Some hotels and resorts in the United States are reporting a large increase in bookings by Hindu couples who are looking to hold lavish weddings. Some Indian-style weddings can involve hundreds of guests attending multiple ceremonies over several days, so such events are highly profitable for the hospitality industry.
Wearing outfits custom made in India, Tarun Gulrajani and Preeti Gurnani marry in front of 250 guests at Florida's Gaylord Palms resort in Orlando. That is a modest number of guests, compared to many other Hindu weddings in America. Hotels say they often cater to weddings with up to 600 guests.
The bride, Preeti Gurnani, who got the traditional henna tattoos for the wedding, said that even distant relatives were invited. "When two Hindu people get married, it's more of the families marrying each other than just the two people," she said.
It also is a chance to have a party with a distinctly cosmopolitan feel. Groom Tarun Gulrajani was born and raised in West Africa, and he said 90 percent of the couple's relatives live outside the United States.
Event decorator Remmal Karamsadkar said hotels now make greater efforts to attract Hindu weddings, even bringing in outside experts in Indian cuisine and culture. "Eight years ago to find a hotel that would allow outside catering was very hard to find," he said.
Karamsadkar's company hosts sessions to teach the hospitality industry about the intricacies of Hindu weddings, which include events like an elaborate engagement ceremony at a nearby temple.
With events spanning four days and budgets averaging around $200,000, Hindu weddings are a boon to a hospitality industry hard hit by the recession.
Guests at the wedding of groom Tarun Gulrajani and bride Preeti Gurnani celebrate during a lavish reception at Florida's Gaylord Palms resort in Orlando, September 2010
Groom Gulrajani said that while his budget might be smaller than others, he is not too concerned about the cost. "Ten years from now, 20 years from now, you're not going to look back and be like, 'I wish I saved an extra $10,000' or 'I wish I didn't do $20,000 here,'" he said. " At the end of the day, you'll be like, 'You know, that was a great event. What does it matter now?'"
Hilton Orlando managers said more than half of the hotel's weddings now are Hindu. At the Gaylord Palms, inquiries have tripled in recent years.
Gaylord Palms' Catering Manager Chris Shimkus said many Florida venues now actively compete for Hindu business and advertise in Indian-American publications.
"It's a tight-knit community so once the word gets out that we do Indian Hindu weddings, as well, the specialty weddings, I think now the word travels really fast," said Shimkus.
Vendors in Florida estimate there are some 200 large Hindu weddings a year in the state. And with Indian bridal shows now commonplace in Florida, hotels and resorts expect that number to grow, too.