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Mon 2 Jun 2008 04:00 AM

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Marrying for money

True love is big business for hotels in the UAE and many are cashing in with extravagant packages catering to the blushing bride's every whim.

True love is big business for hotels in the UAE and many are cashing in with extravagant packages catering to the blushing bride's every whim.Is the UAE a popular destination for weddings?Johara Bacalso:Dubai is now becoming one of the top wedding and honeymoon destinations. The world's finest luxury hotels, year-around sunshine, breathtaking beaches, mystical deserts and top class entertainment are at your fingertips here.

And the cost of a wedding in Dubai compares favourably to most European destinations.

Alejandro Betera:The UAE is popular for weddings as it combines everything -relaxation, shopping, adventure and culture - in one destination. Melque Verbo:Weddings in the UAE are popular because it is a big thing for the Emirati people. The families of the bride and groom prepare ahead of time and make bookings for the venue months in advance.

UAE weddings are serious and big affairs. They are lucrative events and are unlike weddings anywhere else. Robin Stewart:During the last few years, Dubai has been a very popular wedding destination as the cost of a wedding here compares favourably with what is available at most of the big European destinations.

It is also due to its convenient geographic location, a multitude of unique wedding venues, and an abundance of facilities offering exotic ambience and top-class service.

What market does most of your wedding business come from?Krill:Most of our business comes from Emiratis, followed by Indian and Pakistani nationals. We hardly have any weddings for other expatriates and, as far as I can remember, we have never had a wedding for guests visiting the country. Betera:As we just opened the Grand Millennium Dubai in February, we do not have a large portfolio of weddings yet, but we are receiving overseas inquiries for wedding receptions and requests from expatriates. There's also interest from the the Indian community, as well as for Arabic weddings. Stewart:Although the market for UAE national weddings remains stable and strong, there has been an increase in the number of expatriates wanting to have their wedding ceremony in Dubai.

Indian sub-continental weddings still account for most of the non-UAE weddings, followed by Arabic countries such as Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. And we also do a few European weddings as well. How important are weddings as a revenue stream for your property?Bacalso:The wedding market never fails to be in the top five priorities in regards to revenue and therefore plays an important role in the business. Krill:Wedding business forms a revenue sector by itself and is very important for the hotel. Betera:The revenue from wedding covers is important for the hotel. From room bookings to transportation, all departments' facilities and services are utilised. Verbo:While there are a lot of preparations, weddings are money-generating events as each usually involves 400 to 600 guests on average. Because of the tradition for separate men's and ladies' wedding celebrations, they also sometimes have two sets of meal requirements.

Stewart:In a destination like the Gulf, where wedding couples spend the highest amount per head compared to other countries, weddings contribute tremendously to the revenue stream of the hotel, especially during the summer, where weddings compensate for the drop in corporate business.

Also, weddings usually fill the revenue gap during the weekends when corporate meetings and conferences are less frequent. How much does a wedding at your property cost?Bacalso:The cost of a wedding varies greatly from one guest to another, depending on the needs of the couple. Krill:Our standard wedding package starts at AED 140 per person (US $38), but this may not be the final price as the number of people and the choice of menu play a role in determining costs. Betera:For 100 guests it costs approximately AED 49,000 ($13,340), and it would be around AED 39,000 ($10,618) for 50 guests. Verbo:For the food menu alone, our wedding food package prices start from around AED 90 per person ($25). Stewart:A wedding with accommodation would be in the range of AED 500,000 to AED 2 million ($136,000-$545,000) and without accommodation it would be from AED 80,000 to AED 300,000 ($22,000-$82,000). Are the costs of weddings rising?

Krill:The cost for weddings is rising in line with the increase of prices in the market.

Food costs, for example, have increased drastically, so we don't have an option but to increase our prices in order to keep on exceeding the expectations of our guests. Betera:We maintain the costs throughout the year. It is imperative to the clients to have constant pricing for weddings. We value our clients and the word of mouth they spread.

Verbo:Prices are going up and everything is becoming more expensive - the cost of all the details needed for a wedding is increasing, from the gowns and flowers to the raw ingredients for the food. It follows that the whole package cost will also increase as it all boils down to inflation.

Stewart:In line with the rising cost of imports and the average cost of living in the Gulf, there has been a marked increase in wedding - and dowry costs as well - a trend which is continuing to spiral upwards.

Despite the rising costs, are weddings still profitable?Bacalso:Weddings are absolutely a profitable business, and the market is promising and positive.

Krill:The wedding day has to be a day to remember - the most beautiful day in the couple's life - so money does not play the most important role. An enjoyable and memorable wedding is the best PR and creates great awareness, which guarantees more business.

Betera:In the entire segment of banqueting and events, weddings are the most profitable business in the hotel industry. This is not only true in terms of providing a service to the clients, but also in the ability of weddings to generate revenue for all departments.

Verbo:It is profitable, but inflation is causing a big increase in the capital expenses for services and food. Since we can only add a certain amount to our prices in order to remain competitive, weddings are becoming a much less profitable business now than before.

What are the main challenges when catering for weddings?

Krill:It can be challenging when the family of the bride has had very different ideas to the family of the groom and too many people are involved. Betera:If there is going to be a challenge for the Grand Millennium Dubai, I believe it will be the location, as we are situated in the new TECOM area. Construction is all around us, but the views from the twentieth-floor ballroom make up for all of that. Verbo:For us, the challenge comes when clients choose to bring with them external suppliers that are not able to keep to our standards, like the florists and so on - these people delay proceedings.

RELATED LINKS:The cost of true love, Wedding costs rise but demand remains strong

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