Is the Tremendous Growth of the Wedding Industry Affecting the Average Cost of a Wedding in the UAE?
The wedding industry in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is growing at a fast rate. This growth is attributed to the lavish and expensive wedding cultures that have been taken up by the people. In effect, this venture has become one of the most expensive events in a citizen’s life. Notably, some events have to take place before a wedding can hold. These are the engagement, payment of bride price (mahr), and wedding preparation celebrations, among others. However, most of the expenses are to be borne by the groom during the payment of mahr, where he is charged exorbitantly so that these finances would cater to the whole wedding ceremony. In effect, this research seeks to analyze the high cost of weddings in the UAE, the effect of this on present divorce rates, the influence of social media in planning such expensive events, and the possible ways through which these costs can be minimized.
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The Difference between the Cost in the Past and Now
Marriage has become one of the most expensive affairs of a person’s life in the UAE. In fact, the costs of getting married in society have become so high that some men use this factor as a justification for marrying women outside the Emirates society. Notably, the mahr is a significant element of the UAE marriages and weddings as it is an essential component of marriage negotiations. Essentially, bride price is not just one small gift or a one-off payment but is comprised of a variety of items that are given at designated times before the wedding can take place, and even after the wedding. Some of these items include furniture and jewelry. Such items as given tend to have a symbolic significance to both parties other than the financial value they represent. In the past, bride price would comprise a minimal amount of cash, offered in either Indian rupees or Maria Therese dollars that also represents dress materials, gold ornaments, food, and household items that people would put to use during the wedding celebrations. In wealthy families, the parents of the groom would offer to give a group of breeding camels or a plot of palm trees (Bristol-Rhys, 2007).
The essence of mahr is based on two important foundations. These are religious obligations and economic implications. Religiously, the mahr is offered to show pure intentions and honesty on the part of the groom to be. Economically, the mahr is considered as economic security for the woman getting married. Thus, if her husband passes on during the marriage or is divorced in the course of the marriage, she would use a commendable part of the bride price given to support her children and herself. The remaining part is committed as part of the wedding celebrations. However, it is the new social construction of mahr in the United Arab Emirates, owing to newfound wealth in the region that has convoluted the whole meaning of the bride price (Bristol-Rhys, 2007). It has now escalated to becoming a platform for high wedding costs.
The recent high costs of the bride price are increasing wedding costs that have in turn forced men from the region to marry non-Emiratis. It is increasingly becoming a concern as to why parents continue to demand a high bride price being that these requirements have become highly inflated and are causing social problems. Further, Emiratis’ weddings have become an extravagant affair. These weddings end up costing millions of Dirham, with people competing to have the social wedding of the year tags. This new-found need to self-assert oneself in society and be recognized as superior, and the best is not a thing that is just going to face away.
This was not the case in the past. In fact, weddings were considered such an expensive affair due to the poverty rates at the time, such that even owning two dresses for the event was seen as an accomplishment. In effect, people would try to gather their surpluses to sell them and trade of cloth so as to make new dresses for their weddings. All this was to be done with assistance from the bride’s extended family. Before a marriage could take place, there would be many months of planning, hoarding of items, and saving for the event. Costs would be minimized as possible, with everyone being part of the hoarding and saving, and the most expensive part of the wedding would be the feasts as there would be the need to buy meat for the separate male and female feast setups.
The menu was laid to a bare minimum with the provision of essentials like rice. The mahr was reasonable as it involved a couple of dollars that would enable the bride’s family to provide necessary foods like rice, coffee, and spices to be used at the ceremony. Notably, weddings in the past were a cooperative affair (Bristol-Rhys, 2007). The use of wedding organizers as popular in the present was a luxury the people would not afford. In fact, with the need to save on amounts of money spent, every member of the extended family would cooperate in the planning process. Others volunteer to put up the tents, with women assisting in cooking and those with skill mixing henna and drawing designs on the bride’s hands and feet.
The Most Expensive Aspects of Planning a Wedding in the UAE
There are five key components of a wedding that make it a very expensive affair in the UAE. The first planning aspect is deciding and picking the venue for the wedding. Deciding and picking at the wedding venue is usually the starting point in planning a wedding. However, many couples find that the decision is very hard for them, especially depending on the time of the year they are having their wedding. Among the things that they have to consider is the entertainment for the venue, the number of people to invite to the event among others. A wedding venue in Dubai is estimated to cost about Dhs 35-80, 000, and above (Bristol-Rhys, 2007). One thing that makes hiring a venue expensive is due to the minimum charge policies implemented by many hotels. This policy takes into consideration a minimum amount of money that could be spent, which is inclusive of catering.
