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China’s Boom Brings Wedding “Banquet Scalpers”

Rising incomes, traditions heat up competition for best spots to host your big day. And a banquet hall black market is born


Bride and groom in China (Nghong Lam via Flickr)

EYES INSIDE - CHINA

When a nation's economy grows 10 percent a year, everything is booming, new markets emerge, innovation is rampant. That goes for scalpers too.

A couple who decides in a rush to get married around the (Chinese) New Year, or on an "auspicious day", might now wind up paying extra thousands of RMB (or up to 1,000 dollars) over the regular price, in order to have a decent banquet hall for their reception.

The "banquet scalpers' are one of the latest economic side effects of boomtown China: would-be newlyweds who find themselves stuck without an available wedding hall or hotel restaurant can now send out a message on the Internet looking for help or advice, and get back all kinds of offers for bookings -- inevitably with extra fees tacked on.

In recent weeks, Chinese newspapers and bloggers have detailed the exploits of these scalpers, who have booked up all reception reservations in the most popular hotels or restaurants in major cities, as early as one full year in advance. XinHuaNet reports that by "monopolizing the market," profits for certain dates at four-star hotels can climb in the tens of thousands of RMBs.

Beyond the New Year, a traditional time for weddings, scalpers make sure to book reservations on other popular dates, like May 1st and October 1st, during the so-called golden week, and other "auspicious days' of the lunar calendar.

Chinese papers note that the idea of such business was planted in 2008, when many rushed to wed to coincide with China's hosting the Summer Olympics, as well as for the number "8," which phonetically in Chinese is a synonym of prosperity. New Year's remains popular, thanks to the Chinese proverb "Rich or poor, marry a wife for a good New Year."

Qianjiang Evenling News reports how scalpers place ads on Internet forums to attract clients who didn't plan ahead. In the ads, they pretend to have no alternative but to "transfer" their feast reservation with the hotel or restaurant for some unexpected reasons. Apart from asking the deposit they had paid in advance to the hotel or restaurant, they also ask the client to pay a mark-up for this "privilege."

Zhongxin news reports that a man identified as Mr. Huang paid 3,000 RMB (about $445) to someone claiming to need such a transfer, who just a month later offered the same deal to a friend of Huang's. But is such common practices now that some young spouses-to-be who want to get married in a hurry, or on their dream date, simply go straight to the scalpers.

While more and more Chinese have started to go out to celebrate the Chinese New Year's Eve, or even Christmas Eve like Westerners, there are banquets scalpers who are now eyeing these occasions. Here the market isn't quite as saturated, but like elsewhere in China, all signs point to new opportunities for growth.

-Laura Lin

Worldcrunch

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