Chinese wedding planners worry as business slumps

STORY: With the number of Chinese couples getting married in decline, scenes like this are becoming a rarer sight.

Less matrimony is a worrying trend for wedding planners in China, an industry estimated at almost $500 billion just three years ago.

Yuan Jialiang ran a full-scale wedding planning business for almost a decade in Shanghai, before switching to wedding photography as demand for his services began to fall-- and he hasn’t looked back.

"In the process of switching from wedding planning to wedding photography, I started to realize that actually couples' demands for photography and videography will not change. No matter how the format of the wedding changes, no matter how the scales of the wedding changes, they still have the demand to record this precious time. So I found that I've made the right career change."

China's wedding industry already hit a rough patch during the pandemic, when many couples delayed their ceremonies.

There were 6.8 million marriages across China last year, which is 800,000 fewer than in 2021 and the lowest since the government began publishing the data in 1986.

Now, a bigger threat looms in couples less willing to spring for an all-out wedding.

Ceremonies in China are traditionally elaborate, expensive affairs, but wedding planners report that couples who do go for it are spending less.

This drop in marriage registrations will likely exacerbate the decline in births in China, already one of the fastest-aging societies in the world.

Many cities deny unmarried mothers child-raising or healthcare subsidies and having children out of wedlock is often frowned upon.

As the economy weakens and consumer confidence wanes, those in the industry are finding little cause for optimism.

[Yuan Jialiang / Wedding photographer]

"The whole environment has contributed to the fact that the wedding industry is not very prosperous now. I was probably hopeful for another big industry climax but now I am more worried than optimistic about the prospects."

With high jobless rates and low household spending among the young and the middle class, Jewel Wang, who owns several stores in China selling designer wedding dresses, is staking the future of her company on wealthier clients that have weathered the economic downturn:

"COVID caused such a big impact on everybody's lives. As a market we see an absolute downturn in spending. So all alongside our strategy has been niche, niche, niche, niche. We don't want to flow with the broader market because we don't think that's in a good place to go."