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A promising affair

Weddings are special and those who enter into this commitment wish to make it as memorable as possible.

Some do it in a simple manner and others take the lavish route, depending on their budget and imagination. Be it splurging on expensive dresses and parties or flying to an exotic locale to tie the knot, the latter group has led to the creation of an industry dedicated to making the special day extra special. The wedding industry is a multi-billion dollar enterprise and it is growing at a fast pace every year, with the destination wedding component contributing to it significantly.

According to the data presented at the first global conference on destination wedding planners held in Athens, Greece, last year, the annual operation cycle of the wedding industry amounts to US$300bn and destination weddings contribute a sizable amount to this figure. It was said in the data that almost a quarter of the weddings in the world are destination events and the amount spent for their organisation is around €71.5bn. At the same time, the number of weddings that take place in remote destinations grows by ten per cent each year.

With its idyllic landscape, beautiful and clean beaches and picturesque wadis plus direct air connectivity to all major cities in the world, Oman has all the resources to make an excellent wedding destination. But the country never had much of a presence in the global destination wedding map until January this year.

The big fat Indian wedding hosted at Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa proved that Oman is ready to make its mark as a perfect destination for those who are looking for a unique venue to get married. This segment is set to boost the country's tourism economy in the coming years and open up new sources of revenue for the local economy in sectors like event management, food and beverages, transportation etc.

Desirable destination

Oman enjoys the patronage of tourists from across the world, thanks to its natural beauty and the hospitality of the local population. With an eye on boosting the country's tourist economy, the government is investing heavily in developing new hotels and resorts as well as identifying and nurturing locales that holds potential to become tourist attractions. These are essentially the factors that has the making of an ideal wedding destination.

Mark Kirk, area general manager & hotel manager, Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa, says, “Oman offers an authentic Arabian experience, easily accessible with connections to Europe, UK and India through Middle Eastern airlines. It encapsulated the true magic of Arabia, making it perfect as a wedding destination. As Oman is a new destination it also makes it extremely memorable for the couple and their guests where native Omanis delight in sharing their culture and traditions with visitors.”

Dubai and Abu Dhabi have been dominating this segment for years in the Middle East and though it might seem that Oman was slow in identifying this potential, it actually comes as a blessing in disguise. The relative anonymity of this country in the wedding destination market has in turn given it an exotic aura, and is attracting interest from across the globe.

Harsh Abrol, vice president, Zahara Tours, says, “We recently participated in a roadshow conducted by the Ministry of Tourism in four Indian cities. We met many wedding planners there and we found that Oman as a destination is gaining more popularity in India. People always want something unique and different especially when it comes to destination weddings. Dubai is done, Abu Dhabi is done and Bangkok is done. Oman's USP is that we have a unique product with its natural beauty as well as hotels and resorts of international standards.”

The big fat Indian wedding market

The biggest market for destination weddings in Oman is India, which is famous for elaborate weddings among the diverse communities in the country. The growth in the economy and a rise in the number of affluent people has led to a boost in the weddings industry in India and an increasing number of people are opting for destination weddings.

The main locations opted by the Indian diaspora is Bangkok, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, all of which are a few hours from major airports in the country. Oman's accessibility and excellent resources gives it a definitive edge in this sector. Seeing the opportunities offered by this huge market, the Ministry of Tourism has joined hands with tour operators and hotel groups to conduct various initiatives to attract Indian clientele.

Manoj Dass, head – Tour Oman, says, “Accessibility is one of the key factors. Oman Air has direct flights to around 12 cities in India and the flights takes only two and half hours on average to reach Muscat. Oman has everything that you need to hold a wedding. We have attractive locations as well as hotels and resorts with international standards.

“The Ministry of Tourism has significantly supported us and contributed in promoting Oman in India where ‘Big fat destination weddings’ are trending quick..”

