Bermuda same-sex marriage ban means trouble for tourism and cruise ships

Carnival Dream Cruise Ship. Carnival photo.

(AP) Bermuda hosted 693,000 tourists in 2017, and these visitors spent $431 million. The same-sex marriage ban will force many couples to rethink their travel plans. Bermuda's cruise ship economy grew last year. Bermuda received 161 cruise ship calls, bringing 416,049 passengers, an increase of 4.6 percent, and the government was forecasting more growth this year based on the 2017 numbers.

"Bermuda will have a backlash," Justin Nelson, the president and co-founder of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, wrote in an email. "Countries and travels brands know that LGBT inclusive tourism is big business — and Bermuda is going to suffer painful economic losses because of its decision to turn back the clock on same-sex marriages."

The decision has put Bermuda tourism and some major cruise lines in a difficult spot. Carnival subsidiaries Cunard and P&O Cruises are both registered in Bermuda. Regardless of where the ships are in the world, they will no longer be allowed to host same-sex marriages. Princess Cruises, also part of Carnival, has ships registered in Bermuda as well. In August, the three Carnival cruise lines said they had started taking bookings for same-sex marriages at sea.

Nelson says more than 80 percent of the American LGBT population has passports, compared to about 40 percent for the rest of the population. He estimates the economic impact of LGBT travel worldwide at more than $100 billion. "Our communities make conscientious decisions based upon who has demonstrated policies that have our backs," Nelson wrote.

The cruise lines are not the only companies caught in the middle of the issue.

Bacardi, the largest privately held spirits company in the world, is based in Bermuda. "We have long called Bermuda home and have the highest regard for its people and respect for the democratic process," it said in a statement issued to CNBC on Feb. 13. "As a global business, however, we pride ourselves on being inclusive and support policies of equality. At Bacardi, we believe our purpose is to bring all people together in celebration."

The Bermuda Tourism Authority wrote a letter to the Senate in December urging the lawmakers not to pass the repeal. "Same-sex marriage is already the law of our island and to roll that back for what will be seen as a less equal union will cause us serious reputational damage," the letter reads. "It's not only LGBT travelers that care about equal rights based on sexual orientation. Our research indicates many companies, consumers and travelers, including the overwhelming majority of the younger visitors powering Bermuda's growth, care about this issue."

It estimated that the LGBT community spends $165 billion worldwide.

The Gayly. February 15, 2018. 10:40 a.m. CST.