Phuket trying to woo back Indian weddings
New Delhi: Phuket, a popular island resort in Thailand, is trying to lure Indian weddings back after a year`s lull, say Thailand hospitality and tourism industry insiders.
"The wedding crowd seems to have gone somewhere in the past year. We have seen a slowdown in lavish Indian weddings on the island," Debbie Dionysius, assistant vice-president in destination marketing at Laguna Phuket, a high-end resort, told IANS.
Dionysius was in the Indian capital to promote the Laguna Resort - made of seven niche properties on a stretch of the shore - among the Indian wedding segment and family leisure travellers and look for travel trade partnerships with local operators.
Phuket is located off the southwest coast of Thailand, which is one of the most popular overseas destinations for Indian weddings in Asia.
Thai Tourism Board statistics say 30,000 Indian tourists visited Phuket last year while the whole of Thailand logged nearly one million Indian footfalls in 2010.
"India is a booming market, but currently the occupancy of Indian tourists is under five percent. We are looking at family groups with children and wedding entourages," Dionysius said.
"A year ago, several wedding groups wanted to book with us. But that was before we closed down one of our biggest hotels for renovation. It will be opening as Angsana Laguna Phuket - and will host big weddings, including Indian ones," the official said.
The Indian wedding market is hard to tap despite the fact that many Indians go to Thailand on holiday and to solemnise weddings, the Laguna official said.
"Properties abroad, especially in destinations like Phuket, have to find the right partners in India to guide the wedding crowd and hotels are often afraid to play host to Indian weddings because they are such big events with elaborate rituals and frills. They can`t afford to go wrong with the arrangements," she said.
Dionysius, however, said the Laguna properties played host to small Indian weddings - very private in nature.
A spokesperson for J.W. Mariott group admitted that the number of Indian weddings has shrunk compared to 2010 but said "it was not possible to identify the reasons".
"Big Indian weddings happen in cycles," the spokesperson said.
According to a Thai tourism board official, "Bali was giving destinations like Phuket a run for their money". "Many Indian couples prefer to marry in Bali because it is exotic," he said. Macau is also growing in reputation as a Chinese alternative for many Indians, he said.
Several alternative wedding destinations have sprung up worldwide. Indians are increasingly looking West for exotic weddings in countries like Switzerland, London, Dubai, Greece and the picturesque east European countries. The Indian Ocean islands of Maldives and Mauritius are also popular and cheaper wedding destinations.
The Amazing Thailand, an e-portal which promotes the country and its adjacent island resorts like Phuket and Pattaya as wedding destinations, hosts a high-end Indian wedding gallery. It lists at least a dozen Indian weddings - mostly of scions from leading business families of India - between 2009 and 2011.
A quick glance shows that Kiran Gidwani married Anup Toleram at the J.W. Marriott Khao Lake Resort & Spa in 2010. The lavish wedding was followed by that of Ashish Khubchandani and Jaya Lakhani later in the year.
Aisha Nachi Yenepova had married Sahil Vazirally in an opulent ceremony at the Four Seasons Hotel in 2009. Khusboo Mundra and Siddharth Dgha tied the knot at Dusit Thani in Pattaya in 2009. A traditional Indian arched gateway - a replica of entrances to palaces - was erected at the hotel for the wedding entourage to pass through. The theme of the wedding was royal.
But it hosts no figures for 2011.