Tour Oman organised the grand wedding at Shangri-La which involved over 1,000 guests and prior to that managed the wedding of a Marwari family wedding, with a size of 675, in November 2014. Zahara Tours will be organising two weddings in the coming months. Hotels and resorts like Shangri-La and Sifaway Boutique Hotel are also getting a lot of enquiries for destination weddings.

Hotels and tour operators resort to diverse marketing strategies to attract clients in this segment. Apart from India, they are also targeting clients from the UK and other parts of Europe. There are also options for marketing this product in other parts of the GCC.

Anthony Clement, hotel manager, Sifawy Boutique Hotel, says, “India and Europe are our main markets. A majority of the enquiries we get are from North India, England and Scotland. We are also targeting the German market and are looking for partners there to promote this segment. We have relations with a lot of wedding planners and are featured on several websites in the UK for example. We regularly advertise in magazines and participate in road shows with the Ministry of Tourism to market this product."

Kirk says, “We promote our weddings locally through various wedding fairs and sales blitz and actively work in conjunction with the Ministry of Tourism to promote our packages and offers. In addition we also utilise our social media channels, digital marketing and via our regional sales offices located in India, UK & Europe to gain additional exposure across all markets.”

Hurdles and possibilities

One of the major issues faced by the market at the moment is the lack quality event management services in the country. Indian weddings are lavish affairs and involves a lot of entertainment events, but in its current state, event management companies in Oman are not equipped to handle such clients. Light and sound equipment, stage decoration etc are very expensive and most organisers resort to hiring these from Dubai at much cheaper rates.

Rakhee Dutia, director of sales, Sifawy Boutique Hotel, says, “Dubai and Oman are different in terms of its offerings. Dubai is more about glamour. Here, in Oman, the product is close to nature and authentic. The opportunity here, in Muscat, is to have more specialised providers like lighting, sounds, décor, rental, etc. These facilities are available in Oman, but on a limited scale and they are quite expensive. Dubai has all the top-notch facilities compared to Oman and we need to improve on that if we want to increase the destination wedding market.”

Events of such grand scale require careful planning and execution, which includes hotel bookings, ticketing, visa processing, transportation, food and beverages etc. Dass says, “An entire year of effort goes into planning the event and logistics of the wedding event. From visa documentations, processing to rooming lists at hotels, transfers and transportations arrangements, all need to be minutely planned and organised well in advance.

“The ministry and immigration authorities have been very helpful and we have managed to arrange everything smoothly for the weddings so far.”

Certain demands from the clients can also pose problems, but resorts and tour operators say they have been able to execute these demands without much hassle. Rakhee, says, “We giver great importance to personalisation. In one of the weddings, the party wanted a white, female horse. We managed to arrange it. Another party wanted flame-throwers, we sourced them from Dubai.”

Cost is another matter of concern in Oman as the room rents and food prices in the sultanate are higher compared to Dubai. But industry insiders say that the cost is justified by the facilities and the uniqueness offered by the country in terms of diverse and naturally beautiful locales. And with the construction of new hotels and resorts, the costs are expected to pare in the coming future.

The major attraction of destination weddings is that it opens up direct and indirect job opportunities. There will be requirement for event planners, transportation services, food and beverage suppliers etc. Also these kind of events lead to indirect tourism promotion as people who attend these weddings spread good words about the country.

Dass says,“At the rate at which destination weddings are picking up globally, Oman can safely look at a minimum of 4-5 weddings per year. The investment made in Oman in only a span of one week, definitely contributed significantly to the annual touristic spend in the destination.

“Most wedding guests return to the destination with their family for a holiday, which is an indirect way of promoting tourism. The weddings that have taken place so far have created a lot of positive buzz about Oman in the prospective markets. We’re looking forward to grow this market vigorously in Oman.”

Going forward this segment has immense potential to become one of the major revenue earners for the tourism sector in Oman. The government is also playing a proactive role in promoting this lucrative segment of the tourism industry. Oman has just made its foray into the segment and it has opened a host of opportunities. With careful planning and cooperation between government and private enterprises, the sultanate can certainly carve a niche in the global wedding destination map.

Souce: Business Today