Destination Weddings in the Middle East: In Conversation with Rahul Kumar of Vivaah Celebrations
Dubai-based Vivaah Celebrations has made its mark in the Middle East as the leading Wedding Planning & Management company for luxurious Indian weddings. Led by Founder Rahul Kumar, they specialize in bespoke luxury destination weddings and have planned, conceptualized and executed impressive weddings across 22 countries in the last decade. Under his leadership, Vivaah Celebrations have been synonymous with some of the most remarkable weddings globally, including the first-ever destination wedding in Disneyland Paris.
We speak to Mr. Rahul Kumar today about his journey, the dynamics and future of Indian weddings in the Middle East as he offers professional advice for aspiring wedding planners.
Tell us about the world of NRI weddings. How did Dubai become a destination wedding hotspot for Indians?
Indian weddings have always been known to comprise of some of the grandest celebrations of all. Spanning several days and often with hundreds or even thousands of guests back in pre-pandemic time, it is nothing short of a fun festival. From performances by International artists to global guest lists, cuisines and more, that need colossal production levels which could rival movies, they have rightly come to be known as the Big Fat Indian wedding. The world of NRI weddings is no different, albeit much more organized and sophisticated, not to mention showy and glamorous in all its planning and execution.
The fact that the NRI families have been away from their home country so long and have come to adapt their way of life to their new country of residence instills within them a new approach to work and life. We see sophistication, a process-oriented approach, and a higher level of discipline when it comes to planning, managing and executing any project, especially wedding celebrations. Dubai in particular has always been perceived as a modern version of India. With a large Indian diaspora having settled in this part of the world almost five decades ago, all products and services are available that would put Indian families at ease while planning. Indian languages, cultures, and cuisines are quite prominent in Dubai, making it the ideal choice for leisure, family celebrations such as weddings or milestone anniversaries.
World-class resorts and facilities providing the best in luxury are available aplenty in Dubai. Hence, as a wedding destination, the possibilities and experiences are unparalleled and unlimited. Moreover, the support of the tourism authorities to welcome wedding celebrations has been overwhelming over the last few years. This has helped position Dubai as a preferred wedding destination.
How did you get into the business of planning weddings? Tell us about your journey.
Being born and raised in Dubai, I have had the opportunity to interact with people of different ethnicities and backgrounds from all over the world. A lot of my language skills, understanding of cultures along with introduction to cuisines began at an early age since we had students of different nationalities study together and socialize with each other.
Travel has also been an active and regular part of my life since childhood. My parents would ensure we took one international holiday each year to explore a different part of the world which gave me in-depth knowledge and understanding of interacting with different nationalities. All of this prepared me for my job which requires me to socialize with people the world over.
I also studied in the United States, where I developed the confidence and skills of public speaking. Wedding Planning and Management happened by chance, but in the initial years of my career, I worked as an Investment Banker. The advanced knowledge I gained during the time helped me in building discipline and a process-oriented approach to any task, something I brought into the wedding planning business which all our clients appreciate. The use of advanced tools, reports and a structured approach to shaping up someone’s big day is what empowers me and my team to orchestrate a well-planned wedding celebration.
How do you think the dynamics of NRI weddings might change and evolve post-pandemic?
If anything, I would say NRIs around the world are more resilient, adventurous, and experimental with their life, businesses and most definitely, wedding planning. The fact that they chose to reside in a different land and explore opportunities away from their home country is a testament to their go-getter attitude and that shines through in most of their decisions and actions.
We have experienced NRI clients to be understanding and compliant with the stipulations and guidelines defined by the authorities of their wedding destinations. Wedding celebrations however still remain larger than life. In many cases, NRI families hold their traditions and culture close to their heart and they most definitely include these as part of their wedding.
Our NRI clients have begun booking venues much in advance, almost up to 18 months prior to the wedding dates. They prefer a structured and process-oriented approach for their wedding planning and management. In these challenging times, contracts are being written out to protect the client in terms of refunds or credit carried forward. Having said that, we see a return of large-scale celebrations by the end of this year and early next year.
Have you planned any destination weddings post the lockdown? Please tell us about them!
We have been blessed with clients who have faith in Vivaah Celebrations and even during the pandemic, we have planned and successfully executed six weddings with guests attending from different parts of the world. Keeping all safety and hygiene requirements in check, our team ensured that everyone on the premises, both guests and vendors, were PCR tested. Food & Beverage service was carried out in a controlled environment, and the artists and entertainers continued serenading the guests while maintaining a safe distance. It was great to see everyone come together to rejoice and have a great time together.
