It’s no secret. Weddings in Cambodia are big, colourful and extravagant affairs. Guests drink and eat to their heart’s content, music draws revellers onto the dance floor and the party lasts for hours.
But guests aren’t the only people having fun. Rising affluence paired with a flood of young people moving to the city has created a boom in the wedding industry.
According to City Hall, more than 11,800 weddings were celebrated across the capital during 2013, nearly double 2012’s total of 6,380.
“It’s a very good business. It is a million-dollar business,” said Touch Ratha, a wedding caterer in Phnom Penh.
After graduating from university in 2003 and landing an IT management job, he thought he had it made. Four years later, however, a sudden change of heart saw Ratha, then 24, leave his position to run his father’s catering business.
When he took over at Seng Hok Heng Chef, Ratha was serving about 300 tables per month. Now, seven years into his venture, Ratha feeds more than 3,000 tables monthly.
“For even bigger companies, I would imagine they can earn as much as $4 million or $5 million a year,” he said, adding that there are about 100 similar wedding catering firms operating in Phnom Penh alone.
Chai Lim, deputy director of the Phnom Penh Cultural Centre, also known as Chenla Theatre, said that during the most recent wedding season, the venue was rented out almost every day for weddings, with 50-table packages starting at a minimum of $2,000 per booking.
“During the peak season, we were forced to turn away couples, because we were fully booked out,” he said.
“The increase in the number of weddings every year has created a big increase in the number of jobs in the hospitality and services industries, such as chefs, planners, wedding decorators and invitation printers. And with that, the number of businesses providing these services is also on the rise.”
And it doesn’t look as if it will slow down any time soon.
As of 2012, close to 23 per cent of the Kingdom’s 15 million or so inhabitants were aged 15 to 24 years. And according to Chrek Soknim, deputy director of Vtrust Property, a company that monitors demographic trends for property speculation, a growing number of them are moving to the capital for their studies and to better their job prospects.
“Many young people move to live here [Phnom Penh], as they want to begin their new life in the city,” said Soknim, who estimates that 30,000 to 40,000 students and young workers are moving to Phnom Penh each year.
“People who move from other areas decide to set up their family here after they get a permanent income,” Soknim added.
With wedding numbers set to rise again during the upcoming season, which traditionally runs from November through to June, pressure on catering companies, receptions, and even guests, is mounting.
Kol Sopheak, owner of the catering company Kunthearchokchey, said his business was operating seven days a week just to fill bookings during the peak season.
“I had bookings for wedding receptions almost every day and especially on weekends,” he said. “This is a good business to make money, but you must provide a superior service to earn more.”
Guests on the other hand, while they reap the festive benefits, face a very different problem when it comes to peak wedding season.
Heng Sothea, a banker who lives in Phnom Penh and earns a better than average salary, received seven wedding invitations in May alone.
While he is grateful for the invitations, up to 25 per cent of his monthly wage is spent on wedding gifts, he says.
“Sometimes, I just want to declare that I am bankrupt and can’t afford my daily living costs, because I get too many wedding invitations nearly every month,” he said, laughing.