Atlantis, The Palm offers couples a selection of indoor and outdoor wedding venues. Image Credit: Supplied

DUBAI: Weddings aren't everyday affairs. They require time. They require effort. They require a commitment. And, most of all, they require money.

As the average family-style wedding gets bigger and fatter, so do the budgets to support those weddings.

"A couple today should expect to spend a minimum of between Dh300,000 and Dh500,000 on their wedding day," says Zainab Al Salih, wedding planner and managing director of Carousel. "Based on our experiences of organising mid to high-range weddings, we can say that a realistic budget would be anywhere between Dh1,200 and Dh1,500 per guest."

According to Carousel wedding planners, the trend is moving away from either large-scale or thumbnail weddings, with the average couple inviting approximately 250 guests to their reception. That's already over Dh300,000 for the reception alone.

Going bridal

Nina Iskandar, an image consultant who's given advice to hundreds of brides, says every wedding story begins with grandiose dreams of the dress. "Most women have grown up with an image of what they'll look like on their wedding day," says Iskandar.

"A basic dress, without frills, fancies and embroidery, would cost a minimum of Dh15,000, with the sky being the limit. Even the brides with the smallest budget would find it a challenge to get a beautiful wedding dress for under Dh10,000. Add to that hair, make-up, shoes... and you push the price up by another Dh10,000 at least. On top of all that is the one bridal expense that's as unavoidable as the dress: jewellery," she says.

According to the image consultant, bridal jewellery varies based on culture and nationality. Although impossible to generalise, cultural influences play their role with Western brides tending to spend approximately Dh3,000 on crystal jewellery, Arab brides Dh5,000 on brands such as Swarovski and Indian brides on the highest end of the scale with a minimum of Dh30,000 onwards for gold jewellery, notes Iskandar.

"In the Middle East, the wedding industry is big business and a recent survey, Bridal Attractions 2011, which polled nationals and Arab expatriate women across the GCC, found that 12 per cent have budgeted or plan to allocate more than $100,000 (Dh367,000) for their wedding, while more than 40 per cent say they have spent, or intend to spend, more than $50,000 (Dh183,500). The average Emirati weddings are valued at an average $82,000 (Dh300,940), compared to Western weddings which average at $20,000 (Dh73,400) [for the reception]," says Engie Osei, Marketing Manager, The Bride Show Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

The company's ongoing Dubai Bride Show, until April 7 at Dubai International Exhibition Centre, is a platform for bridal couples to find solutions to all their needs under one roof.

The budget bride

While for some brides emptying out their savings account for a wedding is the norm, others would rather cut costs on the reception and save towards their honeymoon fund or on planning a family.

Marilou Agadier, a 29-year-old Filipina bride is planning her October wedding with her German fiancé Kris sans a wedding planner. "We found that over and above all the charges for the venue, food, beverage, décor, etc, planners have a flat fee for their services which just pushes our budget over the top."

Although the couple have yet to finalise their dream wedding, the budget remains non-negotiable.

"What I want is a dream wedding, with butterflies and flowers and clouds in the sky, and the earth beneath my feet, while at the same time, being romantic and fairy-tale like. In other countries, this is the budget option. Here in Dubai, it's not allowed. I can't really have my wedding in a park, or on the public beach, can I? As a result, we'll have to go somewhere five-star and pay accordingly," she says.

Package deals

Fortunately for Agadier and the other brides-to-be in Dubai, the city is in the midst of wedding season, with hotels offering all sorts of packages and discounts.

Atlantis, The Palm offers couples an enviable selection of indoor and outdoor wedding venues from a barefoot ceremony on the beach to a lavish reception; a timeless white wedding; or something out of the ordinary, with prices ranging from Dh300 per invitee going up to Dh430 per guest, provided the minimum spend is Dh60,000. Although flowers, linen and stage décor are included in the package, Carousel's Al Salih says brides tend to want more than what a mass package provides.

"The trend today is a bespoke service. Even brides with a smaller budget want their reception to look different from everyone else's. Venues tend to offer a very generic service with basic white table cloths, basic flower settings and a no-fuss stage set-up. None of our clients ever go with what the hotels provide. Moreover, depending on culture, certain elements are more important for some nationalities than others. Arab brides, for example, need to have an elaborate stage décor, while the Western bride would rather pay attention to detail for the head table or the dance floor. A wedding is supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime deal, right? Most girls grow up dreaming of the day they get married. They don't want an everyday setting for the big day. Couples want to customise their venues, their table linen, the wedding favours, and all that comes at an additional cost."