Although the cannabis legalization movement in the United States has spawned many weed-friendly “bud and breakfasts” and budget hotels, a handful of boutique hoteliers are targeting the high-end cannabis traveler – no game over. words.
According to Brian Applegarth, founder of the Cannabis Travel Association and Cultivar Brands, a strategic marketing agency specializing in the cannabis industry, the expansion to the higher end of the industry comes as more Americans interested in cannabis-related travel has increased.
In early 2020, just before the pandemic, Cultivar partnered with MMGY Travel Intelligence to analyze the booming cannabis traveler segment. They found that 29% of all active leisure travelers in the United States could be identified as part of a “cannabis-motivated travel audience.”
Results from a recent pandemic-era survey, released this summer, indicate that the size of this audience has grown to 37% of all active leisure travellers, Gen Z and millennial travelers , in particular, reporting overwhelming interest in engaging in at least one cannabis-related activity while on vacation.
“There’s also this kind of sophisticated geek” that emerges, Applegarth said. “And the data shows that if you look at median and average household incomes, the cannabis-interested public has a very compelling profile when it comes to disposable income.”
The Scotia Lodge offers a cannabis delivery menu and outdoor smoking area for hotel guests and restaurant patrons. Photo credit: Léon Villagomez
California leads the way
The trend is being led by properties in California, both an early adopter of relaxed marijuana laws and the nation’s top cannabis producer. Among the handful of hospitality players looking to deliver a higher cannabis experience is Humboldt Social, which operates several businesses including its vacation rentals Oyster Beach Bayfront Resort, four-star Humboldt Bay Social Club rooms, the Papa & Barkley Social dispensary and spa. and more – in Humboldt County, California.
Just over a year ago, Humboldt Social launched a second hotel concept, the 22-room Scotia Lodge, located near Redwoods State Park in Scotia, California. The property, which plays in four-star space and is open to working with advisors, lacks obvious weed-related theming. Instead, the hotel promotes a weed-friendly environment with amenities like a cannabis delivery menu and an outdoor smoking area accessible to hotel and restaurant guests. Inside, smoking is not permitted in any way, but guests are encouraged to sample cannabis edibles or tinctures in the room.
“Some of the businesses that cater to cannabis just say, ‘Hey bring your own weed, we’re cannabis friendly,’ and other places get small bed and breakfast licenses and have bongs in the lobby,” said Jon O’Connor, founder and president of Humboldt Social. “We want to support the customer [interested in those types of establishments]but we also want to be a place where their aunt or grandmother can also come and stay.”
Humboldt Social is planning a further expansion of the hospitality space for the coming year. According to O’Connor, the company is currently in talks with hotels in the Southern California market, finalizing negotiations to oversee restaurant, dispensary, smoking area and cannabis-infused spa operations at other properties.
“Our version of cannabis hospitality is like Napa 2.0,” O’Connor said. “If you went to Napa Valley many years ago, they were cheesy bed and breakfasts with wine wallpaper. Now they’re world-class resorts. And we envision that. what Humboldt County can be after national legalization.”
The entrance to The Madrones hotel in Philo, California. Photo credit: Courtesy of The Madrones
Like Humboldt Social, the Madrones and the Brambles, two sister properties located just outside Philo, Calif., in Mendocino County, follow the wine hospitality plan.
The pair, who have 14 accommodations combined and will work with advisors, have a long history of successfully exploiting their wine-growing surroundings, offering guests access to two on-site wine tasting rooms.
More recently, however, co-owners Jim Roberts and Brian Adkinson have built on Mendocino’s strong reputation for homegrown cannabis, opening a Madrones dispensary called the Bohemian Chemist. The dispensary features its own private label, consisting of local products made from cannabis grown on a nearby farm also owned and operated by Roberts and Adkinson.
“We already had a crowd of people coming here for the wine, and we wanted to make sure we were introducing cannabis in a way that was still accessible and tolerable,” Adkinson said. “And you know, these customers are extremely curious about cannabis. I think some four- or five-star places are hesitant to embrace cannabis tourism because they’re afraid of alienating their clientele. But our experience has been that doesn’t alienate our clientele at all.”
Encouraged by positive customer feedback, the Madrones and Brambles began developing more robust cannabis tourism programs this summer, including cannabis farm tours and a series of seven-course, cannabis-infused dinners. each dish incorporating a microdose of approximately two milligrams of cannabis.
Later this fall, the properties plan to launch a cannabis consumer lounge, which will include a restaurant. Additionally, couples celebrating a wedding at Madrones and Brambles can now book a “budding service” for the big event.
“Just as people want to drink at weddings, we find that a lot of young people really want to drink at weddings,” Adkinson added. “So that’s another indicator, I think, that cannabis is becoming more mainstream. Ultimately, we want to normalize it.”
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