While the US cannabis legalization movement has spawned many “buds and snacks” and weed-friendly budget hotels, a handful of boutique hoteliers are targeting high-end cannabis travelers — no pun intended.
The expansion into the more premium end of the sector comes as the number of Americans interested in cannabis-related travel has swelled, according to Brian Applegarth, founder of the Cannabis Travel Association and Cultivar Brands, a strategic marketing agency specializing in the cannabis industry .
In early 2020, just before the pandemic, Cultivar partnered with MMGY Travel Intelligence to analyze the booming segment of cannabis travelers. They found that 29% of all recreational travelers in the US could be identified as part of a growing “cannabis-motivated tourist audience.”
Findings from a recent pandemic-era survey released this summer show that the size of this audience has increased to 37% of all active leisure travelers, with Gen Z and millennial travelers in particular reporting overwhelming interest in participating in at least one cannabis-related activity while on vacation.
“There’s also this sophisticated kind of connoisseur” that’s emerging, Applegarth said. “And the data shows that if you look at median and median household incomes, the cannabis audience has a very compelling profile when it comes to disposable income.”
Scotia Lodge offers a cannabis delivery menu and outdoor smoking area for hotel guests and restaurant patrons. Photo: Leon Villagomez
California is leading the way
The trend is being led by properties in California, which was an early adopter of relaxed marijuana laws and is the nation’s largest producer of cannabis. Among the handful of hospitality players out there looking to offer an elevated cannabis experience is Humboldt Social, which operates several businesses — including its vacation rentals at Oyster Beach Bayfront Resort, the four-room Humboldt Bay Social Club, Papa & Barkley Social Dispensary & Spa & More – in Humboldt County, CA.
A little over a year ago, Humboldt Social debuted a second hotel concept, the 22-room Scotia Lodge located near the Redwoods State Park in Scotia, California. The property, which plays in the four-star space and is open to work with advisors, lacks an obvious weed-related theme. Instead, the hotel promotes a weed-friendly environment through amenities like a cannabis delivery menu and an outdoor smoking area available to hotel and restaurant guests. Indoor smoking of any kind is not permitted, but guests are encouraged to enjoy in-room cannabis edibles or tinctures.
“Some of the cannabis hospitality companies just say, ‘Hey, bring your cannabis, we’re cannabis friendly,’ and other places get small bed and breakfast licenses and have bongs in the lobby,” said John O’Connor, founder and president of Humboldt Social. “We want to support the customer [interested in those types of establishments]but we also want to be a place where their aunt or grandmother can also come and stay.”
Humboldt Social is considering further expansion into the hotel space next year. According to O’Connor, the company is currently in talks with hotels in the Southern California market, finalizing negotiations to oversee food and beverage, dispensary, smoking areas and cannabis-infused spa operations at other properties.
“Our version of cannabis hospitality is like Napa 2.0,” O’Connor said. “If you went to Napa Valley many years ago, these were bad wine wallpaper bed and breakfasts. Now these are world-class resorts.
The entrance to The Madrones Hotel in Philo, California. Photo: Courtesy of The Madrones
Like Humboldt Social, Madrones and Brambles, two boutique sister properties located just outside of Philo, Calif., in Mendocino County, follow the wine hospitality blueprint.
The pair, who have a combined 14 properties and will work with advisors, have long successfully capitalized on the wine country environment, offering guests access to two on-site wine tasting rooms.
More recently, however, co-owners Jim Roberts and Brian Adkinson have leaned on Mendocino’s solid reputation for artisanal cannabis cultivation, opening a dispensary in Madrones called Bohemian Chemist. The dispensary carries its own brand of locally sourced cannabis grown on a nearby farm also owned and operated by Roberts and Adkinson.
“We already had a crowd of people coming here for wine, and we wanted to make sure we introduced cannabis in a way that remained accessible and tolerable,” Adkinson said. “And you know, these guests are extremely curious about cannabis. I think some four or five star places are reluctant to accept cannabis tourism because they are afraid of alienating their customers. But our experience shows that this does not turn our clientele away at all.”
Encouraged by positive guest feedback, Madrones and Brambles began building more robust cannabis tourism programs this summer, including cannabis farm tours and a series of seven-course cannabis-infused dinners, each course featuring a microdose of approx. two milligrams of cannabis.
Later this fall, the properties plan to launch a cannabis lounge that will include a restaurant. In addition, couples celebrating a wedding at Madrones and Brambles can now book a ‘viewing service’ for the big event.
“Just as people want to drink at weddings, we’re finding that a lot of young people really want to drink at weddings,” added Adkinson. “I think this is another indicator that cannabis is becoming more mainstream. Ultimately, we want to normalize it.”