Marijuana-friendly lodging guests are hungry for immersive experiences

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Image of tent at Sol Spirit Farm

Glampers at Sol Spirit Farm sleep in tents near sun-grown cannabis plants. (Photo by Ryan Johnson Bitar)

(This story is part of the cover package in the October issue of  MJBizMagazine.)

Since Airbnb was founded 15 years ago to provide property owners with a way to rent out their homes, numerous similar platforms have been born.

Some lodging platforms take marijuana-friendly listings, while a small number of cannabis-specific platforms also have appeared, such as California-based Bud and Breakfast, which has about 3,000 listings, and Ontario, Canada-based HiBnb, which boasts about 300 listings.

“With the way that the cannabis industry is going and the price of flower plummeting … this is like a salvation for a lot of these guys in the Emerald Triangle. They’re turning it into a tourism mecca,” said Sean Roby, CEO of Bud and Breakfast.

“For a lot of them, the only thing they can do is create a revenue stream in that way.”

A small but growing number of licensed cannabis farms are tapping into accommodation-platform opportunities, which could not be coming at a better time for cultivators, given that many are battling to survive because of depressed flower prices, high taxes and other factors hurting their bottom lines.

HiBnb CEO Elizabeth Becker agreed that growers can find revenue opportunities beyond cultivation and that sites such as hers can assist.

“HiBnb is working hard to assist the farmers who are looking for secondary revenue streams considering the weakness in the cannabis industry and in the economy,” she said.

Roby estimated that 5%-10% of Bud and Breakfast’s listings are by licensed marijuana businesses; most of them are in California and the Pacific Northwest, plus Colorado and a small number of other states.

Becker estimated that one or two dozen of HiBnb’s 300 listings are licensed cannabis businesses – mostly in California and Ontario, Canada – while she is pursuing new listings in New York.

In terms of commissions, Bud and Breakfast collects 7% from the host and 10% from guests, per booking. HiBnb takes an 8% commission from the hosts.

A ‘glampsite’ is born

One cultivation business expanding into hospitality is Sol Spirit Farm in Trinity County, located in California’s Emerald Triangle.

It’s a regenerative farm run by owner-operators Judi Nelson, a holistic physical therapist, and Walter Wood, a permaculture expert.

Nelson and Wood had dreamed for years about offering retreats and workshops at their farm.

But before California legalized recreational marijuana, it felt too risky to invite strangers onto the property.

That all changed when California’s recreational marijuana market launched in 2018; by the summer of 2019, the pair was hosting their first “glamping” guests.

To get the glamping site ready, they found an unused plot of land on their 26-acre farm and let pigs loose to clear the invasive weeds.

After clearing and leveling the land, they bought six large bell tents that sleep two each and “have everything that you’d find in a hotel,” Nelson said.

The tents have beds with linens and lamps—plus private bathrooms with hot running water are a few feet away.

They decided on tents over a stick-built physical structure because they had a “lower barrier to entry.”

The tents cost less and, because they are considered temporary, there were far fewer regulatory hurdles, Nelson said.

The tents are about 50 yards from Nelson and Wood’s home, so guests are far enough away for privacy but close enough to the hosts, in case they are needed.

The quarter-acre cannabis garden is a few yards from the other side of the tents.

“They get to sleep the night away smelling the lovely terps,” Nelson said.

The nightly stay for a couple costs $420, while a solo glamper pays $310.

Sol Spirit generally takes reservations from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Business has been “solid,” Nelson said, with at least half the tents booked for the season.

 Meaningful money

The earnings from glamping represent important income for a small farm such as Sol Spirit.

Last year, the owners produced eight marijuana strains for their Sol Spirit brand and also had a couple of test plots.

The farm could produce 600-800 pounds annually at maximum capacity, but for now, the owners produce 300-400 pounds, Nelson said.

Nelson and Wood do everything on the farm themselves, but they call in workers to help with seasonal activities such as planting and harvesting.

Licensing and insurance cost around $20,000 annually, Nelson said. She added that the amount of regulatory work demanded by local and state officials requires a full-time employee.

But since Sol Spirit can’t afford an employee to tackle administrative work, Nelson does it herself.

“It’s a huge burden. That’s why I mostly spend my time sitting on the computer instead of actually working with the plants,” Nelson said.

Sol Spirit is prohibited from selling or sharing cannabis from the commercial garden, but its owners can share marijuana from their personal garden with guests. (California home growers are allowed to have six plants for personal use.)

While the hosts can share cannabis with friends, they can’t say in ads or on websites that marijuana is included in the glamping fee.

Nelson hopes that future regulations will allow Sol Spirit to sell products directly to consumers.

In the meantime, however, Nelson directs guests to the nearest cannabis store in Willow Creek, a town about 20 minutes from the farm.

Guests can bring their own cannabis to the glamping site, but because of fire hazards, they can smoke only in a designated area with fire protection.

Nelson said the glamping enterprise at Sol Spirit has done much to boost the farm’s bottom line.

“If we’re talking about profit, the glamping is probably more profitable than the farm – only because of the (regulatory) expenses,” she said.

 Marketing lifecycle

Nelson noted that the benefits of the glamping enterprise go beyond financial.

The glamping program markets Sol Spirit-branded cannabis, and the marijuana products sold at retail market the glamping program.

That self-feeding marketing outlet is important for marijuana companies that can’t advertise on social media or in print publications, she said.

“When people who glamped with us go into a dispensary in California and see Sol Spirit flower, (they) know what went into that. It really is a marketing thing: How can I tell the story of what this craft product is to people who are looking for that sort of thing?” Nelson said.

Wood and Nelson show guests what a working cannabis farm looks like and spend time answering questions about the history of the farm and the Emerald Triangle.

The glamping package includes farm-to-table breakfasts and dinners.

Since summer 2022, the farm has partnered with a local tour guide, Matt Kurth of Humboldt Cannabis Tours, to offer guests the Emerald Triangle Revealed Tour.

The package includes two nights at Sol Spirit with breakfasts and dinners included as well as a river float trip with a local Native American guide.

There is also “a fancy, infused dinner” at another local cannabis farm.

Guests then go to a consumption lounge in Eureka and visit two more farms in southern Humboldt County for tours and catered meals.

The tour finishes with two nights at an oceanfront hotel in Shelter Cove and visiting the giant redwoods. Shorter tours are also available.

Creating an experience

Lodging-platform executives Roby and Becker say that Sol Spirit’s “all-in” approach is built for success. Some listings offer only a cannabis-friendly environment, but models that include extra experiences have been the most lucrative.

“The ones that really do well – and some of them are booked out for six months in advance – are basically becoming all things cannabis,” Roby said.

For example, some rooms will have a cannabis bar or offer CBD massages and THC-infused meals.

Becker said she believes the tourism space will offer more opportunity to growers in the future.

“We’re seeing a huge demand for cannabis hospitality, experiences and accommodations. There’s not enough supply,” she said.

Nelson also believes the onus is on growers to seize the opportunity.

“We need to open up and allow people to come and see what we’ve been up to – because if we don’t, how will they know that the products are different? … We as a community have to open up to outsiders,” Nelson said, adding that she’s “never had a troublesome guest.”

“Cannabis enthusiasts as a general rule are wonderful people,” she said.