Chart of the Week: Denver’s 4/20 Tourism Bonanza

By Becky Olson

It’s April 20, and the nation’s first two recreational cannabis markets appear to be benefiting from a solid tourism bump tied to today’s annual marijuana celebration.

The increase is most pronounced in Colorado, where searches for Denver-area hotels this past weekend surged 60% from the 4/20 weekend last year, according to Hotels.com. While not all of those searches led to actual bookings, the spike highlights the growing interest in cannatourism – which will lead to a noticeable sales spike for marijuana businesses across the state today.

The same situation is likely playing out in Washington State, where the recreational marijuana industry is celebrating its first 4/20.

According to Hotels.com, searches for lodging in Seattle rocketed 64% during the six months after the state’s first recreational retailers opened their doors in July 2014, so it’s reasonable to assume that the city is seeing a healthy spike today from visitors in town to consume cannabis.

Oregon appears poised to see a similar tourism boost down the road.

Searches for hotels in the three months after marijuana use and possession become legal this July are already up more than 60% from the same period last summer – even though actual sales aren’t slated to begin until the first rec shops open sometime next year. (Note: The state is considering a plan that would allow existing medical cannabis dispensaries to start selling recreational marijuana this July.)

Denver’s cannatourism boom has been nearly entirely market-driven. Local and state tourism agencies don’t endorse or promote marijuana as a Colorado attraction. In fact, the state’s tourism office doesn’t specifically track data related to the industry.

Advertising restrictions – coupled with resistance among mainstream publications to run marijuana ads – also make it hard for cannabis companies to target a national audience.

This could spell an opportunity for other states to step in and win market share by promoting their own 4/20 friendliness as soon as they can get recreational up and running.

How much is a cannatourist worth to the local economy? An annual report produced by Longwoods International on behalf of the Colorado Tourism Office found that visitors to Colorado last year for “marketable leisure trips” spent an average of $376 per person in addition to lodging and transportation.

My 420 Tours, one of several cannatourism specialist firms in Colorado and Washington State, matches tourists up with “4/20-friendly” hotel rooms at an average of $184 per night. It also offers guided tours at $99 a head as well as inclusive $1,295 per person vacation packages. The firm reported it had nearly 5,000 customers in 2014, according to the Denver Post.

Recreational retailers in Colorado have packed the pages of local alternative weekly newspapers with ads offering 4/20 specials for both tourists and natives. It’s clear that for the cannabis industry, 4/20 is turning into something akin to the Christmas season.

Becky Olson can be reached at [email protected]

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