Same-sex marriage welcomed by Strip resorts, tourism officials

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At the Aria’s wedding chapel, spouses-to-be can choose from two lounges in which to prepare themselves for the big ceremony: one for grooms and another for brides.

Their layouts evoke traditional gender expectations, with the guys getting a pool table and the larger bride’s lounge boasting plenty of mirrors.

Now that same-sex marriage is legal in Nevada, the lounge layout might give pause in how to separate the spouses. But Colleen Kestel-Raidmae, the chapel’s director, has had some experience with this — her chapel has been offering same-sex commitment ceremonies since it opened last year.

“We leave it up to the couple,” she said about which partner gets which room. “Whichever one prefers to play pool over having a larger mirror, we let them decide that among themselves. Sometimes — and this goes for all wedding couples — they’ll choose to both be in the larger room because they’re okay with seeing each other before the wedding.”

A federal appellate court ruling allowing same-sex marriages in Nevada is ushering in some changes at the Aria chapel, however. Kestel-Raidmae said she’s trying to organize chapels across MGM Resorts International’s properties on the Strip to receive training from the Gay Wedding Institute to help them better cater to same-sex customers.

In the meantime, the Aria chapel is introducing same-sex wedding promotions, making paperwork gender neutral and including photos of same-sex couples on marketing materials.

“It’s actually a fairly extensive process to make all of the changes,” Kestel-Raidmae said. “But I think everyone’s very excited. It’s something that Nevada should have done years ago.”

Since Nevada’s ban on same-sex unions was lifted last week, about one in 10 calls about reserving the Aria chapel has been from same-sex couples, Kestel-Raidmae said. To attract more, the Aria chapel is offering 20 percent off any wedding package and 10 percent off food and beverage packages to same-sex couples who book before the end of the year.

One package that includes a limo from the marriage license bureau to the hotel, 90 minutes of chapel time, the officiant, live Internet broadcasting of the ceremony and one night’s stay, regularly goes for $3,300 on a Saturday.

Similarly, Caesars Entertainment announced that same-sex couples can receive 15 percent off wedding ceremonies or vow renewals at any of its chapels through March 1. MGM and Caesars hosted same-sex weddings on Saturday, at Mandalay Bay and the Flamingo, respectively.

The embrace of legal same-sex marriage by these and other casino-resorts in Las Vegas fits into the industry’s generally strong track record of support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.

Caesars, MGM, Wynn Resorts and the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas — companies which, taken together, account for most of the Strip resorts — have all scored 100 percent on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index. It is based on a survey that companies complete measuring their policies and practices relevant to LGBT employees.

Additionally, when the Nevada Senate considered a constitutional amendment last year to legalize same-sex unions, representatives from Caesars and MGM spoke in support.

What’s in it for them? Aside from cashing in on a chunk of the millions of dollars that same-sex marriage will bring to Nevada, they see it as a way to improve their relationships with customers.

Gwen Migita, vice president of sustainability and corporate citizenship for Caesars, said legalizing same-sex marriage makes a “significant difference” to guests and employees by making their Las Vegas experiences more “whole and fair.”

Phyllis James, executive vice president and chief diversity officer at MGM, said her company tries to create a welcoming atmosphere for LGBT guests.

“There’s a distinct difference in an environment that treats you on an equal footing with other customers who are not like you, and having a staff that is going to be comfortable and respectful in the way they interact with you, having a comfortable environment to walk around in which people are not … acting like you’re strange because you’re a same-sex couple and you’re walking down the hall holding hands,” she said.

Las Vegas regularly ranks among the top LGBT travel destinations as surveyed by Community Marketing Inc. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority has been marketing to the LGBT demographic for years, famously this year with a commercial called “The Check In.”

As a whole, the Las Vegas tourism market may have even better luck attracting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender tourists as same-sex marriages become legal in every state, said Mya Reyes, president of the Las Vegas Gay Visitors Bureau.

Until then, some couples will face the prospect of not having their marriage recognized when they return home.

“Once same-sex marriage is legalized nationally, that will change the entire scenario,” Reyes said. Still, she stressed that when it comes to the current ruling, “Undoubtedly, it will have a positive effect. I’m certain of that.”

Like the resorts, Reyes’ company is wasting no time trying to attract same-sex wedding tourism. The gay visitors bureau is revamping its website to accommodate wedding services, she said, and it’s encouraging guests to tie the knot when they come for Evolve Vegas NYE, a gay New Year’s event produced by the bureau.

SOURCE: VegasInc.com

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