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French Version

Wedding planning is big business in Lebanon

45 percent hire planners to make their big day stress free
As the parties get more extravagant, so do the costs. Some couples go into debt, and spend the first few years of their married lives working it off

When Claude and Nicholas Abboud got married last month, they had no idea that their "long dreamed of fairy tale golden wedding" was going to turn into a nightmare of endless debts.

"The wedding cost us more than $10,000," Nicholas said. "And we had to borrow half of the amount from the bank, pay the rest of it in cash and forget about buying a house for the next couple of years," he added.

With a trend toward more elaborate weddings these days, the Lebanese wedding industry is skyrocketing with profits and customers.

"An increasing number of busy couples balancing careers and other duties are finding it increasingly hard to plan a wedding themselves," said freelance wedding planner Janna Makarem, "so they hire people like us, who take care of organizing their very special day."

According to Makarem, Lebanon now has more than 25 professional wedding planning companies, whose qualifications and standards meet with international specifications.

"Many Arabs and Europeans call Lebanese wedding planners to help them out with their weddings," Makarem said, "even better, some of these overseas customers come to Lebanon to celebrate their wedding."

Even if, according to Makarem, the Lebanese wedding industry is not "big enough" to play a major role in the economy, it still has a very positive effect of its own.

"When people from abroad come to Lebanon to celebrate their weddings, they are directly and indirectly investing in the country," Makarem said, "and this is how the country benefits from the weddings."

According to recent statistics from Information International, 55 percent of Lebanese couples are reluctant to hire a wedding planner, while the remaining 45 percent already have opted for a hassle free wedding.

"The wedding industry in Lebanon is a $1 million industry with zero dollars in assets," Makarem said. "It's the dream making industry," she added.

On average, middle-class couples spend around $10,000 on a wedding. Lower class couples spend $5,000, while rich people don't hesitate to spend over $100,000 for a "1,001 nights" Shehrazad-style wedding.

Recently, an prominent figure in the country spent over $300,000 on a wedding ceremony, with the groom's dress costing over $100,000 on its own.

"Planning a wedding in Lebanon is one of the most costly activities than one can ever endeavor in his whole life," said economist and former business teacher Elias Farhat. "Sometimes it can even be more expensive than buying a house and a car all together," he said.

Only a few years ago, wedding planners were unheard of in Lebanon, but today the percentage of couples using planners suggests that that trend has changed, Farhat said.

Zeina Bou Rizk, another wedding planner said her business had an average of 100 clients per year. Another wedding and event planner who requested anonymity said that five years ago, there were only two or three companies in the industry. "Today," he said, "the figure has mushroomed to between 30 to 35 companies."

According to the recent surveys conducted by Information International, the average budget for a Lebanese wedding was found to be $7,600.

The survey also showed that those who used wedding planners had a higher budget compared with couples who organized their own wedding. The cost of a wedding organized by a planner increased by $1,800 to an average of $9,000, while those who planned their own wedding tended to have a "smaller" budget of $7,500.

Overspending on weddings was also common.

On average, those getting married exceeded their budget by around $900; only 40 percent stuck to their initial budget.

"For most part, the groom and the groom's family tend to pay for weddings," Farhat said, "however a new trend has begun, with both families chipping in for the wedding."

Another minor percentage, Farhat said, was when brides and grooms paid for the weddings from their own pockets. An even lesser percentage of couples took out a bank loan to finance the wedding expenses.

Salma Achkouti, branch manager of Banque du Liban et d'Outre Mer (BLOM) said that "many Lebanese banks offered wedding loan facilities, due to the tremendous and excessive amount of spending that took place on such events."

Some couples, she said, spent five to 10 years paying back their wedding loans.

Most sought-after services

According to another statistic by "Information International," the main service clients request from their wedding planners is music and entertainment. The survey showed that the majority, or 56.5 percent of those who used wedding planners, asked them to oversee this aspect of the wedding.

Pictures and wedding videos were the next most requested service 44.7 percent of the time.

Flowers and balloons 43.5 percent
Lighting 35.5 percent
Invitation cards 30.2 percent
Find a caterer 27.5 percent
Find a location for the reception 22.9 percent
Organize the zaffeh for the bride 11.8 percent
Guidance when looking for a wedding dress 6.9 percent
Other miscellaneous favors 16.4 percent

Beirut,07 19 2004
Jessy Chahine
The Daily Star
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