However, one major problem that impacts on the cost of the wedding venue is usually the importance that has been accorded to such events. Notably, many people from the family and the society are expected to attend, and their attendance means that the people have to be catered for. Thus, the number of persons that are drawn towards this event over the years has soared with the average wedding guest list having about 400 guests in attendance for each of the separate male and female parties, making a total of about 800 people. This list is not inclusive of the uninvited people that are likely to attend in the evening and are to be welcomed just as tradition necessitates. In this case, families are required to hire ballrooms for the occasion or use the various officers’ clubs. The price of hiring a ballroom venue alone costs about 500,000 Dirhams (US$137, 000), where the cost is not inclusive of chairs, tables, decorations, or the special stage that is commonly reserved for the bride (Bristol-Rhys, 2007).
Another cost that is an expense of the party is the cost of decorating and setting up the venue, one element that is very pricey because the decorations on the bride’s side have to be thematic and unique to the wedding theme, using decoration elements like monstrous floral arrangements, ice carvings, columns, and canopies, which have to be further decorated with colorful ribbons and silk clothing. Notably, Abu Dhabi has many annual wedding shows since 2002, making themed weddings highly popular. Among some of the famous themed weddings transform the ballrooms to a rainforest, English gardens or Japanese Zen garden. The resultant price tag for this transformation is about 650, 000 Dirhams (US$178, 000) (Bristol-Rhys, 2007).
The third thing that makes Emirati weddings very expensive is the notably white themed wedding dresses that are worn by the brides. At these weddings the bride only appears in the women’s celebrations at about halfway through the event, in the evening, walking slowly through the room until she gets to the bridal chair that is reserved for her at the raised stage. This platform is highly decorated with flowers among other things. This appearance means that people can view her beauty while she can interact and greet her family and friends.
There she sits and greets family and friends and is, essentially, viewed. During this time, people take notice of the expensive henna that has been applied to her hands, her hair, and her makeup, among others. However, one thing that women are keen on noticing is the kind of dress they wear. Women are cautious about the wedding dress details, seeking to know whether it is locally made, designed from Europe, or whether it is purchased off the rack, among other characteristics. Depending on where the dress was bought, its price is estimated to range between 10, 000, and 100, 000 Dirham (US$2, 700 to 27, 000) (Bristol-Rhys, 2007). These days, however, most brides are seeking the dressmaking services of the famous designer Adam Zayyat, who charges about one million Dirhams for a dress.
Another cost that makes weddings expensive these days is the price of food. Most of the weddings done in the UAE are inclusive of a dinner buffet for which the hotels charge a rough figure of about 500 Dirhams for each of the guests invited. Working with a guest list of about 800 people means that the average cost of the dinner buffets ranges to about 400, 000 Dirhams (US$110, 000) (Bristol-Rhys, 2007). These wedding buffets are necessary for the events as they are considered to have food considered as traditional necessities, like baked camels, rice biryani with lamb, Arab coffee, as well as other items that have been adopted from the western societies like pasta, carbonated soft drinks, imported Belgian chocolates, and a tailor-made an artistic wedding cake that also has different pricing. On the men’s side of the celebration, the buffet is also quite similar, though their meals have lots of meat and limited chocolates and salads with no cake. Other than the cost of the venue, the dress of the bride, henna art, and decorations, as well as food and cake, there are additional costs that include limousines for the bridal party, hotel rooms for the bride and groom’s immediate family, and entertainment.
Further, wedding invitations have to be designed elaborately and are usually hand-delivered in engraved silver scroll case accompanies by a gift to the invited guests. When all the costs of organizing the wedding are calculated, they easily exceed a million Dirham, which is about US$280, 000 (Bristol-Rhys, 2007). While not all weddings may reach the one million target mark, all the weddings are usually expensive to hold. For the groom’s family, the cost of marrying women has become so high that the marriage issues have been trending in newspapers for many years now. Also, the invited guest is expected to bring invaluable gifts to the couple, with the close relatives and family expected to offer more valuable gifts in the form of lingerie, jewelry, towel sets, and linen. The value of the gift that one offers is determined by how close they are with the couple.
The Average Cost of a Wedding in the UAE
Major exhibitions in Dubai have carried out research in Dubai and established that the wedding industry in the country is growing at a very fast rate. The research has shown that weddings in the region averagely cost about Dhs 300,000 which is about US$ 82,000. The study further showed that out of the people that had attended the bridal shows in the country, 43% of the couples were planning a wedding that would cost more than Dhs 100,000 on their nuptials with 12% of the total couples planning to do a wedding that would cost Dhs 500,000 and more.
