Just as there’s a whole tourism niche for oenophiles who have their hearts set on experiencing premier wine-producing regions, learning about their process and sampling their products, it seems the industry seeing the rise of a similar special-interest segment that caters to cannabis consumers.
Over the past couple of decades, attitudes towards marijuana have evolved, with the herb gaining legitimacy in the public eye as a prescribed treatment for various medical conditions (it’s difficult to demonize the substance that septuagenarian grandmas smoke daily).
From there, responsible recreational use of cannabis by adults has become less and less stigmatized, while state governments have begun to realize they’re sitting on an untapped resource in terms of tax revenue.
While it’s still technically illegal at the federal level, individual U.S. states are increasingly decriminalizing the sale and use of weed, with medical marijuana now being permitted in over 35 states, and 18 states have also legalized recreational marijuana and are steadily reaping the rewards. It’s even looking like several more states might do the same by the end of the year.
With legality and regulations varying vastly across state lines, sometimes even from city to city, it only makes sense that Americans would be willing to travel for cannabis-based experiences. A niche tourism market was bound to arise, and it’s already becoming too big to be ignored by the broader travel and hospitality sector for long. Forbes reported that cannabis tourism in the U.S. is already a $17 billion industry and could make a massive contribution to the country’s $1.2 trillion overall tourism economy.
The budding cannabis tourism industry sees plenty of travelers planning trips to those destinations that offer more than just the end product or novel dispensaries. As with tourists who head for wine-growing regions—where there are vineyard tours, wine education, tasting rooms and even whole resorts set within wineries—a significant number of vacationers are heading to ganja-growing meccas to get the whole experience.
With its Mediterranean climate and fertile soil, California has already been informally labeled “America’s bud basket”, with cannabis being one among many of the crops supported by the state’s agricultural areas. Modesto is among the Golden State destinations that have embraced the growing tourism trend, welcoming over-21 visitors, from “canna-seurs” to the “canna-curious”, to partake of herb-influenced offerings throughout the city.
The Modesto Convention and Visitors Bureau, Visit Modesto, even launched a pot-specific tourism strategy last year with the MoTown CannaPass, a consumer rewards program that helps to guide visitors towards the community offerings that best fit their style, from area activities to restaurants, retailers and local canna-products.
“We wanted the opportunity to say, ‘Hey, if cannabis is your thing, and you’re here, we have retail shops that are legal,’” Todd Aaronson, CEO of Visit Modesto, told Forbes. “And, we have experiences that you can enjoy no differently than if you went to a brewpub or wine bar. They’re all equally regulated. You should have a designated driver for each. Every visitor is welcome. Leave your money here.”
Last month, the results of the European Cannabis Market Survey, conducted by the Bloomwell Group, revealed that 65 percent of Americans would be willing to travel to a city, or even another country, to experience its licensed cannabis market.
A recent report from the Cannabis Travel Association International (CTAI) also indicated that the demographics of modern-day marijuana users look a lot different than the stereotypical stoner persona that typically springs to mind. The research shows that today’s pot smokers are just as likely to be female as male, are mostly Millennials or younger (63 percent), largely have college degrees (59 percent), a job (82 percent) and live in households with an average income of $87,000.
“By 2025, 50 percent of travelers in the U.S. are going to be Millennials,” said CTAI founder Brian Applegarth. “And, their relationship to cannabis consumption is extremely normalized compared to the stigmatized industry leaders of today.”
While it remains to be seen what degree of impact cannabis-focused tourism will have on the wider travel industry, it seems that demand for marijuana-friendly tourism and hospitality offerings is more far-reaching than the sector might previously have imagined. So, companies and destination marketing organizations might want to start thinking about how to capitalize on a trend that’s set to keep on growing.