Same-sex marriage law boosts LGBT biz

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From December 2013 through February, there were nearly 2,300 same-sex weddings among nonresidents statewide.
From December 2013 through February, there were nearly 2,300 same-sex weddings among nonresidents statewide. Photo Credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)/Tor Johnson
Hawaii lawmakers legalized same-sex marriages in December 2013, and that legislation has since helped both in-state operators and mainland-based travel agents and wholesalers boost LGBT business in the Aloha State.


"Our business in that market has increased somewhere between 20% to 30%," said Carolee Higashino, the owner of Purple Orchid Wedding, a Hawaii-based wedding planner specializing in same-sex marriages.

Purple Orchid arranges same-sex nuptials statewide, but Higashino noted that while Maui remains the most popular destination for her LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) clients, the Big Island of Hawaii is gaining ground.

"The Big Island is very LGBT-friendly," she said. "It's also more affordable to do a whole wedding package there than it would be on Maui. And there are a lot of secluded, beautiful places to go on the Big Island, while Maui can be just a little bit more crowded at times."

Purple Orchid, which pays travel agents a client referral fee and a 10% commission on all its published wedding package rates, is a favorite partner for Neal Miller, owner of the Neal Miller Travel Co. in Atlanta.

"I love Carolee at Purple Orchid Wedding," Miller said. "For anything from a very simple service, where it just may be the folks getting married, to something that's pretty extravagant, they can pull it off on any island."

Miller noted, however, that his LGBT weddings business in the Aloha State has not been as robust as he expected after Hawaii's same-sex marriage legislation passed 16 months ago.

"It has increased, but not drastically," Miller said, noting that year over year his same-sex wedding bookings in Hawaii are up 20%. "It isn't what we thought initially. We just haven't seen that surge of weddings."

Through the end of February, there were nearly 2,300 same-sex weddings among nonresidents across the Hawaiian Islands since same-sex marriage was legalized, according to Hawaii Department of Health data. That figure accounts for nearly 12% of the total number of nonresident weddings across the Islands since same-sex marriage legislation was ratified in late 2013.

Where Miller has enjoyed a surge is in the number of LGBT honeymoon packages he's booking to the Islands, seeing that component of his business jump about 50% year over year.

With more states approving same-sex marriage, couples are opting for simple weddings at home "and then doing an extravagant Hawaii honeymoon," he said.

And while wholesaler Classic Vacations doesn't keep track of the number of LGBT honeymoon or wedding bookings it makes to Hawaii specifically, Joelle Arriola, the wholesaler's product director for Hawaii and the South Pacific, said her company's LGBT business is up "low double digits" overall since launching an advertising campaign aimed at the market last July.

"The growth is great for us because we just started, and it hasn't even been a year," Arriola said. "Now that we have all the collateral and content to help any of those agents who want to reach out to the LGBT market, we've been telling our business development managers to go out there and really see what opportunities they can discover."

Although the Classic LGBT campaign hasn't been an offer-based effort, the company is highlighting LGBT-friendly hotel partners across the Islands; travel professionals can access the new marketing collateral, such as images and templates, at www.classicvacations.com/travel-agent.

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