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How Wedding Costs Affect Marriage Rates and Divorces
The United Nations Development Programme has estimated that the average number of Emirati men marrying women from non-Muslim communities constitute about 28% of the total marriages taking place in Dubai. However, this figure is purported to rise every year since 1998 (AlMunajjed & Insight, 2010). One reason these men marry non-Muslim women is that they are not able to meet the high mahr they are requested to pay. Thus, as a result of running away from the high costs of marriage associated with Emirati women and men marrying foreign women, the soaring rates of divorce in the country have gone up. This is seen from the latest statistic that has shown that the present divorce rates in the country are at 46 percent, which is also the highest in the GCC area (AlMunajjed & Insight, 2010).
Social Media and its Effects on Wedding Costs
Infiltration of social media in today’s society is affecting the mindset of people. It is notable that people want to live and practice what they see of western celebrities. Notably, people envision living lavish lives, in riches, and plenty, with the need to post on social media so as to gain social acclamation and status quo. In effect, the influence of celebrity photos, Instagram affect people’s view of life and money and weddings too.
Wedding Industry and its Growth
The UAE is one of the highest spending countries when it comes to weddings. On average weddings are said to cost about 80,000 dollars with the wedding industry, making about 700 million dollars every year (Rashad, Osman, & Roudi-Fahimi, 2005). Moreover, people’s financial strength is rising, where the most affluent people look for unique wedding packages. Consequently, the wedding sector in the Middle East is growing exponentially. Further, Dubai has become a preferred wedding destination with most of the bridal shows capitalizing on the market owing to the extravagant weddings they hold. In effect, the cost of doing a wedding in Dubai could cost about Dhs 20,000 for a small wedding to about Dhs 500m for an extravagant wedding (Rashad, Osman, & Roudi-Fahimi, 2005). It is further estimated that couples in Dubai spend the highest amount on weddings compared to other parts of the world. Wedding venues are reporting massive growth due to the effect that the wedding market is growing. One popular venue is the Dubai World Centre, which hosts most of the weddings in the country, at about 25 receptions every month. However, the trends have been growing over the years with the venue hosting about 66 weddings every month.
A Comparison between the Wedding Consumption in the UAE and Egypt
A wedding in the UAE and Egypt is quite similar regarding consumption and practices. One familiar practice between these two societies is the transfer of dowry also known as bride price in the UAE, with the groom’s family offering quite a substantial amount of money to the bride and her family (Rashad, Osman & Roudi-Fahimi, 2005). However, a different practice in Egypt is that of Shabka, where the couple is tied together and gifted with rings of gold. In the UAE, the gifting of gold is done through the Maria Therese practice where the bride’s family is solely given jewelry and other gifts of gold. Similarly, dowry paid is used for both the wedding ceremony and as a reservoir for the bride in case of death or if the husband divorces her, just as in the UAE (Rashad, Osman & Roudi-Fahimi, 2005). In Egypt, however, the cost of weddings is cost-shared between the bride and groom’s family, although the groom caters for three-quarters of the costs, and the bride just a quarter of the costs. This is not the case in the UAE where men are expected to foot every expense.
Can we Reduce the Costs?
It is possible to reduce the high costs of weddings in Dubai. The cost reduction mechanisms can be done in some ways. First, instead of choosing a luxurious venue for the wedding, the couple could choose a simple wedding that would be cheaper hosting the guests.
Secondly, instead of the bride going for a luxurious gown/ imported dresses/ designer dresses, they would go for a locally made dress at an affordable cost. Wedding dresses are essentially one of the highest cost factors in a marriage.
Planning a wedding will always start with a budget. The UAE faces a rapid increase in wedding expenses for the last twenty years because of the high costs of mahr. However, men are abdicating this responsibility by marrying foreign women. Those that still marry native Emirati women have become a source of business for the wedding industry.
AlMunajjed, M., & Insight, I. C. (2010). Divorce in Gulf Cooperation Council countries: Risks and implications. Ideation Center: Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Bristol-Rhys, J. (2007). Weddings, marriage, and money in the United Arab Emirates. Anthropology of the Middle East, 2(1), 20-36.
Rashad, H., Osman, M., & Roudi-Fahimi, F. (2005). Marriage in the Arab world. Washington, DC: Population Reference Bureau (PRB).