American firm taps China's huge wedding-planning market
BEIJING (Reuters) - As young Chinese become wealthier, there is one area where they are increasingly looking to make a big impression on their families and friends and create lifelong memories for themselves: weddings.
And with Chinese spending some $57 billion a year on weddings and half of young people in this country saying they need help in planning their marriage ceremonies, an American company is looking to capitalize on what it sees as a huge business opportunity here: training Chinese wedding planners.
Weddings Beautiful Worldwide has just set up a joint venture in China to bring its expertise in training wedding planners to this country, where young couples can use help figuring out how to spend the equivalent of thousands of dollars and more to celebrate their nuptials.
"With the fast economic development in China, consumers are choosing more unique and personalized weddings, giving a boost to the wedding industry in China," Raul Vasquez, president of the joint venture, known as Weddings Beautiful China, said in Beijing recently.
Weddings by Ling, the Chinese partner in the venture, is a boutique wedding planning firm catering to high-end Chinese couples, expatriates and Chinese celebrities, and providing online consultation.
It brings a range of established partnerships with flower shops, car rental companies and hotels offering wedding banquets, and other vendors and service providers.
Living in a globally connected world and in a fast-growing economy, young Chinese want not only a traditional, formal Chinese wedding ceremony, but western and modern elements such as walking down the aisle with bridesmaids, ushers, a flower girl and a ring bearer, Vasquez said.
The joint venture plans to groom a new generation of wedding planners through an 18-part training course to become a "certified wedding specialist." -- a career for which there appears to be ample demand.
"I started preparing for my wedding since the beginning of the year by myself, but it was killing me that I didn't have enough time to think about it and make all the arrangements," said Xue Cong, who works at a real estate company in Beijing and who just got married in November.
"Fortunately my friend introduced me to a Chinese wedding planning company which helped me with everything in getting ready for our wedding," said Xue, 27. "They organized a terrific ceremony we will remember all our lives."
There were 250 guests at Xue's wedding, which featured rented Mercedes-Benz limousines and a banquet hall garnished with lights and lilies for a romantic, music-filled party.
Young Chinese are spending more on weddings
With increasing attention on a hopefully once-in-a-lifetime event, greater numbers of young Chinese are pouring more money into wedding-related expenses -- some $57 billion a year, according to the China Wedding Industry Development Report , an industry study. Much of that goes to pre-ceremony photographs, limousine rentals, wedding gowns and honeymoons abroad.
And the price of the all-important wedding banquet has also been steadily rising, accounting for about a tenth of total wedding expenses.
Marriott, the international hotel chain, has seen prices for wedding banquets rise this year by at least 10 percent, reaching into the thousands of yuan per banquet table, but that does not deter young couples from throwing lavish parties.
"We offered various sets of wedding banquets with different prices ranging from 4,888 to more than 10,000 yuan ($770-$1,570) per table," said a saleswoman at a Marriott in eastern Beijing who gave her name as Li.
"Reservations for banquet halls this year have dramatically increased compared to previous years even though the price has risen by hundreds of yuan per banquet table," Li said.
Sales of wedding banquets are so popular that celebrating couples need to book the banquet hall at least six months ahead of time, she said, adding that she has no doubts that prices will rise further next year.
The cost of fresh flowers has also increased, and shoots up especially on popular days which Chinese consider lucky, such as those with even numbers, especially the number eight, which sounds like a Chinese word meaning to bring about wealth.
One rose costs 2 yuan this year, double the price in 2010, says Qin Xiuling, who sells flowers in a wholesale market in west Beijing. Lilies have gone from 8 to 10 yuan this year.
"The price goes up by 30-60 percent during Golden Week which is the most popular time for Chinese wedding," Qin said, referring to the week-long National Day holiday in October. "The price probably will keep going up as long as there are more weddings next year."
And amid increasing wealth and busier social lives, China has seen growing demand for professionals who can take over organizing their weddings. There are 1,168 wedding planning companies registered in Beijing, according to the Committee of Wedding Service Industries.
Weddings Beautiful China, which operates only in Beijing for now, is already attracting students from as far away as Shenzhen and Guangzhou in southern China. But Vasquez says the company limits the numbers of students so as to create an intimate learning environment.
"Our job is not only to teach current and aspiring wedding planners western traditions, but to also make them better entrepreneurs by teaching them business management, customer service, marketing and social media, time management, presentation and communications skills," Vasquez said.
And, he said, teaching the future planners a most important lesson in creating the peperfectfect wedding : "learning to listen to the bride."
(Reporting by Sabrina Mao, additional writing by Terril Yue Jones, editing by Paul Casciato)