Cannabis Tourism: Primary Challenges & Opportunities Explained

Cannabis has come a long way in recent decades. From an underground illicit substance found only on the streets to a respected medical and recreational commodity, the rapidly legalized world of medical and recreational cannabis use is spreading horizontally into other legacy industries.

One such legacy industry currently taking full advantage of patchwork legalization laws is the travel industry via the ever-growing demand for cannabis tourism or “canna-tourism” from states where the plant is not yet legal.

In a world where legalization is often still only found at the state level, with many states, let alone countries, still prohibiting the plant’s use, cannabis-themed hotels, resorts, and vacation packages are exploding in popularity.

Whether you operate a hotel, rent a resort, or simply want to provide tours of your growing operation, there is no better time than now to cash in on the booming public intrigue with this brand-new industry.

More people are searching for “weed tourism” and “420-friendly hotels” than ever before. While Airbnb and VRBO may have a monopoly on the independently owned B&B market, most owners and operators prohibit cannabis use on their property, assumedly due to discrimination and/or fear of legal consequences.

So, the need for safe spaces to consume and explore cannabis is definitely in demand. Since many states still have cannabis prohibition, many Americans actually have to travel across state lines to partake in the herb.

Cannabis tourism, or “canna tourism,” is not just about appealing to the typical “stoner” crowd.

Instead, as the plant of purpose finally sheds some of its undeserved negative stigma applied to it over the years, it is appealing to a wider and more eclectic type of consumer.

Despite Legalization, Cannabis Tourism Still Facing Challenges

In 2023, the cannabis tourism industry continues to grapple with several primary challenges that businesses must address to ensure sustainable growth and long-term success. These challenges include:

1. Regulatory Uncertainty and Compliance Burdens:

The legal landscape surrounding cannabis remains complex and constantly evolving. Despite the increasing legalization of cannabis in various regions, regulatory frameworks often differ significantly between states and countries. Businesses operating in the cannabis tourism sector must navigate a web of intricate regulations, including licensing, taxation, zoning restrictions, and compliance requirements.

Navigating these legal complexities poses a significant challenge for businesses, as they must ensure full compliance with local, state, and potentially federal laws while providing a seamless and enjoyable experience for cannabis tourists.

Banking and Financial Services Limitations:

One of the persistent challenges facing cannabis tourism businesses involves limited access to banking and financial services. Many financial institutions remain hesitant to provide services to cannabis-related businesses due to the federal classification of cannabis as a Schedule I controlled substance in the United States. This reluctance from mainstream financial institutions to engage with cannabis businesses often forces these companies to rely on cash transactions, leading to security risks, operational inefficiencies, and hindered growth opportunities.

The lack of access to traditional banking services hampers businesses in managing finances, accessing credit, and making investments essential for expansion and development within the rapidly growing cannabis tourism industry.

Social Stigma and Public Perception:

Despite the increasing acceptance of cannabis for both medical and recreational purposes, lingering social stigmas and negative perceptions continue to pose a significant challenge for businesses operating in the cannabis tourism sector. Overcoming the stereotype associated with cannabis consumption remains crucial for attracting a diverse range of customers and building a positive brand image.

Businesses must actively engage in educational initiatives and community outreach programs to destigmatize cannabis use, promote responsible consumption practices, and emphasize the positive aspects of the industry, such as its economic benefits and potential for wellness and relaxation.

By addressing these challenges, businesses can work toward fostering a more inclusive and welcoming environment for all types of cannabis enthusiasts, thereby expanding their customer base and ensuring long-term sustainability.

From baby boomers eager to relive the happening 60s and 70s to white-collar professionals looking for an alternative to alcohol to foreign tourists from far-flung stretches of the world, this is a truly massive travel segment.

Below are a few steps any business can implement, from hotel/bread and breakfasts to producers and farmers and everything in between to attract visitors and get their share of the marijuana tourism pie.

Understand Your Local 420 Laws For Non-Residents

Depending on whether you are operating a dispensary selling medical marijuana or if you are a shop open to recreational use, you will need a thorough understanding of not just local laws but laws for non-residents as well.

Since medical marijuana laws are still hyper-localized because of the fragmented market, it is important to keep up to date on how they evolve so you can quickly and confidently educate visitors on your website and at your business.

Clearly listing any state requirements on your website is important as it helps non-residents and even non-nationals better plan their trips.

Owners and Operators Must Get Up to Code

If you operate a hotel or bed and breakfast and are looking to get in on the “420 Friendly” trend, then you don’t have as much work to do since your business model is already designed around hospitality.

