As 200 family members and friends gathered to bestow good wishes and send off newlyweds Kalkidan Temesgen and Nahom Tadele two weeks ago, the bride-to-be was holding back a bit of anger over the decorations. It had cost 263,000 Br but failed to meet the expectations of everyone in attendance. Kalkidan blames the lack of proper planning by the decorator, who saw the house a night before the ceremony, for the less than satisfactory outcome.

"I wish I had seen the Google reviews," she told Fortune. "They were not even worth half the amount."

After four months of engagement, the couple, who had dated for two years, opted for a modest ceremony at the house which also served as Shimgelna, (a tradition where the groom's family asks for blessings at the bride's house).

"We wanted to get on with our life as quickly as possible," Kalkidan said.

With plates going as high as 3,500 Br per head at luxury hotels in the capital, they were spared from food and drink costs. Her designer dress cost 100,000 Br while a cake from Tee Keks was priced at 40,000 Br and makeup by Fufi was around 8,000 Br. However, the budget soared past half a million Birr, with decorations from Fiesta Decor, to the ire of the glowing bride, taking up most of the budget.

As the upbeat weather meets a non-fasting season in January, wedding fever sweeps the country, palpable with the frequent 'rhythmic' clanking of horns in the streets and decorations at hotels, lasting until late March.

There is a recurring theme of consumer satisfaction in the wedding industry marked by little leverage for clients with pre-paid payments and a rarity of receipts. The recommendation-based approach seems to work better with a network of planners, decorators, videographers and caterers who complement each other through a discount.

One who mastered the art of networking after a decade of operations as a wedding planner is Nebil Ahmed, general manager of Hayloga Events. While operating with a six-member permanent staff, the Company primarily relies on a web of partnerships built through the years.

Nebil entered the business at a young age after working for decorators. He has managed to kickstart around seven careers in his business. Birthed with 2,000 Br capital, Hayloga now charges around 200,000 Br for a wedding, handling two ceremonies a week in a typical season.

According to Nebil, the average cost of a wedding shot up from rare instances that crossed the million Birr mark to as high as 10 million Br in his days. He employs a contingency budget of around 10pc to prevent any potential surprises, after instances in which exorbitant budgets by overly zealous couples have led to the sale of private property to cover costs when the nuptial fever settled down.

A properly capped budget and open communication are deemed critical to managing the inflationary headwind and customer satisfaction, according to the Planner.

"Everyone seems to have an idea of a dream wedding," Nebil said. "My job is to bring it down to realistic circumstances."

In Addis Abeba, double-digit inflation rates of around 27pc have done little to curb the number of people who tie the knot. Data from the Civil Registration & Residency Service Agency (CRRSA) for the past six months reveals a 46pc growth from last year to around 11,000 couples.

To serve couples who opt to maintain a smaller ceremony, some entrepreneurs have hitched to incorporating traditional elements that are relatively low-cost.

Kidist Derbe and Lidya Tilahun, two lifelong friends who graduated with a degree in public health, have taken social media by storm with their company, Events of Addis, launched two years ago. Through comprehensive price offerings in packages ranging from 25,000 Br for an intimate dowry ceremony to a million Birr for gargantuan nuptials with thousands of attendees, the company has carved out a niche market in the sector.

"Expansive packages and a good reputation are vital," said Kidist.

Business peaks in September and during the wedding season between January and March. Kidist carefully selects which ceremonies she wants to take up by considering the venue's suitability for decorations, the budget and the time of the year. With 12 permanent staff and several partnerships, they offer packages which include decorations, catering and music from bridal showers and receptions over several weeks. It has been slowly moving into the wedding planning arena, organising two ceremonies this year right from scratch.

As wedding venues became scarce until late March, costs ranged from the affordable to the extravagant. Couples like Blen Gezahegn and Bisrat Amare demonstrated that intimacy need not require an enormous budget. With careful planning and a budget of around 250,000 Br, they created a celebration that embraced both tradition and modernity.

