Weddings are huge business everywhere in the world, but even more so in the Gulf. Lavish wedding ceremonies with the number of guests often exceeding 1000 people are common – tradition is dictating such luxury, so the “white industry” is really flourishing with numerous businesses in the region eyeing their piece of the pie, or cake in this case. It is estimated that in Qatar some USD 500 million is spend for weddings every year, while in UAE this number is around USD 700 million.
A sum spent on the wedding celebration usually depends on couple’s nationality. “Western expat couples tend to have smaller, more intimate weddings (50- 150 guests), whereas Indian and Arabic couples tend to have larger weddings that extend over a number of days. Emirati weddings can sometimes reach up to 1000+ guests”, says Rhiannon Downie, founder of UAE wedding inspiration website www.brideclubme.com. It is estimated that Arabic and Indian couples in UAE spend anywhere from USD 40,800 to USD 272,000 for a wedding, while westerners tend to spend from USD 27,000 to USD 40,800. Arab wedding in the Emirates with 300 guests can cost from USD 68,000 to USD 110,000, and that the expat couple inviting around 100 guests will spend USD 40,800. According to the figures from the Institute for International Research in Dubai the average cost for a wedding in the UAE is USD 85,000, but according to the latest survey conducted by The Bride Show, number of couples spending USD 136,100 for wedding celebration has doubled since 2013.
In Qatar, weddings are even more expensive: according to the media reports, moderate expat wedding with around 200 guests will cost between USD 21,900 and USD 41,200. For Qatari nationals, where almost all the financial burden falls on the groom or his family, numbers are significantly bigger – at least USD 150,000 for the traditional celebration and small wedding is usually not an option. To ease the expenses for the young Qatari men and to ensure the sustainability of the marriage institution, the government started to build marriage hall complexes; end of last year, one that can accommodate up to 2500 guests, opened on the outskirts of Doha. Qatari couples that are getting married for the first time can use the halls for free, and according to the media, the plan is to build two more such complexes in Al Wakra and Al Dhayeen. The cost of wedding venues (usually hotels) in Qatar is staggering – the prices range from USD 82,400 to USD 137,300 while renting a wedding tent costs USD 11,000 or more.
Combined with all other expenses: the entertainers, photography, fireworks, wedding dress, jewelry and dowry – USD 27,500 on average, it is no wonder that many Qatari men (and not just them, trend is common across the GCC), are very reluctant to get married. Minimum cost for a wedding dress is around USD 4,100, but average spend is a whopping USD 11,000 (in UAE between USD 1,600 and USD 5,700 on average, but on high end it can be USD 40,000), while gifts for the bride – usually diamonds or other precious stones – will cost a Qatari groom anywhere from USD 5,500 to USD 275,000. In Oman, the situation is similar – average wedding can cost up to USD 78,000, while dowry ranges from USD 5200 to USD 78,000.
In Saudi Arabia, according to available data, the traditional dowry can range between USD 5,300 to USD 19,000, while in UAE the bride’s dowry usually climbs to between USD 27,200 and USD 54,400.
Loans, funds and even charity
Taking the marriage loan from the bank is a common practice in the Gulf, whose residents, despite the highest GDP in the world, often don’t have enough money to pay for expensive, often extravagant wedding ceremonies. For example, the data from 2013 shows that of those Abu Dhabi residents in debt, 12 percent are paying wedding expenses. To tackle the problem, UAE and Oman government launched the marriage funds for the nationals, and mass weddings are more and more common in Saudi Arabia, UAE and Oman. Also, in 2013, Qatar Charity launched Zawaj, a marriage program, which offer couples pre-marital counseling and financial assistance. For comparison, figures from the US based website TheKnot.com, show the average wedding cost in the US in 2013 at USD 30,000 (excludes honeymoon), and most expensive place to get married was Manhattan where couples spend on average USD 86,900. Least expensive place to get married in the US was Idaho with USD 16,200 average spent on wedding costs. US brides tend to spend USD 1,300 on average for a wedding dress.
Snowy wedding in the desert
But despite staggering costs, large wedding are still in vogue across the GCC region. Talking about the wedding trends in the UAE, Rhiannon Downie points out that each couple is unique and different. “So I am usually wary of suggesting what ‘trends’ are popular. Also, themes/trends vary in accordance to the couple’s culture and budget. For western expats, outdoor weddings with a rustic and/or vintage touch have been increasing in popularity. For local brides, indoor ballroom weddings are still very much the venue of choice; however, brides are starting to think ‘outside the box’. I’ve recently seen a trend in bringing seasonal elements indoors, for example the winter wonderland theme has been a popular choice”, she explained.
While in the West a gift registry is very common, in the Gulf it is still being introduced. Ms. Sara Farah, the founder of Dubai-based White Almonds, www.white-almonds.com, first personalized luxury Wedding Gift Registry, underlines that young couples are looking for a gifting service that’s convenient for both themselves and their guests. “They are seeking a top level service with no hidden fees or charges, something that is flexible where they can be spoilt for choice.” According to Ms. Farah, popularity of gifts depends on the couple. “What we are finding the most popular gifts to be are still the home decorative items, table top accessories, and furniture for their new home. In addition, young couples are looking for Honeymoon registries and Art”, she explains.
Ms. Downie agrees: “Home ware gifts will always be a popular choice for newlyweds in the UAE, but these days couples are also looking for experiences”.
According to Ms. Downie, the majority opinion that weddings in the region are too costly depends again on the couple, their expectations and financial capabilities. “What may be expensive to one couple may be feasible for another. I don’t think the UAE is any more expensive when it comes to venue hire, compared to prime locations in London, UK for example. It very much depends on what the couple wants and how large their wedding is, there are ways to save money on weddings no matter where you get married. I feel that couples are becoming more aware of what things cost these days due to the current economic climate and yes, they are looking for ways to reduce spend, but again, depending on the culture of the couple and where they are from very much defines how large/small their wedding will be”, she said.
“Despite our demographics being quite small, the amount and effort that are put into weddings in UAE are huge,“ Ms. Farah said. “I feel that weddings done in this part of the world are rather wonderful theatrical events.”
Weddings are a major business in the region, and the industry is expected to grow, due to very well developed wedding tourism, especially in Dubai and in the recent years Oman, which is a popular wedding destination especially for Indians, who like to marry abroad. Baring in mind that the wedding market in India is about USD 25 billion and growing at a rate of 25 to 30 per cent annually, the bright future of the “white industry” in the Gulf region is secured.