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Same-sex a boost to tourism?

SANTA FE, N.M. — Just a few days after gay marriage became legal in Santa Fe, the local tourism industry is already looking at ways to capitalize on the opportunity.

“I know Santa Fe is a very popular destination for the gay market because we are a welcoming community,” Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Bureau marketing director Cynthia Delgado said. “I think that now that we’ve taken a very official step in terms of recognizing that positiveness, I think that will drive that other opportunity.”

Right after Santa Fe County Clerk Geraldine Salazar announced Friday afternoon that she would be issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, CVB staff sent a call out to local hotels asking how the historic news could be celebrated and used to urge gay visitors to come to Santa Fe.

Delgado said she hasn’t yet heard of any new offerings being created in response to the development but said a handful of hotels responded to the CVB inquiry by promoting couples-oriented packages they’re already offering to gay tourists.

“In terms of marriage equality we’re reaching out to hotel properties to pull together honeymoon, wedding packages to really create this celebration around this amazing news,” Delgado said.

“We’ll be putting several of those packages together talking about how important this is to Santa Fe as a community and how it once again shows our full commitment to making Santa Fe a welcoming community,” she continued.

The Inn at Loretto, Bishop’s Lodge Ranch Resort and Hilton Santa Fe Historic Plaza have already signed on and at least a few more hotels, including Heritage Hotel properties Hotel St. Francis, Hotel Chimayo de Santa Fe and the Lodge at Santa Fe, are likely to join in.

Geographically, the CVB will target the “drive” market it usually focuses on, which includes other parts of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma and California.

But Delgado said the CVB will also push the city’s offerings for gay couples to the national press and place advertisements in gay publications.

Marriage equality developments have been coming fast and furious in New Mexico since Doña Ana County began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples last week. Salazar has handed out hundreds of licenses to same-sex couples since Friday, following a court order from District Court Judge Sarah Singleton. On Monday, a district court judge in Bernalillo County said that denying marriage licenses to gay couples is a violation of the state constitution’s equal-rights protection and six New Mexico counties are now issuing, or will soon issue, marriage licenses to gay couples.

As of Wednesday evening, Salazar didn’t have licenses broken down by in-state/out-of-state, but said at least some couples have been from Texas.

“There have been people from out-of-state,” she said.

Santa Fe has long been a popular destination for gay visitors and CVB and private marketing efforts have, over at least the past couple years, reflected that. The CVB website, for instance, offers a plethora of information aimed toward gay travelers. And Travel and Leisure magazine this year named Santa Fe the fourth best American destination for gay travelers.

Verdell Ekberg, vice president of marketing at Bishop’s Lodge, said the Santa Fe resort has offered its couples packages to gays for some time, including a deal centered around a commitment ceremony.

But with the latest local developments, Bishop’s Lodge is now revamping some of its deals to include more customized features for gay couples, such as a planner who deals primarily with same-sex weddings.

Ekberg said he thinks marriage equality in Santa Fe will provide some good tourism opportunities, although he added that gay travelers have always been a strong market.

“I think it’s great for the state, for the counties that have this, Albuquerque and Santa Fe, to be able to offer people that opportunity,” Ekberg said.

Inn at Loretto is offering a new couples package with wedding planning company The Art of Celebration. The deal includes accommodations, a couples massage, chocolate-dipped strawberries, flowers, decorations and attire.

“We have been doing gay weddings here for a long time,” marketing director Dana Ortega said, referring to commitment ceremonies.

Journal staff writers Kathaleen Roberts and Dan Boyd contributed to this story.