Weddings are generally considered personal events reserved for family and friends, but some couples in India are more than happy to have total strangers from all over the world attend their traditional weddings, for a fee.
Paying hundreds of dollars to attend the wedding of two total strangers in a foreign country may seem strange to some, but according to JoinMyWedding, a company specializing in wedding tourism, it’s “the ultimate cultural immersion” for tourists looking to experience as many elements of Indian culture in the shortest time possible.
Clients get to put on traditional Indian clothing, taste exotic food, witness and take part in beautiful wedding customs, and soak up the unique atmosphere. As for the couples getting married, they get to share the happiest day of their lives not just with family and friends, “but with the world” and make some extra money in the process.
"If you think about it, there’s nothing more cultural than a wedding because you have every cultural element present: The local people, local food, customs, the outfit, the music, basically every cultural element is right there,” Orsi Parkanyi, the founder of JoinMyWedding, told CNBC.
"Experiencing all the cultural elements at once, meaningfully connecting with the locals in India, that’s a huge motivating factor for the travelers,” the Australian entrepreneur added. “It’s a safe experience. You attend an event with hundreds of people, you’re a distinguished guest, people look after you.”
Tourists interested in attending a traditional Indian wedding through JMW have to pay a fee of $150 for one day’s attendance, or $250 for two days, which covers the entrance to the wedding plus food and drinks, as well as a dedicated person to welcome them and explain all the traditional customs. Transportation to the wedding, accommodation and traditional costume rentals are extra.
While the idea of attending the wedding of strangers takes some getting used, wedding tourism in India is a growing business, and Parkanyi says that demand among tourists all over the world is high.
"The first time that we got tourists to attend an Indian wedding was two years ago and since then we have helped scores of international travelers – around 100 at least – attend over 25 weddings in India,” she told India Times. “The demand is growing. There are hundreds of travelers who we know are keen to attend these weddings.”
So far feedback from both tourists and Indian couples appears to be very positive:
"The monetary contribution I made was the best and easiest way to thank the couple for their hospitality and this extraordinary experience,” one Hungarian tourist said.
Couples, on the other hand, are excited to know people from other countries and the extra money doesn’t hurt either.
Despite the increasing popularity of wedding tourism, entrepreneurs like Orsi Parkanyi are aware that such ticketed weddings are vulnerable to fraud, which is why companies facilitating these arrangements have a validation procedure for both couples and guests.
"Actually, we talk personally to each couple - sometimes for hours – and make sure our travelers’ need for safety is met. There is a detailed interaction through mails and social media so that everyone is convinced of genuineness,” the founder of JoinMyWedding said.