Cannabis & Tourism: Travelling on a high

Marijuana, ganja, reefers, spliffs. Whatever your word of choice for cannabis, expect to see them appearing in more and more travel guides and reviews. In recent years, several countries — or destinations within countries — have become more chilled out over the consumption of cannabis, slowly relaxing regulations.

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Canada is the latest country to legalise cannabis consumption in October 2018 (Image: Shutterstock)

As consumer interests and legal regulations change, the agile Travel & Tourism sector adapts quickly to develop products and services to serve new niche markets. And so new ‘cannabis tourism’ markets have been quick to spring up in response. And where grass is growing, tourism businesses — and governments — are making serious hay.

While coffee shops across the Netherlands have been satisfying visitors’ weed needs for 50 years, cannabis is now decriminalised for recreational purposes, at least in part, in nearly 40 countries. It can now be legally consumed in five countries (although Georgia and South Africa allow possession and consumption but outlaw sales). Canada is the most recent country to change its laws, making it legal for adults over 18 to possess, share, buy and grow cannabis since October 2018.

The global consumer demand for cannabis is enormous — marijuana is the most widely cultivated, trafficked and abused illicit drug in the world, according to the World Health Organization. However, in addition to being able to safeguard and regulate supply, the appeal of legalisation for governments is firmly a financial one. This source of additional tax revenue is significant, with rates ranging from around 10% to as much as 37% in the US state of Washington. And cannabis tourism is drawing millions of dollars to places where it is legal.

The view of cannabis consumption as a deviant leisure activity has gone to pot in a growing number of places. Ten US states have legalised recreational marijuana and legal market sales are expected to surpass $22 billion by 2020. In the state of Colorado, where recreational cannabis became legal for adults over 21 in 2012, retail sales have been allowed since January 2014. Sales are on a real high. Between January and October 2018, revenues of $223 million have already been collected - an increase of 230% since 2014. Across the border to the north, Deloitte estimates that Canada’s new industry is forecast to generate up to CAD$7.17bn in sales in 2019.

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Coffee Shop, Old Amsterdam (Image: Shutterstock)

Although demand for marijuana is broadly supported by local populations, much of the revenue is coming from tourists. Drug consumption may not be the main travel motivation, but tourists are eager to experience a stay in a ‘bud and breakfast’, have a true ‘Rocky Mountain high’, or attend a pot festival like Denver 420. In Amsterdam, according to city hall figures, 25-30% of tourists in the city visit a coffee shop, less for the coffee than for the opportunity to smoke marijuana legally.

As entrepreneurs open up their coffee shops, reefer cafes, marijuana-friendly hotels, gardening and growing classes at pot farms, weed-themed cooking classes, and many other activities across parts of the world, tourism momentum grows and the money pours in. Investors and other destinations are taking serious note as public opinion softens on legalisation and recognition of the economic impacts elsewhere become clearer.

Today, many countries over the world are curious about cannabis. Establishing joint opportunities with Travel & Tourism will help the markets and destinations to thrive.

If you’re interested in getting further into the weeds, the World Travel & Tourism Council is hosting an online webinar “Travelling high — current and future market trends for cannabis tourism” later this week where we’ll deep-dive into this niche area of the industry looking at California as a case study with speakers from Colorado State University, Visit California and INGLE-MSH International. Register your spot here.

This post was written by Rochelle Turner, Research Director, World Travel & Tourism Council.

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