Weddings for the rich and fabulous

Style

A Sydney entrepreneur who is a global leader in destination weddings helps couples have the wedding of their dreams – anywhere on the planet.
Wendy Daoud El-Khoury | Image source: Supplied
Wendy Daoud El-Khoury | Image source: Supplied

Wendy Daoud El-Khoury was working in banking when her brother bought a wedding venue in Western Sydney and asked her to help him out on the weekends. She found herself captivated by the cultural diversity on display among couples who came there to tie the knot.

“There were Ethiopian weddings with a women’s choir singing to the bride, and everyone was crying and dancing,” she says. “There were Ghanian weddings with 90-year-old men in incredible suits busting their moves on the dance floor, and Chinese tea ceremonies. There was also a half-Czechoslovakian, half-Polish wedding, and a half-Chinese, half-Lebanese wedding, which were beautiful to see.”

“You name it, I’ve seen it,” she adds.

Double the budget

Members of the family business were investing so much time and energy into every wedding that they needed to increase their prices – and to justify that; they needed to showcase their offering.

Daoud El-Khoury placed some ads in a bridal magazine but heard crickets. So she bought some online ads, hosted an Indian wedding expo, and began establishing business partnerships.

“Within six months, we had 100,000 Facebook followers and received inquiries from businesses worldwide. We realised what we could offer the cultural community and doubled the budget,” she says.

What initially began as a way of advertising her brother’s venue became a social media curation platform, and in 2013, Daoud El-Khoury set up a website for Wedded Wonderland. Her idea was to create a conduit between businesses and consumers, focusing on cross-cultural weddings.

In March, Wedded Wonderland will launch a new online wedding destination marketplace that will enable couples to find, plan and book their weddings and honeymoon destinations.

“At the moment, the destination wedding market is bound by language,” she says.

Wedded Wonderland Photoshoot, Photography by Bonnie Hansen
Wedded World 2018, Photography by Siempre Weddings

“Unless you live within a certain country or region, you don’t understand what’s available. A couple who wants to find a chateau in the south of France won’t even know where to start. A couple who wants to get married in Dubai don’t know whether they can have a Christian or secular service. We’re going to solve the problems couples have when planning a destination wedding by connecting them with the global industry.”

She estimates that small businesses drive 85% of the wedding industry, and many lack large marketing teams or budgets to advertise their services – and surprisingly often, they don’t even have a website.

When COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns brought the wedding industry to a standstill, Daoud El-Khoury lobbied the Australian government for support in helping the wedding industry survive. For her efforts, she was nominated as Australian of the Year in 2022 by her local municipality. She won Entrepreneur of the Year and Woman of the Year from the not-for-profit Western Sydney Women.

Bringing the wizard of flowers to Oz

Wedded Wonderland showcases Australian designers to the rest of the world and brings in top global talent, such as Vera Wang. In 2015 it brought out celebrity florist Jeff Leatham for a six-day event. Leatham’s clients include Madonna, the Kardashians and royalty. He is also the resident florist at Paris’s Four Seasons George V, with an annual budget of USD$7 million.

The Runway from Wedded World 2019 , Photography by Splendid Photography
The Runway from Wedded World 2019 , Photography by Splendid Photography

Daoud El-Khoury is currently in Dubai after recently establishing her first destination partnership with tourism bodies there. Her focus is now exclusively on destinations, and the shift was largely pragmatic. The destination wedding market is currently worth approximately US$22 billion; by 2031, it is forecast to be 13 times bigger, at US$290 billion.

“For us, it’s about how can we scale our business offering to ensure that every single couple around the world can source the supplies and venues they’re looking for,” she says.

Cultural weddings are typically larger than secular ones, and Wedded Wonderland positions itself in the premium end of the market.

The average number of guests at an Australian wedding is around 120, and its budget is $30,000. Wedded Wonderland typically features weddings costing upwards of $120,000, and cultural weddings tend to be larger, with at least 350 guests. (Incidentally, Daoud El-Khoury is of Lebanese descent, and she and her husband had 550 guests when they married 12 years ago).

“A small wedding for an Indian couple would be 500 guests,” she says.

The stuff dreams are made of

Until recently, global wedding trends were set by the United States and the United Kingdom, but emerging markets like India, Brazil and the Middle East are now generating much excitement.

Destination weddings of the uber-wealthy are in a league of their own – much like royal weddings – with the costs billowing into the tens or hundreds of millions.

“An ultra-high net worth client will secure a venue exclusively, and the venue itself would need to provide full access to kitchens,” she says. “Staff will be brought in to help meet all dietary requirements, and there are also the costs of security and flying guests to and from the venue.”

Wedded World 2018, Photography by Siempre Weddings
Wedded Wonderland Photoshoot, Photography by Bonnie Hansen

There will also be typically four or five events spread across a few days – in the industry, this is known as a ‘wedding festival.’ Many outfits will be needed. In 2013, Facebook pioneer Sean Parker famously spent $9 million on a wedding in which guests wore custom-made Game of Thrones costumes.

Delicate flowers like orchids will need to be individually boxed and flown in. Entertainment and celebrity MCs can be one of the biggest expenses.

“You hear of singers like Beyonce or J-Lo being paid a huge amount of money for a 45-minute set,” she says.

Guests will also discover surprise gifts in their hotel suite, although the gifting of experiences is arguably more important, says Daoud El-Khoury.

“When it comes to the weddings of the uber-wealthy, a lot of it has to do with creating memorable experiences because many of their guests can pretty much afford to buy anything.”