Hawaii became the 15th U.S. state to legalize same-sex marriages earlier this month, and for Neal Miller, owner and president of the Atlanta-based Neal Miller Travel Co., that will likely mean a significant boost for his business to the destination next year.
“We anticipate a huge increase in spending in the state of Hawaii from the LGBT market,” Miller said while visiting Maui last week; he estimates that 40% of his business comes from the LGBT community. “A lot of my clients have been waiting for gay marriage to be approved here, [and] we expect larger celebrations, larger groups of folks coming to Hawaii with couples choosing to bring their families along with them.”
Bookings have already spiked for Maui-based GayHawaiiWedding.com, owned by Kevin Rebelo and his partner Frank Miholer.
“We’ve been swamped,” Rebelo said. “The first day that the law was passed we got four weddings. Within 48 hours from when the governor signed the bill, we’d booked 10.”
Offering commissions to travel agents on comprehensive marriage packages for both same- and opposite-sex couples, Rebelo is expecting a 50% jump in his 2014 LGBT weddings business.
“It makes a big difference when people realize they’re going to be recognized federally,” he added. “When we were just doing civil unions, people were holding off. Now, no matter what state they’re in, they’re marriage will be recognized by the federal government, so there’s a lot more interest to come to Hawaii to get married now.”
According to Sumner La Croix, an economics professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, the Aloha State could benefit from a great deal of pent-up U.S. demand for gay marriage rights.
“You only have about a third of same-sex couples being married [in the U.S.],” he said. “If you look at [heterosexual] couples, it’s well over 70%, 80%. Some of that gap is going to be closed very quickly over the next three years as more same-sex couples marry to get access to federal benefits.”
La Croix authored a University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization report in July that projected the Islands could see $217 million in additional visitor spending from same-sex weddings and honeymoons between 2014 and 2016.
The report did not, however, account for LGBT travelers who aren’t looking to wed or take a honeymoon but are now more willing to travel to the Aloha State because of the destination’s new stance on same-sex marriage.
“I think it does make Hawaii more friendly to the LGBT community,” La Croix said. “And there could be more tourism from that.”
Miller seemed more convinced, saying the shift in policy has “absolutely” made Hawaii more appealing to his LGBT clients who aren’t necessarily planning a wedding or honeymoon.
“We have already had interest in the last several days just based on the media coverage of gay marriage being approved,” Miller explained. “Folks now feel they want to explore Hawaii, and they want to open their wallets and spend their money freely in Hawaii based on the fact that the state is welcoming them.”
Signed into law by Gov. Neal Abercrombie Nov. 13, Hawaii’s same-sex marriage legislation will take effect Dec. 6.