I first met Anj on a flight to Cancun from New York. I was sitting next to her and her then-fiance as they were headed down to a resort to do some last-minute checks with their wedding planner for their destination wedding.
But this wasn't going to be your ordinary destination wedding. Anj and her fiance were both of Indian descent and were planning to descend on Cancun with one epic blowout. It was then that I first learned about Indian destination weddings in Mexico.
It turns out that destination weddings for those of South Asian descent are on the rapid rise at all-inclusive resorts in Cancun and the Riviera Maya. "Indian weddings, when held at home, can be more than 1,000 people. Having a destination wedding is a similar concept to a Western destination wedding. It pares down the guest list but on a grander scale," said Carilis Felipe, director of weddings for AIC Hotel Group, which leads sales and marketing efforts for Hard Rock Hotels in the Caribbean and Mexico.
In fact, Hard Rock Hotels has seen a 42% growth in South Asian weddings from 2017 to 2018. The previous year saw 48% growth. Hard Rock Hotels in Mexico and the Caribbean have a dedicated specialist program for South Asian weddings known as Ishq Rocks WOW Specialist Program, which is an offshoot of their WOW destination wedding specialist program. The WOW program started in 2013 and Ishq Rocks took effect in 2016.
"Indian weddings are becoming more and more popular, and many of the major hotel chains are leaning toward South Asian packages and targeting that market," she said. "These clients are of Indian descent but were born in the U.S., so we see an incorporation between Western and Indian traditions." For example, many brides will want bridesmaids, a wedding cake and a bouquet, which aren't in traditional Indian weddings. "Ishq Rocks doesn't have packages [unlike the Western destination wedding packages] because there are so many fusions -- Sikh and Hindu, Christian and Hindu, etc. Everything is customized," Felipe said.
When an agent signs up to be an Ishq Rocks WOW specialist that means they have already completed the WOW specialist training. The Ishq Rocks training program teaches about Indian traditions, religions, ceremonies, and how to approach an Indian wedding client. Once agents have met the requirements they will be enlisted in the program and receive a certificate for $1,000 to be used towards a South Asian ceremony, as well as several other marketing perks for their own business.
But Hard Rock is not the only hotel chain that is adapting to this new niche. Palladium Hotel Group has its own Shaadi (which means wedding) Royal Bliss Package, which includes a wedding ceremony under a traditional Mandap, a Vivah wedding reception and dinner with a South Asian menu from the on-site Indian chef. The party can be designed as an afternoon tea or a cocktail party with traditional Indian hors d'oeuvres.
Palace Resorts offers South Asian wedding ceremonies at its properties in Mexico and Jamaica, as well. For South Asian weddings with Palace Resorts, venue options are expansive enough for more than 300 guests. Brides and grooms can customize the traditional Mandap and wedding stage. A ghodi (or white horse) is also provided for the groom's entry. Couples can customize their ceremony with fireworks, henna artists, flowers and lights. Traditional Indian cuisine is also offered, like samosas and vegetable kabobs, all types of tikka, vegetarian options and special Indian sweets.
Secrets Maroma Beach in Riviera Cancun has its own Shaadi Package, as well, which is highly customizable but up front offers three nights and six events. Similarly Karisma Hotels & Resorts has options for Indian brides, as well. Karisma has the skills of Chef Thushara Saman Senarathne as the head of culinary development of Indian cuisine across the brand. His knowledge goes into planning the menus for all of the wedding events.
According to The Knot, in 2015 49% of couples got married 200 miles from home. The same study shows that there are more than 350,000 destination weddings each year, and 23% of those take place in Mexico or the Caribbean.
The article also states that the average destination wedding costs approximately $25,000. So if you're not tapping into the South Asian weddings market, imagine the commission on a destination wedding of more than 300 people, and maybe you'll begin to consider it.