You’ve just touched down in California for a business trip. You step off the bridge at Palm Springs International Airport expecting to see views of mountains and golf courses. But, before you even get a chance to take a deep breath of warm air, something catches your eye. It’s an ad for a cannabis dispensary—and next to it, there’s more of them lining the wall.
With its population of 45,000, Palm Springs has almost 30 dispensaries, each eager to attract the 1.6 million tourists who travel to the desert oasis every year. And many of these tourists go there exclusively to partake in the legal cannabis market. This is a snapshot of what’s becoming a widespread phenomenon: cannabis tourism.
Cannabis tourism: The growth of a new sector
Gone are the days where Amsterdam was the only tourist hub for the cannabis aficionado.
A number of regions across North America have launched legal recreational markets—including 11 U.S. states, Washington D.C., and the whole of Canada. Europe is also starting to follow suit; Luxembourg is going to be the first European country to legalize adult-use cannabis. These markets have opened up a whole new economic landscape that includes opportunities for B2B partnerships, an active merger and acquisition space, and a wealth of avenues for investors looking to participate in the industry.
But beyond that, these emerging markets are also providing a sizeable contribution to local tourism industries. Colorado, for instance, has experienced a 51% increase in cannabis tourists since legalizing adult-use in 2014. In fact, in 2016, more than 6.5 million tourists came to the state explicitly to purchase and consume cannabis. Putting that in perspective, almost 8% of all tourists that visited Colorado that year went there exclusively for cannabis.
This trend is one we’re seeing across North America, especially in regions that were known for their robust cannabis culture pre-legalization—think California in the U.S., for instance, and British Columbia in Canada. And while there is a clear opportunity for local communities to capitalize on this interest, it’s really the cannabis retailers—and in turn, their investors—that stand to benefit most from cannabis tourists.
Beyond the traditional tourist—and cannabis—experience
Like any traveller, the cannabis tourist is looking for an experience. And across North America, businesses are stepping up to deliver exactly that.
Much like the winery tours in California’s Napa Valley, there are companies that take visitors to dispensaries, grow facilities, and other marijuana-related businesses, giving them a taste of what the industry has to offer. British Columbia, for example, is home to Canna Tours, which has operated since 2015. In addition to offering dispensary tours and limo rides, they pick up consumers from the airport, drive them directly to an “elite” dispensary, and point them in the direction of cannabis-friendly accomodations.
The fine dining space is also looking to attract cannabis consumers with specialized dining experiences. Masterchef Canada contestant Travis Petersen, for instance, has been taking his cannabis-infused dining series across the country. And in Los Angeles, chef Andrea Drummer has become renowned for delivering private cannabis dining experiences.
Other attractions that are focused on delivering cannabis tourism experiences include canna-history walking tours, ‘puff-and-paint’ sessions, and cooking classes. In a similar vein, big events like the High Times Cannabis Cup, which has iterations across the United States, or the Lift & Co. Cannabis Expo, Canada’s largest cannabis trade show, are drawing in visitors from all over the world.
Meeting the needs of a new type of tourist
Where local regulations allow for it, dispensaries have become destinations in their own right. Some feature cafés, others upscale lounges, dab bars, or private rooms for parties. In other instances, cannabis brands have been sponsoring events like comedy nights or music festivals. Seeing the potential here, municipalities in Nevada are working on a plan for legislated cannabis lounges where tourists can legally consume the products they bought from a local retailer. For a city like Las Vegas, which already sees millions of tourists every month, there’s enormous potential for revenue growth across the industry.
Meanwhile, dispensaries that operate within more stringent legal parameters (e.g. British Columbia, where retailers can’t sell snacks or any other items that are not related to cannabis) are being creative with how they position their brand. They’re designing their stores to attract both local and visiting consumers.
Regardless of the approach they take in selling their product, retailers that address the needs of all their potential consumers—regulars and tourists alike—by providing appealing and dynamic retail experiences are bound to benefit from the growth of the cannabis tourism sector. And investors who have partnered with retailers who have an eye on the tourism space stand to see payoffs from their portfolio.
Cannabis tourism is on its way to becoming a big industry. Everyone stands to benefit: savvy retailers gain the traffic boost from adventurous travellers; investors reap the rewards that come with retail expansion and success; and the cannabis connoisseur wins the opportunity to encounter a different high, in a different city, on the other side of the world. Our bags are packed.
Interested in learning more about Eden or getting in on the ground floor in the cannabis space? Check out our investor page.
Photo credits: Travelerpix / Shutterstock, Wesley Gibbs / Unsplash