The legalization of same-sex marriage last week in Florida,
a state that is both a major tourism draw and a popular romance destination,
shone a spotlight on the growing impact such legislation is having on wedding
and honeymoon travel around the country.
Same-sex marriage became legal in Florida Jan. 6 after
federal courts declared the state’s gay-marriage ban unconstitutional.
Wedding providers saw an immediate jump in interest,
according to Barbara Whitehill, managing director of Imagine Weddings and
Events and the Wedding Experience, which plans about 4,500 weddings a year
across the nation. She said phones were ringing off the hook, and walk-in
business at the company’s storefront in Coral Gables, Fla., also increased. The
store redesigned its windows to feature same-sex weddings.
Michael Jamrock, who operates the EnGAYged Wedding directory
and forum for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, said his website’s Florida
traffic tripled with the announcement.
In general, agents and tourism officials report that the
legalization of same-sex weddings in popular romance destinations typically
causes a spike in business.
As the number of states with legal same-sex marriage grows (with Florida, the total is now 36), so does competition for wedding and honeymoon business.
In fact, Brad Martin, a travel designer with Anywhere
Anytime Journeys of Rantoul, Ill., and a member of the Signature Travel
Network, said his Hawaii business doubled after same-sex marriage became legal
there in December 2013, due to gay and lesbian business.
“I had people asking about Hawaii like never before,” he
Jennifer Doncsecz, president of VIP Vacations, said she,
too, had seen an increase in demand for the Aloha State.
“Hawaii is one of the top wedding destinations for us in the
U.S.,” Doncsecz said, adding that legalization of same-sex marriage in states
like Hawaii “opens up a whole new way of approaching destination weddings; we
don’t need to do symbolic.” In places where same-sex marriages are illegal,
many LGBT couples commit to each other in symbolic ceremonies.
After Hawaii’s Marriage Equality Act went into effect, the
number of North Americans who indicated on visitor arrival forms that they were
visiting Hawaii to get married was up 20% in 2014, according to the Hawaii
Visitors and Convention Bureau.
In 2013, that category was down 4.4%. While there is not a
subcategory for same-sex marriage on the arrival form, Hawaii’s State
Department of Health reported that as of June 2014, marriage licenses for
same-sex couples had accounted for 12% of all marriage licenses issued in the
Many couples spend a year or more planning their weddings
(40% of engagements are 13 to 18 months long, according to a survey by Wedding
Paper Divas; 23% are 19 to 24 months long). Planning times could translate into
more destination weddings as time goes on.
As the number of states with legal same-sex marriage grows
(with Florida, the total is now 36), so does competition for wedding and
Willie Docto, president of the Vermont Gay Tourism
Association, said that until 2004, Vermont was the only state on the mainland
to offer same-sex couples a civil-union option (Hawaii began offering domestic partnership benefits in 1997).
“We pretty much had the corner on the market,” he said.
“People came from all over the place to get married.”
But when Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage in 2004,
he said, “We started to see those numbers decrease,” as LGBT couples from
Massachusetts started staying home. Even so, Vermont has recently seen
Massachusetts couples return, he said.
Similarly, Docto said he expected the legalization of gay
marriages in Florida to cut into Vermont’s same-sex marriage business. But he
also expects Vermont to attract some couples from Florida.
“There are a lot of people who love winter weddings,” he
said, adding that the Moose Meadow Lodge, which he operates with his partner,
attracts couples from Texas, Georgia and the Carolinas. Despite the competition
that increased recognition of same-sex marriages generates, he said he wants to
see it continue growing.
“Competition is much stiffer, but I welcome marriage
equality,” he said.
Besides, agents report that when states legalize same-sex
marriages, more couples get married and think about honeymoons, so the entire
manager of Travel Leaders in Naperville, Ill., said that her business increased
immediately upon the legalization of same-sex marriages in Illinois. (It became
law in 2013 but did not go into effect until June 2014.)
“It created a boom where they were getting married here and
then taking honeymoons,” she said. Couples who had considered themselves
married in every way except legally were exchanging vows, she said, adding,
“There wasn’t a honeymoon to be had if they weren’t getting married.”
Claudine Wilson, owner of W Legacy Global Travel, a
Vacation.com agency in Old Westbury, N.Y., said that every time a state
legalizes same-sex marriages, it broadens her business opportunities. She said
that in the case of Hawaii, her honeymoon business to that state increased.
“Just legalizing same-sex marriage made it more welcoming
for honeymooners,” she said.
Subsequently, she saw an increase in same-sex destination
weddings, which, along with honeymoons, generate millions of dollars in states.
A 2013 study by the University of Hawaii estimated that the
state would see anywhere from $46 million to $258 million in additional
spending by in-state and out-of-state same-sex marriages and honeymoons over
three years. Those estimates including spending by out-of-state guests attending
In New York, a study by the New York City Clerk’s office and
NYC & Company, the city’s tourism and marketing organization, found that
spending on same sex marriages — license fees, local celebrations and
wedding-related purchases — boosted the economy by $259 million in the first
year after they were legalized by New York State in 2011 with the passage of
the Marriage Equality Act.
A 2012 report by the University of California law school’s
Williams Institute about the economic impact of legalizing same-sex marriages
in Washington state, where they became legal in 2012, estimated that the total
spending on wedding arrangements and tourism would add $57 million to that
state’s economy in the first year of legal same-sex marriages.
An August 2014 Williams Institute study in Florida found
that marriages of in-state same-sex couples would generate $116 million in
spending on wedding arrangements and tourism spending by their guests, both in
state and out of state in the first year after legalization.
Florida destinations are already adjusting their marketing
to capitalize on the legalization of same-sex marriages.
The Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau
has launched a “Love Is Love” initiative to marry both LGBT and straight couples
from across the nation in a collective wedding ceremony on Feb. 5.