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Visit Tampa Bay plans target LGBT tourists as gay marriage legalization nears

To have and to hold and to hitch it up in the Sunshine State: That's the honeymoon-swoon allure of a new Visit Tampa Bay ad campaign created in anticipation of Florida soon eradicating a ban on same-sex marriage.

Earlier this week, a federal appeals court ruled that a stay in the state's ban on same-sex nuptials will be lifted Jan. 5 because of the ban's unconstitutionality.

If that holds up, Visit Tampa Bay, Hillsborough County's nonprofit tourism branch, would "almost immediately" court betrothed-minded LGBT folks with its glossy new "To Have and To Hold" blitz. There will be matrimonial-specific print ads in the Northeast, the Middle Atlantic, Ohio and Texas; digital ads in Chicago and Dallas; and, a microsite listing local events, hotels and services.

"We've had this campaign ready for a while," Santiago Corrada, president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay, said on the phone from Chile, where he was trumpeting the joys of the bay area to South American executives.

Corrada said his team commenced work on the "progressive" campaign after the city of Tampa created a domestic partnership registry in 2012, and then Hillsborough County followed suit this year. This is Visit Tampa Bay's second ad outreach aimed at enticing the gay community into vacationing here.

This ad campaign — its subtitle is "Our Treasures Are Yours" — adds yet another selling point for the gay community to drop vacation dollars in Tampa Bay. Not only is St. Pete Pride — scheduled for June 26 to 28 — one of the biggest LGBT celebrations in the eastern United States, with more than 100,000 revelers last year, but now Tampa will fire up the party machine March 28 at Pride Parade & Festival in Ybor City.

If the ban is lifted Jan. 5, the economic impact is expected to be significant. After same-sex marriages were allowed in New York City, the Big Apple issued 8,200 gay marriage licenses — and generated $259 million in gay marriage-related spending.

Something similar could be felt here. According to a University of California at Los Angeles study promoted by Equality Florida, a political advocacy group, the numbers are impressive. Solely based on LGBT Floridians getting married in Florida, some $182.2 million could be spent, with $117 million of that in the first year alone. That doesn't even include visitors from out of state. The study also said "up to 2,626 jobs would be created" to keep up with so many people tying the knot.

Contact Sean Daly at Follow @seandalypoplife.