Terrible summer for wedding planners

BEIRUT: Weddings in Lebanon tend to be lavish affairs, with couples regularly spending tens or in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars on the big day.

This proclivity for extravagance has prompted banks to develop special “wedding loans” to help make dreams of matrimony a reality.Summer tends to be the most active season on the wedding calendar, netting wedding planners the bulk of their income. However, this season the industry is suffering. The effects of the global recession on the Lebanese economy have been exacerbated by stagnating trade with Syria, which resulted in couples spending less on wedding ceremonies.

Additionally, concerns over Lebanon’s political stability, evident in travel warnings issued by numerous states advising citizens against travel to the country, have resulted in wedding cancellations by Lebanese couples residing abroad and non-Lebanese couples seeking to marry in Lebanon.

“The combination of economic downturn and the political climate is affecting us significantly,” admits Jameel Shehayyeb of Bella Planta, a wedding and special events company in Aley.

“People are worried about the situation – not just Lebanese living here but also Lebanese living abroad seeking to marry in Lebanon,” Shehayyeb said.

Bella Planta offers three types of package deals for weddings, ranging in price from $5,000 to $25,000. Shehayyeb says that this season couples are tending toward the less expensive options, while overall bookings are down by 50 percent compared to this time last year.

“We are doing our best with the situation, but it is difficult,” he said.

Sari al-Masri of UNO Event reports a similarly gloomy picture. Couples are opting for cheaper packages and business is down 50 percent.

“We have had many cancellations, over 20, mostly from people coming from outside Lebanon who have expressed concern with the security situation,” says Masri.

“Many Lebanese living in the diaspora have decided to postpone until next year, while non-Lebanese – for example people coming from Jordan who used to pass overland through Syria – have decided against it.”

Masri reveals an additional concern; his company currently has no wedding reservations for this year’s Fall and Christmas periods.

“This is the first time this has happened,” says an exasperated Masri. “By now we usually have bookings until the end of the year.”

Georgina Eid Dinar, head of Group Consumer Loans at Byblos Bank, attributes the rise in applications for marriage loans, which peak at $15,000, in part to a publicity campaign aimed at raising awareness of the service. She notes that dire economic straits are also forcing impecunious couples to borrow in order to tie the knot. Applications for marriage loans have increased by 25 percent this year.

Other businesses offering products that play an integral role in Lebanese weddings have also been affected.

Lighting up the night sky with noisy fireworks is a veritable Lebanese pastime. While fireworks continue to be heard on a nightly basis in Beirut – occasionally causing those not acclimatized to the difference in sound between pyrotechnics and more sinister forms of fire to retreat indoors – some companies report that this year’s sales are down.

“We are down approximately 30 percent from our usual turnover,” acknowledges Rawan Taha, Marketing Manager of Nazih Tabbara Fireworks. “For example, in an average wedding people usually spend around $5,000. This year they are paying around $3,000.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 17, 2012, on page 2.




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