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.
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 said.
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 state.
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 honeymoon business.
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 market grows.
Christie Kruchten, 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 LGBT weddings.
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.