As Gay Australians Hear Wedding Bells, Vendors See Dollar Signs
Posted January 12, 2018 3:22 p.m. EST
SYDNEY — At one of the first legal same-sex weddings held this week in Australia, two men pledged their lives to each other in front of a roomful of friends, relatives — and wedding vendors.
As the couple recited their vows Thursday in front of Sydney’s Harbour Bridge, a team of photographers and videographers captured the moment. When one groom serenaded the other, a band played “Isn’t ‘He’ Lovely.”
In total, more than 20 suppliers — including caterers, florists and planners — donated 40,000 Australian dollars, about $31,470, in services to throw the men, Michael Petchell, 28, and Benjamin Gresham, 29, a wedding just two days after the first same-sex marriages were authorized.
Since Parliament approved same-sex marriage in December, analysts have predicted the expected increase in unions will create a 10 percent boom in wedding industry revenues.
“The industry itself is just excited,” said Wendy McColl, who organized a contest for a free gay wedding, which the newlyweds won. Vendors, she said, are “excited for the gay community. It’s a great change for Australia as a whole.”
Legalization came last month after more than a decade of failed attempts, prompting many vendors to suddenly shift marketing and buying strategies to adapt to the new era. In other words, “bridal party” is out, and “wedding party” is in. In a country where the marriage rate has been gradually declining, vendors are looking forward to a small boost.
Tony Richens, who runs the gay news website Eikon, said businesses “can see value down the track.”
A report published last September by Cherelle Murphy, a senior economist at Australia and New Zealand Banking Group, forecast that if only half the 46,800 same-sex couples in Australia married, it would provide a 650 million Australian dollar boost to the economy in 12 months.
Other projected benefits include spending from tourists looking to take advantage of the new law, increased consumer confidence, and business from Australian couples who would have otherwise married overseas.
In 2016, a quarter of gay couples who married in New Zealand, where same-sex marriage has been legal since 2013, were Australians.
Hayley Fisher, a senior lecturer at the University of Sydney, said pent-up demand will result in a “pop of weddings” over the next few years. But while it was too early to tell, Fisher cautioned that the long-term economic effects are likely to be modest.
“There is going to be a whole new market, but there will be a stabilization,” she said.
Many suppliers in the wedding industry have proactively begun changing their marketing strategies. Some, like Katsu Nojiri, who photographed Thursday’s wedding, are experimenting for the first time with Google ads.
Others, like Raphael Kahn, managing director of Zest, which hosts 120 weddings annually at two venues, have begun advertising in same-sex friendly wedding directories.
“It definitely is good for the industry and we certainly want to be there when it all happens,” Kahn said.
Business listing sites supportive of same-sex marriages say they have seen a burst of suppliers wanting to be included. Alexander Ross, founder of the wedding guide Mr. Theodore, estimated a 200 percent increase in inquiries for listing requests since November.
“Australia’s not going to see weddings the way we’ve seen weddings in the past,” Ross said. “That traditional structure is evolving.”
Those changes are affecting all aspects of the industry. Cake designers are designing new styles of wedding cakes. Celebrants are overhauling their material to adapt to the new definition of marriage.
Some smaller players who have long served same-sex couples, however, now wonder if they will be overtaken by bigger players.
“I’ve been doing this for the last two years at least, and I’m gay and I have a partner,” Nojiri, the wedding photographer, said, adding that big studios are now pursuing his usual clients.
Other vendors said they had not yet seen an effect of the new legislation.
“I’d love to say yes, it’s been a boom, but I haven’t seen a boom yet,” said Dave Cowling, a videographer.
Sophie Noble, a spokeswoman for the Grand Pacific Group, which manages five popular Sydney wedding venues, said they saw a surge in bookings from both same-sex and heterosexual couples compared to this time last year. Before the law passed last year, Petchell and Gresham considered going to New Zealand to get married, despite the financial strain.
“We didn’t really have any idea of what was involved in a wedding,” Gresham said. “It’s given us something we couldn’t have afforded otherwise,” he said of legalization.
And it has been a boon for his social life, too.
“We’ve been invited to four weddings already this year,” he said.