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N.H. innkeepers hoping to cash in on civil unions.

On Jan. 1, 2008, New Hampshire becomes the fourth state in the nation to legally recognize civil unions between same-sex couples, and a growing number of hospitality establishments are already taking steps toward becoming a destination of choice for those looking for the perfect spot to celebrate their big day.

There's apparently plenty of incentive to do so: Forbes magazine estimates legalized unions among same-sex couples could boost the $70 billion wedding industry by close to $17 billion a year.

According to Cindy Sproul, spokesperson for the Rainbow Wedding Network, a comprehensive online gay and lesbian wedding market resource, it's not unusual for same-sex couples to spend between $25,000 and $30,000 for nuptials when their union is legalized in their home state--a significant increase from the $10,000 to $15,000 spent on commitment ceremonies in states where their union is not recognized.

"We've seen a really big spike in the money spent in states like Massachusetts," Sproul said. "There's a sense of legitimacy."

Other estimates are more conservative, but nonetheless present the possibility of a financial boon related to civil union ceremonies. For example, a study conducted in October 2006 through the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at the UCLA School of Law saw an immediate economic infusion $10.3 million in New Hampshire once the state legalized civil unions. And that figure was based solely on the estimated number of ceremonies conducted by in-state couples.

A matter of marketing

Although a number of Granite State establishments have welcomed same-sex couples in the past, many more are now beginning to recognize the importance of offering gay- and lesbian-friendly services with hopes of sharing in the growing market.

Currently, 76 lodging establishments and conference centers listed on the Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce lodging site "welcome gay and lesbian travelers."

The Notchland Inn has been welcoming both straight and same-sex couples to the heart of the White Mountains since Ed Butler and his partner Les Schoof purchased it 14 years ago.

And while Butler, a justice of the peace, has been performing traditional wedding ceremonies at the Hart's Location inn for many years, the two are looking forward to hosting the inn's first civil union celebration, scheduled for 12:01 a.m. on Jan 1.

"This may be the first at our inn, but I think there will be a number of ceremonies taking place at that time throughout the state," said Butler.

Butler and Schoof will share in their own civil union celebration in the spring, in recognition of their 30th anniversary.

Management at The Colby Hill Inn in Henniker will not only welcome civil union celebrations, they are currently entertaining ways to encourage same-sex couples to choose the Henniker venue as the locale for their special day.

"We were anxious for the legislation to be passed and anxious for the business," said Cyndi Cobb, innkeeper at the inn, which hosts close to 25 weddings each year. "We want to take a proactive role in letting folks know we welcome same-sex unions, just as we do traditional weddings. We know through our associates in the industry that Vermont did very well when civil unions were legalized"

The Highlands Inn, a lesbian-only resort in Bethlehem that has already hosted nearly 300 civil union ceremonies for Vermont couples, has at least one booking for the new year but predicts they will receive more in upcoming months.

"My assumption is we will get more reservations as we get closer to January and as people begin to understand the process," said Grace Newman, who has owned the inn for nearly 25 years.

Michelle Brown, director of marketing for the Inns and Spa at Mill Falls in Meredith said it too is considering ways to generate interest in civil union celebrations at the facilities.

"We haven't had any inquiries yet, but we have been thinking of advertising" Brown said. "We're considering Rainbow Wedding Network and are looking into becoming TAG (Travels Alternative Group) approved."

Such a proactive approach is essential, said Jeff Connor, owner of Grunberg Haus in Waterbury, Vt., and president of the Vermont Gay and Lesbian Tourism Association.

"Businesses need to get started now. Couples are more likely to lean toward places they perceive as being gay--or lesbian-friendly," said Connor. "People will be competing for the tourism dollar and they need to plan in advance just like in any other marketing niche."
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Author:Stone, Tracie
Publication:New Hampshire Business Review
Geographic Code:1U1NH
Date:Aug 31, 2007
Words:737
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