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New York hopes for economic boost from gay marriage

Rudd and Lambert react after being married at the stroke of midnight, at the brink of Niagara Falls, in Niagara Falls, New York
Rudd and Lambert react after being married at the stroke of midnight, at the brink of Niagara Falls, in Niagara Falls, New York

By Kristina Cooke

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City businesses hope the Big Apple will become the destination of choice for same-sex marriages, with hotels, wedding planners and caterers vying for a slice of the potentially lucrative trade.

The city's official tourism agency, NYC & Co, has put in place a global marketing campaign to attract homosexual couples who can now legally wed in New York.

Hotels and restaurants are touting gay wedding deals. The Crowne Plaza in Times Square, for example, is offering private limousine transportation to City Hall and two tickets to a show on Broadway.

Gay and lesbian couples formed a line around the block to be married at the Manhattan marriage bureau on Sunday, the first day same-sex weddings were legal in New York.

"It's going to have a huge impact, economically speaking, on the wedding industry as a whole," said Gina Monick, a manager at upscale catering company Abigail Kirsch.

A recent New York State Senate report estimated same-sex marriages will give a $391 million boost to the state's economy over three years, a welcome development when the United States is still struggling to recover from a crippling recession.

That is no surprise to Tatiana Byron, whose luxury bridal trade show attracted a record number of visitors last week -- about 15 percent of whom were same-sex couples. For the first time, she said, the trade show put up a canopy of two brides with a rainbow, as well as one with a bride and a groom.

"Everybody was very excited because it is such a huge opportunity for vendors in the wedding space," said Byron, founder of The Wedding Salon.

BIG BUDGETS

Weddings are already big business in New York. The average budget for a Manhattan wedding is $70,730, twice the U.S. average, according to a 2010 study by The Knot magazine.

Angie Nevarez, director of weddings at caterer Creative Edge, said one in four phone calls she has received since the marriage equality law was passed has been from gay couples.

Some of the people, she said, are past clients who already had commitment ceremonies but now want official weddings.

Gay wedding planner Bernadette Coveny Smith started her business in Boston after Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage in 2004 and said New York should benefit more than other cities from marriage-related tourism.

She opened an office here in late June.

"New York is already the No. 1 destination for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) tourism," she said. "Broadway is a big draw and the New York night life. And they'll travel in with 50 guests, all of whom need hotel rooms."

New York is the largest U.S. state to allow gay marriage, joining Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and the District of Columbia.

Experts said in Boston the first wave of same-sex weddings was typically slightly older couples, who wanted to get married quickly for fear laws could change, as happened in Maine and California. Those initial weddings were smaller and it took a year or so for couples to plan bigger, more lavish weddings.

Same-sex marriages added $111 million to the Massachusetts economy in the first five years, a 2009 study by The Williams Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law estimated.

Eric Eisenberg, president at Eisenberg and Eisenberg, which sells and rents tuxedos and dinner jackets, said he had two same-sex customers this weekend who were getting married.

"I think there will be some impact," he said. "But the wild numbers that are thrown out are to me absurd. I think it will probably be less than 2 percent of our total business."

(Editing by Mark Egan and John O'Callaghan)

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