Couples set dates as Dubai wedding industry prepares for post-pandemic boom

As the economy rebounds and countries hit vaccination targets, the wedding industry is making a slow but healthy comeback

After an unavoidable slump last year as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, 2021 is shaping up to be the year of the comeback wedding – even if a little smaller than planned.

As global lockdowns were enforced in 2020, thousands of people were forced to put their weddings on hold.

People lost large deposits, scrapped guest lists and cancelled or downsized their ceremonies – some even got hitched on Zoom.

But as the economy shifts into rebound mode and nations push forward with vaccination campaigns, a wedding boom is on the horizon.

I’m getting a lot of couples looking to get married the end of this year or beginning of 2022. They are using the wedding not only as a celebration but also as a reunion party

Natalie Hodgson, Dream Asia Wedding

Wedding planners are rescheduling again and many couples have set new dates for their big day.

Natalie Hodgson, founder of Dream Asia Wedding, a destination wedding service, said enquiries had picked up over the past month.

“I’ve been getting a lot of organic enquiries for couples looking to get married at the end of this year or beginning of 2022,” she told The National.

“I’m finding that they are using the wedding not only as a celebration of getting married but also as a reunion party.

“Most couples will have friends and family gathering from around the world, but with the travel restrictions in place most haven’t seen people for a long time.”

She said she has had interest in bookings for big getaways to places such as Thailand and the Seychelles.

And because people have not travelled abroad for so long, couples were able to "save more and in turn have more disposable income for big celebrations".

Rhiannon Downie-Hurst, founder of the Dubai-based wedding inspiration website www.brideclubme.com. Sarah Dea / The National
Rhiannon Downie-Hurst, founder of www.brideclubme.com. Sarah Dea / The National

With her nuptials rapidly approaching, bride-to-be Angeline D’Souza, 45, is scheduled to exchange vows with her fiance on May 22.

The couple had originally set dates for November last year and February this year, but had to postpone both because of travel and guest-capacity restrictions.

“We got engaged in December 2019 and decided to wait a few months to make concrete plans,” the banking executive said.

“Then bang, March 2020 struck. Planning was so tough because I’m from India and my partner is from the UK and we wanted two ceremonies in both countries, but the travel restrictions just made that impossible.

“We rescheduled for February this year but in December the new Covid-19 variant was announced and not long after the UAE was put on the UK travel red list.

"A raft of new health and safety restrictions were also introduced which meant we couldn't have as many guests at our wedding as we hoped."

Not wishing to force family members to hotel quarantine if they did travel overseas, the couple settled on a date in May.

“Planning has been tough but we are remaining positive that all will go ahead for May,” she said.

“I had booked hotel accommodation for my family members who were due to visit in February, but I had managed to save my deposit by switching the dates.”

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: Kelly Clarke. News. Makenzie Landeros, and her fiancé Taz Kheriwala. Couples who had to postpone weddings due to pandemic start rebooking for later this year. Tuesday, March 30th, 2021. Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Makenzie Landeros and fiance Taz Kheriwala got engaged this year. Chris Whiteoak / The National

The National spoke to a number of hotels in Dubai that said deposits for venues or catering packages could be transferred to new dates if couples have to reschedule because of issues related to Covid-19. The majority requested a three-month notice period for date changes.

At the start of the year, Makenzie Landeros, 24, got engaged to her partner Taz Kheriwala, 28.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding Covid-19, they are planning to say “I do” in January next year.

“Taz is Indian and I am from the US. Traditionally, Indian weddings last several days but we have decided to cut it to two days, the first being the western celebration and the second an Indian one, so we are cutting back,” said Ms Landeros, owner of an entertainment company in Dubai.

“Taz wants to do the ceremony in Bali and I want to do it here in Dubai.

“My main concern is that Bali is still closed due to corona and it will be difficult trying to plan and pay for things from afar.

“We did think about putting it off for later next year but decided against it.

“Planning isn’t straightforward. If we are talking to venues we have to be conscious that they are flexible with things like deposits, just in case we do have to reschedule.”

In October, Dubai's government declared wedding receptions of up to 200 people would be permitted, opening up the opportunity for newlyweds to celebrate with a larger group of friends and family.

But in January, Dubai’s disaster committee issued a new decision for weddings, social events and private parties.

The guest capacity for weddings was reduced to 10 people and was limited to only first-degree relatives.

Rhiannon Downie-Hurst, founder of brideclubme.com, a wedding website, said her business is still affected by the pandemic, so she has had to find ways to adapt and evolve.

“There has been a definite increase in demand for smaller, more intimate wedding spaces and off-the-beaten-track venues,” she said.

“Due to the number of restrictions [that remain], yes, guest numbers have been a lot smaller.

“It is much easier for, say, British expats to organise and arrange smaller weddings, than, say, Indian destination-wedding couples, who tend to have a three-day wedding event with hundreds and sometimes thousands of guests in attendance.

“We have noticed that for Indian and Arab couples, many have been moving their weddings over to Ras Al Khaimah, as up until recently they were allowing any number of guests, so long as it was capped at 50 per cent capacity of the venue.”

In terms of destinations popular with Dubai couples, Ms Downie-Hurst said the Seychelles was been a top choice for those wanting to elope or have a “small and legal beach wedding”.

Georgia also recently opened up and is a popular choice, because flights are only a few hours long.

Updated: March 31, 2021 12:09 PM

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