Skylight Hotel in preparations for wedding on January 12.

As the wedding season is upon the capital, Samson Ashenafi, 31, the firstborn of his family, envisioned a picture-perfect ceremony with his then-fiance, Hawi Getachew. The couple hankered a simple and intimate setting with no more than 100 people, but being from a deeply rooted traditional background where ceremonies are considered shallow if they do not have the whole nine yards, the pressure forced them to exponentiate the guest list more than five folds.

They spent over 150,000 Br to rent the East-West Hall around the Gofa Mebrat Hail area, including the decoration. The production cost was valued at more than 110,000 Br, while the wedding rings cost close to 41,000 Br. The wedding dress, tuxedo, and traditional wear reached close to 180,000 Br as the makeup package reached 40,000 Br. Most importantly, catering, drinks, the four-layered cake, and subsequent banquets amounted to more than 650,000 Br.

After working as an engineer for over half a decade, the couple had to tap into their savings and ask for help from their parents to cover over 1.5 million Br for the wedding shenanigans to be a success.

Samson observed the recurrent loss of sleep and frustration, other than the mind-boggling cost and tireless preparations. He believes that this was a once-in-a-lifetime day, while money could consistently be earned. The couple tied the knot in inexpressible holy matrimony last week.

"In the end, it's all worth it," he told Fortune.

According to Civil Registration & Residency Information Service Agency(CRRISA), there were 37,707 couples' nuptials in 2021, compared to a record of 30,169 last year.

About seven kilometres from East-West Hall, another elegant wedding ceremony was booked at the Skylight Hotel ballroom the same week.

Preoccupied with wedding decor late afternoon Thursday last week, Semira Negash, manager at Habesha Decor, is hovered by her staff. Sitting gracefully on the chair, she keenly observes the progress made as the young men in their green uniforms toil to make the hall come alive. Some paved to finish work on brightly decorated light fixtures, while others stow rose-coloured flowers at the tables, furnished with fine white clothes. The wedding was booked a few hours later with three hundred guests expected.

Newly weds Hawi and Samson.

"We stayed up all night working," said Semira in a tired tone. The decor prices range from 80,000 Br to 150,000 Br, although she refrained from disclosing the particular wedding cost.

Habesha Decor has been in business for three years with half a million Birr capital and ten employees. Semira reflects on the pandemic era when business was crippled and maintaining more than two bookings a month, even in peak seasons, had been impossible. However, she is thankful the industry has gained momentum after the past year reviving from the effects, booking at least one wedding weekly.

The hotel industry was among the hardest hit when the pandemic struck. Occupancy rates slumped due to the restrictions, causing the industry to lose billions in revenue.

Skylight Hotel, incorporated in 2019, is among the hotels that faced the consequences. According to Event Executive Tiya Birhanu, the hotel lost more than 30 million Br in revenue. Having ill-starred experience, she said the hotel is now beginning to enjoy the rebound, mentioning this year's bookings were almost fully reserved a year ago.

“We are booked for the whole year," she told Fortune.

According to Tiya, there is an annual waiting list if couples wish to book the single hall at the hotel with 40pc advance payment, otherwise leaving them to fasting days. She said there are 16 wedding events booked this month, with buffet options ranging between 2,000 Br and 1,600 Br.

As the hospitality industry rejoices with the season, brides-to-be such as the 29-year-old health professional Meron getting ready to tie the knot four months later were surprised by the dramatic price change. Apart from the skyrocketed hotel prices from what she knew in the past three years, her plan of a simple ceremony was hijacked when her parents decided to make it a full-blown wedding.

The wedding jitters that comes with the deadline has not gotten to Meron yet, as she is weighing her options, eying what the city has to offer. She plans to get a custom-made dress rather than go through the hassle of fitting into dresses.

"With the high rental prices, I might as well get my own,” she said.

The hub for close to 10 bridal shops is the Morning Star Mall, located around Bole Medhanealem. On the third floor, Say-Yes Bridal rents out wedding dresses with prices ranging from 14,000 Br to 26,000 Br depending on design and colour. According to the store manager Kalkidan, the dresses are usually rented out for two days, with coloured dresses preferred for photoshoots. She said the slightly expensive creamier gowns are the wedding day choices. Kalkidan disclosed paying  17,000 Br to 25,000 tax for a dress, depending on the weight, which prompted the rise in the rent prices. The dress is usually rented out for two days, and she estimates that on a good day, close to 10 customers visit their store daily to try on dresses.

“Business has been great,” she said.

China is the major source of imported wedding dresses, with 10.6 million units annually made, of which 72pc are intended for export. It is followed by Vietnam and the United States, producing 1.8 million units annually.

As the dresses come in specific sizes, Kalkidan saw some women find it challenging to find the right size.

The durability of the fabric is put to the test as alteration is made.

Biliya Design has been in business for five years designing wedding dresses among other women's clothing. Women such as the bride-to-be Meron that want a specific design and size come to the store. The designer Biliya Assefa observed that they do not usually find what they are looking for when they are looking to rent dresses at bridal stores with limited sizes and designs. The demand for custom-made wedding dresses prompted Biliya to start the business, with a wedding dress taking up to two months to make, depending on the material and design.

According to Biliya, the imported materials to make wedding dresses are costly. She said no matter how skilled someone is at designing, the difficulty of each dress depends on the size and preference of the customer.

"It's not a walk in the park," she said.

She takes orders for more than a dozen wedding dresses in a year. With two branches at Adams Pavilion around the Sar Bet area and Asres Building in Bole Medhanealem, Biliya plans to open a store catering exclusively to weddings for both brides and grooms.

Another headache and the essential part of a wedding for the bride-to-be Meron is the production.

“Photographs outlast all the other arrangements,” she said.

As technology became advanced, the business has been booming for production companies, mainly involved in wedding celebrations. Johnny's Studio is a known wedding photography and videography service provider in the capital. In business for more than a decade, Manager Yohannes Tatek believes that the 3D prints and high resolutions coupled with the advanced editing have made more people interested in having photo shoots. He estimates more than 20 couples visit the studio daily.

“We don't take more than two clients a day though," he said.

PUBLISHED ON Jan 21,2023 [ VOL 23 , NO 1186]

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