Indian weddings are big business for suburban hotels

  • Renaissance Schaumburg employees show off their henna body art, as Marriott International hosts a multicultural training session for employees about Indian weddings.

      Renaissance Schaumburg employees show off their henna body art, as Marriott International hosts a multicultural training session for employees about Indian weddings. Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Seema Jain, of Marriott International, shows an employee how to wrap a sari during multicultural training.

      Seema Jain, of Marriott International, shows an employee how to wrap a sari during multicultural training. Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Seema Jain, director of Multicultural Affairs for Marriott International, demonstrates how to wear a sari.

      Seema Jain, director of Multicultural Affairs for Marriott International, demonstrates how to wear a sari. Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Seema Jain, director of Multicultural Affairs for Marriott International, demonstrates how to wear a sari with hotel employee Mariya Popova, right, as she hosts a multicultural training session for Renaissance Schaumburg employees.

      Seema Jain, director of Multicultural Affairs for Marriott International, demonstrates how to wear a sari with hotel employee Mariya Popova, right, as she hosts a multicultural training session for Renaissance Schaumburg employees. Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Seema Jain, Director of Multicultural Affairs for Marriott International, discusses typical food served at an Indian wedding.

      Seema Jain, Director of Multicultural Affairs for Marriott International, discusses typical food served at an Indian wedding. Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Renaissance employee Shelby Wollscheid gets henna body art from henna artist Sumeyya Rehman.

      Renaissance employee Shelby Wollscheid gets henna body art from henna artist Sumeyya Rehman. Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 6/12/2016 8:12 AM

As summer wedding season heats up, suburban hotels are taking notice of a market that can mean big business for their bottom lines -- Indian nuptials.

Weddings for Indian couples are likely to have upward of 400 guests and cost, on average, $250,000, according to Indian Wedding Magazine. That high price tag is one reason suburban hotels are educating their staffs on how to appeal to Indian families and approach their weddings with respect for their culture.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Last week the Renaissance Schaumburg invited Seema Jain, director of multicultural affairs for Marriott International, to speak to the staff about how to win more business from this lucrative market. A henna artist decorated the hands of employees while Jain explained Indian culture, showed clips from Bollywood movies, and demonstrated how to wrap a sari and practice culturally appropriate greetings.

"It's an Indian wedding boom going on right now," Jain said. "If we're culturally competent, we're going to get the business."

Many Indian families start saving for weddings from the time their children are born and see the day as a way to celebrate with everyone in their lives, even to lavish extremes.

Seema Jain, director of Multicultural Affairs for Marriott International, explains Indian culture and traditions to hotel employees.
  Seema Jain, director of Multicultural Affairs for Marriott International, explains Indian culture and traditions to hotel employees. - Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer
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"A South Asian wedding is actually a production," said Sabrina Hans, who has been planning Indian weddings in the Midwest for more than 15 years. When she started, most hotels and caterers didn't understand the different events that make up the weekend or didn't have chefs who could make traditional food families wanted. As more Indian families have settled in suburban areas like Schaumburg, Oak Brook and Naperville, Hans said, things have changed.

"There is a huge market in the suburbs now," Hans said. "Everyone wants to capture that business."

According to the U.S. Census, the Chicago metropolitan area now the second largest population of Indian Americans in the country.

In 2015, the Renaissance Schaumburg hosted 60 weddings, 20 of which were for Indian couples, said Dan Egan, director of sales and marketing. Many other hotels including the DoubleTree by Hilton in Oak Brook, Lincolnshire Marriott, and the Embassy Suites Rosemont/O'Hare all have wedding packages that specifically target South Asian couples.

Renaissance Schaumburg employee Samantha Duffy gets henna body art from henna artist Sumeyya Rehman, as Marriott International hosts a multicultural training session on Indian weddings.
  Renaissance Schaumburg employee Samantha Duffy gets henna body art from henna artist Sumeyya Rehman, as Marriott International hosts a multicultural training session on Indian weddings. - Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Most of the hotels are jumping on that bandwagon because they see the growth and the market," Hans said. "It's huge business."

Hans said she once planned a wedding that cost $2 million, and planned another where 1,500 guests attended.

There are also several Indian-American-owned banquet halls in the suburbs, such as Ashyana Banquets in Downers Grove, the Meadows Club in Rolling Meadows, and Waterford Banquet and Conference Center in Elmhurst.

The festivities for an Indian wedding often begin days in advance with a ceremony called the mendhi, a pre-wedding celebration that includes games, music and dance as well as henna tattoos for the bride and other women in the wedding party. Another event, called the sangeet, often happens the night before the wedding and is a time for both families to celebrate together and perform dances they've planned ahead of time, Jain said.

Renaissance Schaumburg employee Samantha Duffy gets henna body art from henna artist Sumeyya Rehman.
  Renaissance Schaumburg employee Samantha Duffy gets henna body art from henna artist Sumeyya Rehman. - Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

On the day of the wedding, the groom plans a grand arrival with a procession called the baraat where he rides in on a horse or an elephant surrounded by music and dancing guests.

The actual ceremony and reception may vary depending on the traditions of the couple. Indian-Americans may be Hindu, Muslim or Christian; some may be vegetarians while others may not; some don't drink alcohol, others do.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime event," Jain said. "It's not just a joining of two people, but a joining of two families. And every family deserves a celebration that is respectful of their culture and unforgettable in every way."

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