A Budding Industry: The Role of Cannabis in Tourism
The number of travelers searching for cannabis-friendly vacations is at an all time high (pun intended). Many destinations, however, are choosing not to take advantage of this trend, either out of concern for branding or due to a lack of strategic direction on how to proceed. It’s important to at least consider the opportunity – including cannabis tourism in your destination marketing has the potential not only to increase the revenue of dispensaries themselves, but also the other businesses in the surrounding area.
Is it time for your destination to hop on the pineapple express? Keep reading to learn about the different roles and impact that cannabis can have on destination marketing.
The Cana-Traveler Evolution
It’s not just for “stoners” anymore. The legalization of recreational marijuana has decreased the stigma around the drug and opened it to more habitual use by a wider audience. According to the Cannabis Travel Association, the CannaTraveler is no different than any other high-end traveler persona (foodies, dog lovers, outdoor enthusiasts etc.). Some characteristics that embody the CanaTraveler persona include skewing toward millennials or younger, with a college degree, and an average household income of $87,000. For this visitor segment, marijuana is often included in the decision making process when choosing a vacation destination.
- “Half of all millennials (50%) say that access to legal recreational cannabis is important when choosing a vacation destination.” (Harris Poll)
- More than four in ten millennials (43%) say they’ve specifically chosen a destination because cannabis was legal there.” (Harris Poll)
- “One in five (18%) American leisure travelers is interested in cannabis-related experiences on vacation” (MMGY Travel Intelligence)
- “33 percent of American travelers 21 years of age and older are interested in visiting a cannabis dispensary while traveling” (Kayak)
- “25 percent of respondents ages 21-34 have already traveled to a destination because cannabis was legal.” (Kayak)
Due to concerns about destination branding, cannabis tourism is still relatively untouched by most cities. But even areas doing minimal cannabis promotion are reaping the benefits of the availability of recreational marijuana in the form of sales tax revenue. Colorado broke records with $423 million in marijuana tax revenue in 2021, despite including minimal emphasis on 420-friendly vacations in their state marketing materials.
Travelers spend “$300 to $400 at the dispensary during their visits, about three times as much as an average transaction with locals.”
Cannabis tourism positively impacts other areas of the economy, as well. According to Beau Whitney, founder and chief economist at Whitney Economics, a leader in cannabis and hemp business consulting,
“For every $1 spent at a dispensary an additional $2.80 is added to the local economy.”
Destinations who have begun to include cannabis tourism in their marketing strategy have reported positive results. When Visit Modesto introduced the MoTown CannaPass, highlighting restaurants, dispensaries, etc. in town, they saw an 11% increase in both dispensary traffic and overnight stays to the city.
Tips for Canna-newbie Destinations
There is no need to dub yourself the next Amsterdam to implement cannabis tourism into your strategy, but there are a few things to take into account. First, consider approaching your strategy from the angle of “experiences” by offering visitors things like farm tours, events, or “cannabis trails/passports.”
To ensure you have all your bases covered, be sure it is easy for visitors to find information on ways to enjoy cannabis responsibly at your destination. This can be done by creating a dedicated web page with laws, safety tips, dispensary information etc. Take a look at Visit Oakland’s Cannabis Trails and Visit Redwoods for inspiration.
Although cannabis has become more widely accepted, there is a valid concern that the cultural stigma associated with it has not disappeared, entirely. Destinations that strategically market to families with young children, for example, may see greater pushback when featuring dispensaries in their marketing, compared to wineries.
There are different degrees to which your destination can embrace 420-friendly travelers without making other visitors uncomfortable. Be sure to promote cannabis in a way that aligns with your destination’s overall personality and visitor promise. After all, cannabis can mean different things to different people. From a messaging/creative perspective, it may be smarter to focus on cannabis availability as a component of the visitor’s overall enjoyment and wellness experience, rather than as a standalone attraction.
The cannabis tourism industry is still in its early stages and has already significantly benefited many destinations. Millennials and younger generations with reduced the stigma of marijuana are expected to make up the majority of travelers in the coming years. As a result, the industry is expected to grow/evolve, and there is an opportunity to become an early adopter and create a significant impact for your destination.