Make sure rules are still clearly communicated to your guest regarding smoking policies. For example, just because weed may be legal for recreational use does not necessarily mean you can still smoke indoors.

Many states still have complete indoor smoking bans, regardless of whether the substance is tobacco-based or marijuana-based.

Communicating the legality of vaporizer use indoors and setting up specific outdoor areas for your guests to partake in recreational cannabis use is key to keeping both cannabis users and non-users alike happy.

If you are not in the hospitality industry and instead sell cannabis accessories and souvenirs or provide farming and cultivation tours, you will need to get up to code to provide said tours.

This varies by state but generally involves making sure work areas are safe for non-employees to occupy without the threat of bodily harm or legal liability.

If you have a farming operation, this will involve cordoning off dangerous areas and machinery.

Other upgrades will involve the potential use of safety gear (hard helmets, protective eyewear, etc.), implementation of safety equipment such as fire extinguishers, as well as implementing of a training program for staff conducting tour operations.

The requirements for providing public tours in places of manufacturing or industrial processing are usually the same across various industries, so these can easily be researched at the state level.

The International Organization for Standards is a great place to start planning your industrial tourism safety renovations.

Have a Marketing Plan & Solidify Your Branding

If you manufacture or process marijuana products, you probably are already set in a very weed-friendly branding strategy.

If your business serves both weed lovers and non-weed lovers, then you will need to re-evaluate your branding strategy.

For hotels, resorts, and B&Bs, you will need to determine the level to which you wish to cater to marijuana tourism.

Are you simply a 420-Friendly establishment, meaning you do not discriminate against legal cannabis use on your property, or do you want to position yourself as a marijuana-enthusiasts destination, perhaps turning off some non-enthusiast clients along the way?

By first determining how niched-down you’d like to get, you can then revise your website, social media, and print advertising to reflect to what degree you are seeking to attract cannabis tourists.

How to Market Your Cannabis-Friendly Business

After making sure you are legally compliant at the state level, adapting your operations to accommodate for a new on-site clientele, and determining to what degree you want to brand yourself cannabis-friendly, you can then re-evaluate your entire marketing strategy.

Marketing to marijuana tourists is not the same as marketing to regular guests. For starters, many traditional advertising platforms still do not officially allow marijuana-focused advertising. This includes platforms like:

  • Google Adwords
  • Google Display Network
  • Youtube
  • Retargeting Platforms/Software (Adroll, Doubleclick, etc.)

There are, however, still channels in which you can legally market a cannabis-oriented tourist-based business. These include:

  • Instagram (although requires subtlety)
  • Print/Billboard Advertising (state-level only)
  • Search Engine Optimization (bring in organic web traffic)
  • Google Local Business (getting your business listed on Google Maps)
  • Influencer Marketing (working with popular marijuana and travel bloggers)

It would be prudent to have a series of marketing strategy sessions with your marketing team or agency about how you want to go forward in promoting your business to cannabis tourism via channels currently friendly to weed-related content.

In the long run, building an attractive website that is informative to users will be a surefire way to generate business without worrying about what way the federal-law wind is blowing.

Search engines like Yahoo, Bing, and Google return results for all sorts of businesses under the sun, so you can go bonkers publishing blog posts, rich media like photos and videos, and even audio files (podcasts!) to generate buzz around your brand.

Connecting directly with pro-cannabis bloggers and online personalities is also a way to bypass big, restrictive corporations like Google and speak directly to your target audience. This requires a bit of dialogue but can make for a very satisfying long-term relationship.

Still a Lot of Opportunity in Weed Tourism!

Cannabis tourism is exploding; however, it’s not as single-faceted of a demographic as many mainstream media outlets make it seem to be. Your target demographic is massive and could range from 21 to 101, including both men and women, from all income levels and all professional classes.

Some hot trending areas within the marijuana tourism industry include:

  • All-inclusive cannabis vacation packages
  • Cannabis business tours
  • Grow operation and farm tours
  • Exhibition and trade show support
  • Cannabis travel agents
  • Medical marijuana tourism
  • Weed Bed and Breakfasts
  • Growing and cultivation seminars

Strategizing and preparing for this emerging behemoth of a population will be critical in positioning your business for success at the forefront of cannabis tourism in the decades to come.

Once federal legalization occurs, and given the increasing pace at which individual states are legalizing the good plant, the market will absolutely explode with eager customers looking for a safe, relaxing, fun place to begin their relationship with cannabis, and you can provide that.

Leave a Reply