The upcoming season looks promising with Big Fat Indian Weddings making a comeback in this region (Middle East). We’re currently working on a large number of weddings for the end of this year and early next year, including international artists as well as guest lists. It has indeed been a long wait for the events and wedding industry. The patience and understanding that wedding planners have shown during these challenging times are commendable, and now they are paying off.
Do you think planning weddings would get easier, or would it be more challenging post-pandemic?
It depends on your perspective and approach. If wedding planners work with clearly defined parameters, it is bound to be quite easy. It does require educating the client and their guests on the possibilities and the limitations. As they say, it is the new normal, and we need to adapt to it.
On the other hand, it could get challenging if the clients unrealistically expect pre-pandemic conditions. We’ve heard of arrangements going out of control when wedding planners could not manage the social distancing or operate within the guidelines stipulated. This leads to violations, penalties and eventually shutting down of events.
We urge all wedding planners to do their best in their capacity to please the clients and their guests without compromising the experience of the wedding celebrations while adhering to the laws and guidelines laid out by authorities.
What do you love most about your job?
I speak for myself and my team, we are so passionate about the business of weddings that it no longer seems like a job. We don’t see limitations of working hours or weekends and we work tirelessly to mold the couple’s big day. What drives us is the fact that no two weddings are alike. Every couple has a different vision for their big day, with some being intimate and simple while others may be an elaborate showcase.
Regardless of the size of the celebrations, we love hearing from our clients, understand the nuances of their love story and what excites them the most with regards to their big day. We eventually feel like a part of the family as the planning could take up to a year. Conceptualizing themes for décor, artists and entertainment schedules, logistics, operations order and so much more keeps us on our toes. For destination weddings, the chance to travel to new countries always excites the team. With so much diversity in clientele, their requirements and travel plans, our work keeps us motivated and active.
How did you spend your time during a lockdown?
I feel blessed to be living in the city of Dubai. We never actually had a lockdown. There was a slowdown when we had limited hours of movement imposed due to a citywide sanitization drive. This lasted about 3 weeks, and then the freedom to move about town was restored. During the slowdown, I invested my time into fitness and more importantly on the business front, we re-positioned, re-strategized and re-organized our business policies and SOPs to achieve better efficiency. In fact, we injected new capital into the company to grow the team, move to new office premises and prepare ourselves for a promising upcoming season. We are now fresher, better and stronger than ever in our product and service quality.
Tell us five locations around the world, every luxury wedding planner must visit to experience the world of weddings.
The business of wedding planning has taken me to so many gorgeous places around the world that narrowing it down to only five locations becomes quite challenging. In an attempt to do so, I mention the few that come to mind (in no particular order of preference).
Pyramids at Giza
The iconic historical site featured in many movies, scriptures, and novels holds a sense of mystery and intrigue and would be a picturesque setting straight out of a movie.
I have had the privilege of working on a beautiful wedding at this venue, and the vastness of the park and the stunning venues make it a true fairy-tale celebration.
Some of the most luxurious islands in the world boast of the finest resorts that can play host to private wedding celebrations.
Featured in countless Bollywood movies for its ice-capped mountains, lush green landscapes, it is truly a dream destination.
Monaco is one of the smallest countries in the world, rich in hospitality, fine dining, and luxurious experiences, perfect for a prestigious celebration.
Finally, what traits according to you are most important, for an emerging wedding planner or an event management student to become a successful wedding planner?
It does come down to individual personality that makes the client warm up to their planner. Having said that, some of the traits that one should keep in mind are as follows.
Passion comes first, money will follow. As a wedding planner, it’s key to be as interested and excited as the bride is for her big day.
A Good Listener
The couple is always full of ideas for their big day, but sometimes, what they ask for may not be feasible. It is still important to be a good listener so you can form a connection and then share your expert advice to re-align them with their expectations.
Changes in plans, re-visiting ideas, re-shuffling confirmed services are all part of the business, and as a wedding planner, one needs to be patient and understanding towards the client.
Current trends, world news, travel, fashion and so much more inspire the client to shape up their big day, so it is important to be well informed to engage in a good enriching conversation.
A job like this requires passion and investment of time. It is the dedication to the business that keeps you motivated to extend your best no matter the time of the day or day of the week.