Australia is tipped to develop a same-sex Asian wedding tourism industry once marriage equality laws are passed, according to global marketing consultancy Out Now.
Australia’s proximity to Asia, coupled with the fact that other destinations for same-sex weddings in the region are limited to Taiwan, Vietnam and New Zealand, could make it an attractive option.
“Out Now is certain that Australia’s tourism industry can expect to reap large and growing financial benefits thanks to the introduction of marriage equality in Australia,” Out Now CEO Ian Johnson said.
“Out Now is also tracking Asia as an increasing source for inbound travellers to Australia. There is a growing middle-class and LGBT people are becoming increasingly open and visible in a number of Asian countries.”
The LGBT travel market is worth $211 billion globally, according to Out Now’s LGBT 2030 report, which is the largest of its kind.
“The data shows what a large impact the local situation faced by local gays and lesbians has when LGBT people consider where to visit for vacation travel, including honeymoon vacations,” Mr Johnson said.
In 2013, New Zealand became the first Asia-Pacific nation to legalise same-sex marriage. It has benefitted financially from Australia’s delay in doing so, with 1665 overseas couples tying the knot there to date.
According to government statistics for 2016, 30 per cent of overseas same-sex couples were from Asia.
Of the 30 marriages involving same-sex couples from Asia last year, 17 were from China.
Australian celebrant Stephen Lee said he is yet to be approached by same-sex Asian couples, but expects the situation to change once the laws are passed.
“The market for destination weddings from same-sex Asian couples is in its infancy, but I can see Australia becoming a popular choice. With Asia’s proximity to Australia, it makes sense that it’s a market which can only grow.”
Mandi Forrestor-Jones runs the destination wedding company Viva Destinations and said most of her business has focused on New Zealand and Hawaii.
“People come to me because they want a legal wedding and until now, there hasn’t been anything to sell them in Australia. I would love to get that inbound business,” Ms Forrestor-Jones said.
Mario Paez, president of Gay and Lesbian Tourism Australia and managing director of LGBTI travel company Planet Dwellers, said he believed the biggest area for growth lies with younger members of Asia’s LGBTIQ community.
“In Shanghai for example, the gay community is underground and the older generation hasn’t been convinced to join the pride movement,” Mr Paez said.
“There are almost two gay communities, with the older ones keeping to themselves. It’s the younger ones who will come out to Australia for their weddings and honeymoons.”
American citizen and Indonesian expat Nhat Nguyen, 39, said he had previously considered a wedding in Taiwan, but is now reconsidering his options.
“Once Australia actually legalises same-sex marriage, I’d definitely take it into consideration. The Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge are quite iconic and would be attractive for a wedding backdrop,” he said.
Doan Kim Thu, 31, a creative manager in Vietnam, said it was not so much the cost of a wedding in Australia that puts him off, but the logistics.
“As a south-east Asian, it might be a bit tricky for me to get to Australia. I was thinking more about Taiwan, where it’s also legal and easier to get a visa.”
‘Industry not ready’
However, reaching this population may not be an easy task, due to the stigma surrounding same-sex relationships in many parts of Asia.
“Being openly gay remains taboo in many Asian countries, so any marketing campaigns would need to overcome those prejudices and problems. Businesses would need to be sensitive in their approach,” celebrant Mr Lee said.
Mr Paez agreed, saying: “Like with any major social change, the industry probably isn’t ready for it. We can’t do everything the same way we do now and hope that it works for a whole new market segment.”
The founder of same-sex wedding guide Mr Theodore, Alexander Ross, said he is keen to start marketing his services.
“I think it will be businesses like mine who will reach out to the same-sex market in Asia and who will say, ‘Come to Australia because we will accept you’. I don’t think the Asian planners and platforms will promote it.”
A spokesperson from the Sri Lankan-based Wedding Show said there are no plans to cater for same-sex couples, while a spokesperson from the Sydney Chinese/Asian Wedding Expo declined to comment.