Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of wedding season in Minnesota, which can spell big money for hotels.
And while the average cost of a U.S. wedding balloons, area hoteliers have noticed, and are trying hard to win the business of, a particularly lavish segment of the industry: the Asian Indian wedding.
Families throwing a traditional Indian wedding in the U.S. will on average spend $250,000 on the affair, said Seema Jain, Marriott International’s director of multicultural affairs, citing Indian Weddings Magazine data.
“An Indian wedding is not a one-day event. It is a production,” she said, that typically lasts three to four days. “If we are culturally competent, we are going to win their business.”
Jain originally focused her training efforts on the large, coastal cities. But as the U.S. population continues to diversify, midsize cities are demanding her services.
In Minnesota, the Asian Indian population of 43,000 is small relative to the white majority of 4.4 million. Yet it is the fifth-largest minority group, barely trailing the Somali group in size, a January report from the state demographer’s office states.
And the group is growing. Since 2000, the Asian Indian population has increased more than 180 percent, according to U.S. Census data published by the Council of Asian Pacific Minnesotans, a state agency.
In an effort to impress these potentially high-paying customers, one of the newest upscale hotels in the Twin Cities, the JW Marriott at the Mall of America, brought Jain in last week to train sales staff and management on Indian wedding customs, geography, negotiating tactics and terminology.
The hotel already has two Indian weddings booked — for 650 and 400 guests, respectively — and is gunning for more.
Jain said the hotel has a couple of strengths working in its favor. The ballroom and meeting space can accommodate Indian weddings, which average between 400 and 800 attendees and can push upward of 1,000 guests. And the space is new, which caters to those looking for the next big thing. “We Indians all like to outdo each other,” she said. “You know, keeping up with the Joneses, keeping up with the Patels.”
But she spoke sternly to the hotel’s sales division regarding its willingness to be flexible for the unique requests an Indian wedding may bring.
“You need to be confident and say ‘no’ when you have to, but try to find a way to accommodate their needs,” Jain said.
Indian wedding know-how can prove useful when offering a site tour. Many Indian weddings still include the customary processional where the groom arrives at the venue riding an elephant or horse. A staff well-versed in these customs will have a door designated and help the family obtain the appropriate city permits.
The same goes for the wedding ceremony, which uses an open fire pit that requires varying approvals from different fire departments.
“Every [Indian] state is different and every ceremony is different, but generally Indians will go very extravagant on their weddings,” said Hasim Khorakiwala, president of India Association of Minnesota, a local nonprofit since 1973. “It’s a ‘go big or go home’ concept.”
According to a report published last week by the Council of Asian Pacific Minnesotans, Asian Indians have the highest median income of any cultural group in the state. In 2013, the median Indian household income in Minnesota was $89,000, compared with $62,000 for non-Hispanic white Minnesotans.
“Indians save their whole lives for two things: their children’s education and their children’s weddings,” Jain said. “Even if they don’t sign a contract right away, they’ll go tell 20 people about how they were treated at the JW Marriott.”
So, she said, make sure on their tour to serve them real chai — with cardamom.