Legalized marijuana is not proving to be a boon to tourism—but it is a niche market that entrepreneurial travel agents might want to consider, says Peter Yesawich, Vice Chairman of marketing giant MMGY Global,
In a new quarterly Travelhorizons survey released last week, MMGY found that while the “mile-high expectations for the potential of ‘weed tourism’ may be overstated,” interest in visiting Colorado, for example, has increased 18% among young travelers since pot was made legal there.
There’s no denying that pot is a growth business. The Colorado Pot Guide lists 420 “pot-friendly lodgings.” Last week the Santee Sioux tribe announced plans for a “marijuana resort” on its South Dakota Indian reservation. Scheduled to open for New Year’s Eve, it is expected to generate $2 million a month in revenues. It joins Colorado’s 170-acre CannaCamp, which opened July 1 with rates starting at $395 a night, and a collection of hotels and B&Bs that promise peaceful—and legal—surroundings in which guests can toke up.
The demographic: Meet HENRY
So, “who’s ready to roll up?” asks MMGY. No big surprise here: they’re male, they’re young (18-35 years), and they’re more affluent than the traditional travel-agent customer.
One in four Millennials—18% of the men but only 8% of the women—has vacationed in one of the four states (Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington) specifically “due to the legalization of recreational marijuana.” That’s double the number of GenXers and six times the number of Boomers.
And the interest is highest among those with annual incomes over $150,000.
It’s not for everyone, though. The study found that an equal number of older adults—18%—said they did not go to Colorado specifically because pot was legalized there, and the other three states where it is legal also showed declines.
Move over, Las Vegas
Still, pot travel offers an opportunity for travel agents to reach out to a new, high-profile, big-spending segment of the population that traditionally has not used their services.
“The interesting thing about the data is that it’s primarily the male Millennial crowd, and that’s a disconnect for the travel agent,” Yesawich says; historically that segment is “not a key audience.”
While about 20% of adults over 55 use travel-agent services, usage by young males runs just in the single digits, MMGY data shows.
But HENRYs (high-earning-not-rich-yet males) are an interesting, albeit small, new niche worth targeting, Yesawich agreed. “For an entrepreneurial agency, this is an emerging market; I can see how retail agencies could become specialists in weed travel.”
Rather than just selling the marijuana experience, Yesawich suggested marketing packages of services that might appeal to young and affluent men, perhaps as getaway weekends with an edge or bachelor parties.
“Develop a specialty—offer mountain vacations that include some aspects of marijuana travel and skiboarding in Colorado,” he suggested.
A mile-high bachelor party
In Denver, meanwhile, Joel Schneider, CEO of The Maryjane Group, runs three “Bud & Breakfast” properties that cater to the marijuana-smoking traveler. While smoking is not permitted in the sleeping rooms, it is encouraged in public spaces.
“We believe cannabis is a social product, and that guests want to pass a joint around,” Schneider told TMR. “Our properties encourage guests to smoke cannabis in public spaces, within the safety and security of our lodgings.”
Indeed, Schneider disagrees with the portrait of the young male traveler as his primary demographic, noting instead that customers include “a lot of couples, a lot of Baby Boomers, some 70-year-olds. The age range is definitely varied.”
But yes, he did have a bachelor party of 16 young men from New City, NY, in one property just last week.
“They were very respectful and they had a great time,” Schneider said. During the day they set off for the mountains—and filmed some amazing footage of just how far a golf ball can fly in the thin air of Colorado. In the evening they “set up tables and played Beer Pong and Swipe,” smoked pot and drank the free beer and wine the B&B offers.
Looking for an agency partner
While Schneider never has worked with a travel agent, he now wonders exactly why that is.
“We can do ski vacations and cannabis vacations, and we should be full every weekend the Broncos play. We’d love to work with a travel agent,” he said.
“And of course, absolutely, we’d pay a commission.”