With a week of planning at Ghion Hotel inviting a close group of family and friends of around 55 people, it has cost them 2,000 Br per plate. The couple forked around 50,000 Br for a package which combined both makeup and video, while the wedding ball gown fetched 20,000 with the groom's suit priced at 4,000 Br, and decorations, which had changed last minute from traditional to contemporary, were around 70,000 Br.

"Every cost was surprising," the elated bride told Fortune in a comical tone.

1,100 Br per plate for auditoriums like Tsigerada Hall around Enkulal Fabrica or the Don Bosco Hall in Mekanisa to as high as 3,500 Br in five-star hotels if one can find space amidst the flurry of events.

While remaining a bit disappointed in the sound system assembled by friends, Blen was happy with the wedding, which she finds as culturally essential in setting the tone for a couple's relationship with society.

Wearing white-coloured garments has historically symbolised purity and innocence, it was only after Queen Vicotria's wedding to Prince Albert in 1840, which had received significant press coverage as the queen looked to exhibit British lacing industry prowess, that the white dress became a staple of weddings in the West and subsequently worldwide.

Rental wedding dresses in the capital fetch between 10,000 Br to 70,000 Br with the businesses mostly centred around the Bole Area.

'Untouched up, still beautiful,' reads the banner of Selena's Bridal on the first floor of a newly furbished building across Selam City Mall on Cameroon Street. The inside is filled with items imported from Italy and Turkey. Fikrte Hailu, who runs the shop with her sister, expected a much bigger turnout during this wedding season but is grateful for the few and infrequent soon-to-be brides who stroll into her shop.

Even though she has observed the price of a wedding gown soar from 15,000 Br to above 35,000 Br for high-end dresses over the past five years, Fikrte points to a general shift in consumer behaviour for the market lull across most shops.

"People will pay premium only for superb quality," she claims.

She feels confident that her dresses will fetch customers in the coming weeks while she remains uneasy over the possible hike in rent fees, which are currently around 60,000 Br. After a few years of being worn by consecutive brides the dresses which start to wear a greyish hue are shipped off to regional states for a fraction of their initial purchase prices.

The old saying about a wedding photograph being a love letter in the light seems to have morphed into a post on a social media profile. More couples cough a pretty penny for video professionals well-versed in the art of flashy Instagram reels.

Abenezer Tefera runs an eponymous video production company that specialises in high-quality documentary-style coverage of nuptials, pointing to an emerging trend characterised by filming for social media consumption. With package offerings that average around 100,000 Br, the video production company creates and edits reels for clients' social media postings in a growing niche market.

"We try to get involved early on and capture impactful moments," he told Fortune.

With humble beginnings compounded by a single camera, Abenezer now tries to find high-paying clients with specific demands and opts to work every other week rather than take on all gigs that come to his doorstep, targeting satisfaction for both himself and the client.

"Prices are secondary concerns to customers demanding quality," said Abenezer, who has seen his business grow over the past two years.

The very act of going through budget schemes and reining in extravagant dreams seemed to hold a key to enduring love. A study by Hugo M. Mialon from Emory University sheds an interesting aspect on the economic correlation suggesting an inverse relationship between high spending on weddings and the longevity of marriages. While the number of marriages authenticated by the CRRSA increased by nearly 50pc, the number of divorces over the last six months has also doubled, showing a 100.3pc increment from the same period last year at around 2,000.

The service industry accounted for a little over a third of last year's GDP, with nearly 900 billion Br registering a 7.6pc growth rate largely bolstered by airlines, telecom and financial services.

According to Demeke Kibru, an advisor and lecturer in hospitality management, there is a pervasive lack of quality assurance mechanisms permeating the hospitality industry, which peaks in one-time service providers. He said slow responsiveness, a lack of tangible demonstration of competence and pre-established assurance-giving modalities are major challenges to the service industry in Ethiopia.

"Word of mouth is an underappreciated asset," Demeke told Fortune.

PUBLISHED ON Jan 19,2024 [ VOL 24 , NO 1238]

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