Budget 2022-23. A number of benefits are also provided under the Rajasthan Investment Promotion Scheme 2022 (RIPS 2022), which includes an interest subsidy of up to 6% for five years, 100% exemption for seven years—electricity duty, land tax, stamp duty, and conversion charges, etc.
Not just destination weddings, efforts are on to provide affordable wedding venues for local communities, the bureaucrat said. It includes the construction of community halls and centres “in different parts of the state, particularly in rural areas. These community halls prove a basic infrastructure for weddings and other social events and help to support the local economy by generating employment opportunities. Apart from community halls, the Rajasthan government is also promoting private investment in the hospitality industry to improve the quality of wedding venues and services in the state. The government is offering various incentives and packages to encourage private investment in the hospitality sector. For example, the government has introduced a subsidy scheme for setting up new hotels in the state, which provides financial assistance for the construction of hotels,” he says.
Apart from that, the Rajasthan tourism department also participates in various events like travel trade events, roadshows, travel marts and other events that bring together wedding planners, vendors, and other stakeholders of the wedding industry. “This provides a platform for networking, knowledge-sharing, and business development, and helps to boost the wedding industry in the state. These efforts are helping to generate employment opportunities, boosting the local economy, and enhancing the state’s image as a preferred wedding destination,” Singh adds.