Cannabis Tourism within Broader Visitor Economy

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<span>Cannabis Tourism within Broader Visitor Economy</span>
Bottom Line:

Cannabis tourism offers unique opportunities to reinforce community alignment and engagement. By actively collaborating with local governments and cannabis industry stakeholders who are invested in evolving the visitor economy, destination organizations can enhance their role as community brand managers. This involves utilizing data-driven strategies and methods from “Becoming a Community Shared Value”.

Strategic Integration of Cannabis Tourism within Broader Visitor Economy Goals, Community Alignment & Engagement: Strengthening Ties Through Cannabis Tourism

Cannabis tourism offers unique opportunities to reinforce community alignment and engagement. By actively collaborating with local governments and cannabis industry stakeholders who are invested in evolving the visitor economy, destination organizations can enhance their role as community brand managers. This involves utilizing data-driven strategies and methods from "Becoming a Community Shared Value" to develop initiatives that resonate with community values, ensuring alignment with broader government and community priorities.

Resilience, Stability & Growth: Ensuring Sustainability in Cannabis Tourism

In the context of cannabis tourism, resilience involves integrating the unique aspects of the cannabis experience into the destination's broader tourism strategy. This approach should focus on strengthening the organization's capacity to withstand global disruptions like the COVID-19 pandemic while promoting sustainable visitor growth. Efforts should include strategic planning that considers economic, environmental, and societal sustainability, ensuring that cannabis tourism contributes to equitable economic development and enhances the overall visitor experience.

Success Measurements: Establishing Clear Metrics for Cannabis Tourism

To accurately measure the impact of cannabis tourism, destination organizations must establish specific Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). These should reflect the unique contributions of cannabis-related products and services to the visitor economy, capturing data annually to assess growth and impact. This aligns with the "Value Based Action" theme, where understanding and demonstrating the value of cannabis tourism through clear metrics is crucial for accountability and community support.

Case Study: MoTown Cannapass

Visit Modesto created the MoTown Cannapass, a gamified passport experience product, to support visitor safety and understanding for cannabis related activities. Guiding visitors to the legal cannabis shops with safe tested products, providing information of what is and isn’t allowed, and offering clear and concise ‘know before you go’ information that supports a positive visitor experience, were all prioritized. The MoTown Cannapass was gamified with check-in’s and effect pairings, connecting cannabis to art and nature experiences.

Technology & Digital Marketing: Harnessing Innovation for Cannabis Tourism

Embrace the first-mover advantage by leveraging technological advancements to promote cannabis tourism. This involves using digital platforms to craft compelling stories that highlight unique cannabis experiences, positioning the destination at the forefront of the "Evolution of Digital Platforms." By staying ahead of technological trends, such as AI and the Metaverse, destinations can attract a modern travel audience and maximize rare earned media opportunities.

Case Study:  The Visit Oakland Cannabis Trail

Using technology, Visit Oakland created a cannabis trail adventure for visitors that highlights Oakland’s travel worthy cannabis lounge experiences, shops, and seasonal cannabis events. Interactive Cultural Landmarks and effect pairings are highlighted along the trail, pairing local food, art, and nature travel activities with cannabis effects, ultimately spreading the spend and enticing longer stays, while capturing data about how the cannabis travel audience moves about and spends while in the destination.

Destination Stewardship: Managing Cannabis Tourism

Responsibly Destination organizations must take a proactive role in stewarding their cannabis tourism initiatives. This includes educating stakeholders about the differences between consumer and destination marketing and managing the balance between resident and visitor spending. Efforts should focus on promoting safe and responsible cannabis experiences, aligning with the broader goals of "Destination Stewardship & Sustainability" to ensure that cannabis tourism supports sustainable visitor growth and community well-being.

Case Study: Let’s Talk Cannabis Tourism

A coalition of organizations collaborated to create Let’s Talk Cannabis Tourism, an annual cross-industry event to build bridges and strengthen strategies and relationships between the travel and cannabis industries. Organizations included Visit Greater Palm Springs, Greater Coachella Valley Chamber of Commerce, the City of Desert Hot Springs, and the Coachella Valley Cannabis Alliance Network.  Attendees learned about the destination brand and why it matters, and discovered the best cannabis experiences available today for visitors. 

Social Inclusion: Fostering Diversity and Equity in Cannabis Tourism

Cannabis tourism should promote an inclusive environment that reflects the diversity of the community. This involves developing marketing and engagement strategies that include diverse perspectives and promote equity, diversity, and inclusion. By making cannabis tourism welcoming and accessible, destinations can enhance their appeal and foster a sense of belonging among all stakeholders, aligning with the "Equity, Diversity & Inclusion" theme.

Case Study:  This 420 Choose Equity and The Equity Path along the Oakland Cannabis Trail

Because of the war-on-drugs era and incarceration, equity and social inclusion are an important part of the cannabis industry. Equity licensing programs exist, prioritizing cannabis industry licenses for victims of the war on drugs, an effort of restorative justice.  In 2023 Visit Oakland created the This 420 Choose Equity campaign along the Oakland Cannabis Trail, highly equity owned shops, lounges, and brands. The campaign earned top three finalist recognition from US Travel’s ESTO Awards. In 2024, the Equity Path became a permanent thematic experience along the Oakland cannabis trail. These are cultural heritage stories that can be told and shared through travel.

Workforce Development: Building Skills for the Future of Cannabis Tourism

Collaborate with educational institutions and vocational training programs to develop pathways that equip local residents with the skills needed for the cannabis tourism industry. This includes training in up-to-date knowledge and experience curation, which is essential for differentiating the destination and supporting the workforce's needs now and in the future, as highlighted in the "Workforce Development" theme.

Case Study: Team GPS Champions Training, Visit Greater Palm Springs & College of the Desert

Travel is the largest industry in the greater Palm Springs region. The greater Palm Springs region is also one of the most mature cannabis experience markets in California. Visit Greater Palm Springs partnered with College of the Desert to create and launch Team GPS, a hospitality training program for the Coachella Valley. In developing Team GPS, Visit Greater Palm Springs invested in the inclusion and integration of cannabis tourism education. A specific section of the hospitality training is dedicated to the cannabis travel trend, understanding and serving visitor interest. In addition to the Team GPS Hospitality Training Program, the College of the Desert is launching a longer specialized training course dedicated to Cannabis Tourism & Hospitality in summer 2024.

Crisis Response: Preparing for Challenges in Cannabis Tourism

Destination organizations must prepare for potential crises that could impact the cannabis tourism sector. This includes developing strategies to manage health, safety, and brand-related crises effectively, ensuring that the destination remains a safe and attractive choice for visitors and residents alike. Utilize best practices and resources to maintain and enhance the destination's reputation during uncertain times, aligned with the newly emphasized theme of "Crisis Response."

By strategically integrating cannabis tourism with these key 2023 themes, destination organizations can not only enhance their competitive edge but also ensure that their initiatives promote sustainable growth and contribute positively to the community's social and economic well-being.

About The Author

Brian Applegarth

Founder, Cannabis Travel Association and Applegarth Strategies

Brian Applegarth is the founder of the Cannabis Travel Association and Applegarth Strategies, a boutique marketing consultancy serving destination organizations and brands and specializing in cannabis tourism, engaging the cannabis travel audience to drive growth and measurable ROI. His work has earned recognition from the US Travel ESTO Awards, Visit California Poppy Awards, the Clio's, and the International Federation of Fairs and Expos (IAFE) Awards. Brian is the sole expert advisor on the first-ever ‘cannabis travel audience’ research in the United States. He leads the Cannabis & Hemp work groups for Destinations International and the California Travel Association. 

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