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Originally published February 4, 2012 at 8:04 PM | Page modified February 7, 2012 at 7:02 PM

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Same-sex marriage could boost wedding business a bit

Legalizing same-sex marriage could generate $88 million in additional wedding and tourism spending in Washington, a study finds.

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Legalizing same-sex marriage would generate as much as $88 million in additional wedding and tourism spending in Washington, according to a study by UCLA Law School's Williams Institute.

The institute, which studies issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity, based its estimate on census data, economic-impact figures and the experiences of other states that have legalized same-sex marriage, most notably Massachusetts.

The same-sex marriage bill passed Wednesday by the state Senate is expected to win House approval within days and be signed quickly by Gov. Chris Gregoire, though opponents hope to challenge it in a statewide referendum in the fall.

According to the 2010 Census, there are just over 19,000 same-sex couples in Washington. Assuming half of them choose to marry within three years of legalization — the rate in Massachusetts after same-sex marriage became law there in 2004 — that would mean about 9,500 marriages that otherwise wouldn't take place.

(Washington now has about 40,000 marriages a year, according to federal data.)

Weddings are big business, as anyone who's paid for one lately knows all too well: The average spent on a wedding in Washington was $25,414 in 2010, according to industry-research website theweddingreport.com.

Even if, as the institute estimates, same-sex couples spend only a quarter as much on their Big Day as heterosexual couples, that's still more than $6,350 per wedding.

Do the math and it works out to $60.4 million in direct spending over three years.

But few couples get married by themselves. A Massachusetts study found that same-sex couples had an average 16 out-of-town guests at their ceremonies.

Assuming that holds true here, that means more than 152,000 extra visitors.

A state Commerce Department study last year found that visitors to our fair state spend an average $185 per day on transportation, lodging, food and Pike Place Market tchotchkes. So add another $28.1 million, for a total impact of $88.5 million.

The institute notes that this estimate doesn't consider any gains from out-of-state couples who might travel here to get married, and it assumes that wedding expenses would come from couples' savings (or credit cards) rather than being diverted from other spending.

Also, more than 7,500 same-sex couples already have registered as domestic partners in Washington; those folks may simply convert their partnerships into marriages and forgo the flowers, prime rib and '80s cover band.

Dropping them leaves a low-end estimate of just under 2,000 full-blown ceremonies, and cuts the total impact to $18.5 million.

Either way, based on Massachusetts' experience, most of the impact would be felt quickly: The study estimates that nearly two-thirds of the three-year total of weddings would occur in the first year after legalization.

All that, of course, would be a boon to florists, caterers and the rest of the wedding-industrial complex — not to mention the state and local governments, which would share close to $8 million (in the high-end scenario) in additional sales taxes and hotel/motel taxes.

In terms of the overall state economy, however, the impact would be tiny.

More than $100 billion in taxable sales occur in Washington each year, and last year the state alone collected $7.2 billion in sales and use taxes.

— Drew DeSilver, ddesilver@seattletimes.com

Starbucks, Amazon

finally try India

Starbucks and Amazon last week both announced plans to enter India — barely a month after the world's second most populous country shelved a much-anticipated plan to liberalize its rules for foreign merchants.

That politically driven reversal fit a discouraging pattern for many Indian observers.

"With the country mired in corruption, bureaucratic red tape, and unclear and changing government policies, many of the men who made their billions here are saying maybe it's time to quit India," The Times of India reported in a year-end interview of one leading industrialist.

The paper wrote that while in 2008 foreign companies poured twice as much direct investment into India as Indian companies invested abroad, by 2010 that flow had flipped.

So why are Starbucks and Amazon moving in now?

"The risk is very low and the opportunity is very high," says Suresh Kotha, who teaches management at University of Washington's Foster School of Business and has studied both companies' global efforts.

For a market comprising 1.2 billion people, the long-term promise outweighs the immediate challenges, he says. And both companies have found ways to work around the restrictions and barriers that India presents to outsiders.

Amazon's India venture, called Junglee, is using "a very different model from the U.S.," says Kotha. It's essentially a web portal connecting to local brick-and-mortar retailers, who will take payment when customers pick up their orders at the store.

That approach circumvents the law India didn't reform, which says "you can't have a foreign retailer selling a wide variety of brands," as Amazon and most American merchants do at home.

Starbucks, meanwhile, has allied with one of India's most powerful conglomerates, Tata, which does everything from making cars and steel to selling life insurance and tea.

"Tata's tentacles are all over the Indian economy," Kotha says. "From the operational perspective, they couldn't have found a better partner."

Both companies certainly took their time getting into India, though it's been ballyhooed for a decade as one of the four BRIC nations — Brazil, Russia, India and China — that held promise for rapid growth.

Starbucks entered China in 1998, Brazil in 2006 and Russia in 2007. Amazon bought Chinese web retailer Joyo in 2004 and now reportedly offers same-day delivery of online purchases in 17 cities.

Amazon started looking at India as far back as 2004, says Kotha. But until recently computer users were too few. Now, "their timing is right," he says. "The number of people online is exploding."

The Junglee portal will keep Amazon in the game against local online retailers while the attitudes of India's growing middle class evolve.

"People are still very hesitant to do online purchasing. (Even) mail order is not as popular as in the U.S.," Kotha says. And credit cards aren't widespread. "It's a cash culture."

Eventually, he predicts, the restrictions on foreign retailers selling multiple brands will be relaxed, and Amazon will be ready to seize the opportunity with an established website.

He likewise expects Starbucks to do well in India, as have American restaurant brands such as McDonald's and Pizza Hut.

Its customers will be the young, well-educated urbanites working at IT outsourcing companies and out-earning their parents.

"Those are the people that have the spending power," Kotha says.

Comments? Send them

to Rami Grunbaum:

rgrunbaum@seattletimes.com

or 206-464-8541.

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