Goa is where all the wedding pandals are, literally. Foreigners, NRIs and even Indians from various metros are all wanting to get married in Goa. "Goa has taken over states like Rajasthan as popular wedding locations," says the Margao-based Ranjan Pattanayak, who launched Wedding Planners in Goa in 2000.
Ever since, he has had his hands full organising weddings not only for foreigners and NRIs but also couples from Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore, who want to flaunt the 'Got-married-in-Goa' tag.
Ranjan organized 60 weddings in 2005. "Goa's natural beauty, plus the fact that organizing a wedding here is cheaper, is turning it into a dream destination," says Ranjan. "You can have a wedding on the beach (one foreigner couple rode on elephants to the beach and took their vows), in a Goan village, or in a Portuguese villa."
Francis Serrao, Director, Crosscraft Pvt. Ltd, who organizes weddings, built up a production house with inventories that include mattresses, crockery, bolsters and equipment to rig up a pandal (makeshift venue for ceremonies). He out-sources mehndiwalas, hairdressers, florists and even horses for the wedding. "As the number of weddings went up dramatically, I realized the need to get my inventory organized," says Francis. He organized two weddings in 2004, 30 in 2005 and 12 by July 2006.
According to Francis, 99 per cent of young couples who choose Goa have no previous connection to it - meaning they have no roots here, nor have they lived here. "It's just exotic and is easily accessible to everyone," says Francis. The monsoons attract Mumbaites and Delhiites, while foreigners get hitched during the tourist season beginning October. In the last one year, 750 chartered flights arrived from England, Germany, France, Sweden and Russia to Goa.
Unlike Indians, NRIs, aren't fussy over timings and set dates based on practical considerations like convenience. They are also not bound by costs. "Most NRIs are willing to pay up to $150 per plate," says Swati Dhir, Sales Director, Taj Hotels in Goa, who thinks it's the "wow factor" that has turned this tiny state into a wedding destination.
Also, NRIs invite fewer guests - between 150-200; whereas Indian parents invite up to 500 guests and therefore prefer the monsoon season when five-star hotels are cheaper.
On the other hand, foreigners invite just 4-6 guests because of the huge distances involved. Their weddings tend to be intimate affairs. "Goa has everything to offer for a dream wedding," says Illidio de Noronha, co-author of `Getting Married in Goa: The complete wedding guide'. The third edition of the guide was released in July, 2006.
In the last two months, virtually every five-star hotel (there are 11 of them) along the coast has organized a wedding. Swati says the wedding segment grew significantly in the last couple of years. "Last year, there were 18 weddings in the Fort Aguada and Holiday Village and 12 in the Taj Exotica in the south," says Samir Khanna, Area Director, Taj Group.
Even Club Mahindra, a timeshare-resort, decided to cash-in on the wedding season. "Recently, around 50 apartments were booked and the lobby was converted temporarily into a wedding pandal," says Sanjay Punj of Club Mahindra.
How does it all start? "Couples fly in for a recce because they have been here before for a wedding or heard someone rave about getting married in Goa. So, the wedding market actually opened up by word of mouth," says Ranjan. There are now two more exclusive wedding planners in Goa; in addition to a few event managers who entered the business recently.
Samir calls it the ripple effect. "Some come to us directly and we put them in touch with wedding planners, while others go to the wedding planners who recommend a hotel on the basis of costs, the wedding theme and the number of guests."
Weddings in Goa are quite reasonable in terms of costs. In a five star Mumbai hotel, for a wedding, the cost per person is Rs 1,200, plus taxes (24 per cent) apart from the steep cost of boarding and lodging. "In Goa, parents can flaunt the fact they got their children married in a five-star hotel at a price that did not burn a hole in their pocket," says Swati.
What do couples who say "I do" in Goa have to say about the experience? Mark and Andrea Balmer of England say their wedding was an "amazing, unforgettable experience". An NRI bride who preferred to be anonymous said, "it was a wedding made in heaven".