Can Cannabis Tourism Thrive Despite COVID?

This article was originally published on WeedWeek, and appears here with permission.

Coming into 2020, business was booming for Emerald Farm Tours with no signs of slowing.

The San Francisco-based company, which takes its guests to area cannabis businesses and cultural landmarks, experienced 200% month-over-month growth from September 2019 to February 2020 and was preparing for a “hiring blitz” as tour bookings spiked to around five per week, according to Victor Pinho, the company’s co-founder and CEO.

“And then it just stopped,” Pinho said.

He and his business, of course, weren’t alone.

The COVID-19 pandemic upended several industries, but perhaps none was more negatively impacted than tourism and subsets like cannabis tourism. Despite the economic damage suffered over the past nine months, Pinho and several others involved in the intersection of tourism and cannabis – a wide-spanning space that includes hospitality, entertainment and travel – are optimistic about the future.

They find encouragement in the overall cannabis industry’s ability to withstand crises – evidenced by consistently rising REC sales throughout the pandemic – and point to the present moment as an ideal time to reshape and rebuild. Travel in the U.S. last year was believed to have generated $2.6T to the U.S. economy, though it is unclear what portion of that came from cannabis-related tourism.

“The time is right now because the tourism and travel industry is being rethought,” said Brian Applegarth, founder of the California Cannabis Tourism Association (CCTA). “There was an immense collapse with COVID-19 and there’s been a shift in paradigm.”

‘Coordinated plan’

Applegarth, who participated in a panel discussion Wednesday on canna-tourism presented by the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), pointed to some recent trends that have him convinced canna-tourism can bounce back stronger than ever.

He recently helped conduct a national survey of American travelers in collaboration with MMGY Global, which provides market research and data to travel and tourism firms. 

That survey, carried out prior to the COVID shutdowns, found that 29% of all active leisure travelers – about 18% of all Americans, according to the findings – were interested in cannabis-related activities while on vacation. About one-third of that group had not previously …

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