Thursday, October 16, 2008
In the famously branded village of Carmel-by-the-Sea, some restaurants, hotels and boutiques have designated themselves pet-friendly. Considering the roughly 45 million dog owners in the United States, it’s an explicit invitation for animal lovers to spend money with their furry friends in tow.
But in the months following the state Supreme Court’s May decision legalizing same-sex marriages in California, neither Carmel nor any other local city has claimed the mantle of Monterey County’s first gay-friendly wedding and honeymoon destination.
Carmel Chamber of Commerce CEO Monta Potter doesn’t want to discuss it.
“We have talked about marketing to gays and lesbians, but there wasn’t any policy decision to make,” she says. “Most of our businesses are very welcoming to gay and lesbian weddings and honeymoons.”
But there’s a big difference between being quietly tolerant and explicitly welcoming. And gay couples– familiar with disapproving stares and strained service– know it. In a 2006 survey by the Travel Industry Association, nearly half the gay and lesbian respondents said a destination’s gay-friendliness is “important to them when making leisure travel choices.”
It makes sense, then, that many of the same-sex couples who plan on dropping tens of thousands of dollars on their nuptials will select cities and businesses that support them. That’s reflected in websites like www.GayWeddings.com, which offers area-specific listings of gay-friendly wedding resources.
A search within 25 miles of Carmel yields only six results, including Highlands Inn, Katherine Dorset law services and www.CarmelWeddings.com. It would seem that the gay wedding market in Monterey County is wide open.
“WE’VE BEEN GAY-FRIENDLY SINCE PRIOR TO THE SUPREME COURT DECISION… [BUT] NOTHING IS GAY-FRIENDLY-SPECIFIC.” – Moe Ammar, P.G. Chamber of Commerce
With 83 wedding-related members (including reception venues, caterers, planners, clergy, musicians, florists, bridal boutiques and photographers), the Carmel chamber is well-positioned to claim much of that cake.
But CEO Potter is in a particularly awkward position. As a married gay woman– Potter wed Cynthia Vernon in Carmel in June– she could be seen as having a special interest in the cause.
“I myself am a strong opponent of Proposition 8,” she says. “[But] my first goal is serving our membership in Carmel.”
The chamber asked its members in an online survey if they support marketing to gay weddings and honeymoons. The majority said yes, Potter says, but she won’t give the percentage. Asked if any chamber members strongly oppose it, she hesitates: “No comment.”
Potter says she opted to spend “a small amount” of chamber funds to market Carmel as a gay wedding and honeymoon destination. But she refuses to disclose the amount or give examples of the efforts. “I’m not going any deeper into it,” she says.
The Pacific Grove Chamber of Commerce has also stopped short of officially welcoming same-sex couples.
Chamber president Moe Ammar says following the Supreme Court decision, he has received a half-dozen calls from gay fiancés interested in marrying at Lovers Point and wondering if the city is gay-friendly.
P.G. has registered to trademark the title of “Most Romantic City” and run ads in a variety of national magazines, pitching itself as a destination for romantic getaways. And when chamber member Adrianne Jonson wed partner Sandy Hamm in Monterey County’s first same-sex marriage ceremony, the chamber sent a congratulatory card.
But while Ammar recognizes the emerging market in same-sex nuptials, the chamber isn’t explicitly courting it. “Rather than target gay weddings, we’re going to market all weddings,” he says. “We’ve been gay-friendly since prior to the Supreme Court decision… [but] nothing is gay-friendly-specific.”
California has registered an average of 3,800 gay marriages per month between mid-June and mid-September, according to an Oct. 6 report by UCLA’s Williams Institute. Considering that the average U.S. couple spends more than $28,700 on their wedding, according to www.costofwedding.com– and the amount is likely higher on the pricey Central Coast– that could total nearly $100 million per month in gay wedding revenue.
As Williams research fellow Gary Gates told the New York Times, weddings tend to concentrate in tourist destinations. The Monterey County recorder’s office doesn’t track genders on marriage licenses, but it’s logical to conclude that the thriving local wedding industry can cash in big on gay nuptials.
Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau spokeswoman Koleen Hamblin gets it. “This could be a nice money-maker for us if we position ourselves right,” she says. “We’d be crazy not to address it.”
Under the slogan “Alive is the Air,” the bureau pumps the county’s natural romantic assets: Big Sur redwoods, sailboats on the sea, bonfires on Carmel Beach. Assuming Prop. 8 will be defeated in November, the bureau plans to expand its advertising to include gay publications. “Our message will be that Monterey County is the ideal al fresco destination for weddings and honeymoons,” Hamblin says.
But she admits that the effort will be relatively minor. “We’re not putting a whole lot of muscle behind this,” she says. Even those ads placed in media will likely avoid the phrase “gay-friendly”; “I don’t think we’re there,” she says.
The San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau, by contrast, is chasing the rainbow wedding straight to its pot of gold.
In an open letter to gay fiancés, bureau president Joe D. Alessandro gushes: “The San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau wants to be among the first to wish all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender couples the warmest of congratulations on securing marriage rights in this hard-fought battle. We hope you will think of San Francisco as the ideal spot to plan your perfect wedding and/or honeymoon.”
The bureau’s website offers a long list of gay wedding resources. “The businesses that we have listed have explicitly embraced same-sex marriage,” says bureau spokeswoman Angela Davis. “Some people say a romance package is a romance package. But some hotels will provide same-sex couples with a warm welcome. That’s the difference.”