Why Proactive Hemp and Cannabis Strategy Supports Ongoing Community Alignment

By: Brian Applegarth, Cultivar Brands

The cannabis and hemp industries are riddled with confusion and misunderstanding. Trusted data, case studies, and education are highly needed and increasingly valued, and therein lies opportunity for Destination Marketing and Destination Management Organizations.

Globally, there are two industries that are exponentially growing - hemp and cannabis. The Essential medical designation of cannabis during Covid-19 and the wellness driven nature of these industries demonstrated resilience during the pandemic as sales soared and the consumer base (and travel audience) grew exponentially. Many turned to CBD, cannabis, and hemp as a way to cope during a difficult stretch where routine was upended unexpectedly and disruptive adaptation became mandatory. Hemp and cannabis proved themselves recession proof.

So, why should destinations care?

What makes hemp and cannabis worthy of attention, time, and investment?

How does a DMO assume and leverage a leadership role with hemp and cannabis to drive forward ongoing community alignment and emerge as a valued facilitator of complex and important destination discussions?

The Numbers: Economics and informed data-driven strategy matters, so let’s start there. Today, there are approximately thirty countries with legal cannabis industries and approximately fifty countries with legal hemp industries. Allied Market Research reports that by 2027 the global industrial hemp market size is projected to reach 18.6 billion and by 2031 the global cannabis market size is projected to reach 148.9 billion. In 2021, the legal cannabis industry in California accounted for approximately 800 million in state tax revenue, 300 million in local taxes, and created an estimated 100,000 jobs. A Forbes article from May 2022 estimates that cannabis travel is a $17 billion dollar industry, with every dollar spent at a cannabis retailer injecting an additional 2.80 into the local economy.  The latest cannabis travel audience data from MMGY and Cultivar Strategies (Summer 2022) revealed that the cannabis travel audience in the United States now accounts for 37% of active-leisure travel audience (up from 29% in 2020), and 70% of Gen Z and 57% of Millenials say that access to cannabis-related activities while on vacation matters when making travel decisions.  The numbers speak volumes.

The Leadership Opportunity: DMO’s have an opportunity to demonstrate how they serve as a destination-health focused engine that is a shared community benefit. Cannabis and hemp are often misunderstood by communities at all levels. Lingering reefer madness propaganda and prohibition-era mentality drenched in stigma often impedes actionable opportunity identification and smart data-driven decision making. The confusion and misplaced fear that revolves around cannabis and hemp makes space for a rare and powerful leadership opportunity for DMO’s. DMO’s can establish themselves as a valuable resource that facilitates fact-based and data-driven discussions centered around hemp and cannabis as BOTH vehicles of… 

1. Destination Development - evolving and guiding the hemp and cannabis industries with a goal of positively impacting the live/work landscape for business and residents, and..

2. Visitor Economy Development - demonstrating inclusivity by integrating locally owned and tax paying cannabis and hemp businesses and experiences into the travel ecosystem and visitor journey narrative.

Government, elected officials, stakeholders, businesses, and residents - those that make up the Community of a destination - are ALL in need of trusted information grounded in data and facts to drive forward community alignment and nurture collective buy-in around a plan that is sustainable and on brand with the greater destination identity. DMO’s can serve as a key provider and facilitator of that information.

Network and Communication Channel Development: DMO’s that position themselves as strategic facilitators and trusted information sources for hemp and cannabis will enjoy unique and high value opportunities for destination network expansion. Serving as high-value information keepers and information providers will increase communication channel development opportunities and therefore increase interconnectivity with key destination stakeholders, broadening the influence of the DMO long term if strategically managed with care. Communication channels are the reciprocal information highways that maintain the health of our destination relationships from the top down and the bottom up. Offering valuable data and up-to-date information about cannabis and hemp positions DMO’s in a leadership ‘joint-powers’ facilitator role with a sought after information toolkit.

A Vehicle for Community Alignment: Facilitating resident input and healthy community-wide communication around cannabis and hemp positions a DMO organization as a unifying vehicle for Community Alignment exercises in the destination, regardless the topic or theme. The communication channels and network that cannabis and hemp refresh or unlock can be parlayed into other key destination discussions, as warranted and desired by the DMO. Community Alignment is rooted in content and education, and rallies a Community around a destination’s competitive advantage, differentiating factors, and brand evolution. A DMO as a vehicle to manage brand strategy and meet complex discussions head on, driving forward sustainable community-wide health, is the opportunity that cannabis and hemp offer. As a DMO, hemp and cannabis are a unique sandbox to innovate, ideate, and evolve into an influential organization in your destination.

On Thursday October 27th we will explore Cannabis and Hemp As Part of the Destination Ecosystem’ at the Advocacy Summit in Bloomington, MN.  Please join the conversation or attend to learn more about cannabis and hemp opportunities.

About the Author

Brian ApplegarthCo-Founder, Cultivar Brands

About the Author

Brian Applegarth is the co-founder of Cultivar Brands, a strategic marketing agency specialized at the intersection of travel, hemp, and cannabis. Brian was the sole expert advisor on the first ever national research on the Cannabis Travel Audience in the United States. Informed by proprietary research and insights, Cultivar creates data-driven strategies for destinations and works with trend-setting DMO's to normalize and integrate hemp and cannabis into the visitor economy. He is the founder of the Cannabis Travel Association and the creator of The Cannabis Trail, a nine-county cultural trail in northern California that celebrates the history of the cannabis legalization movement.

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