The state of cannabis tourism in Canada
March 14, 2022 By Jennifer Mason
Cannabis tourism is an emerging industry in Canada. Travel agencies, tour companies, cannabis-friendly accommodations, consumption lounges, festivals, and more have all leveraged cannabis as a resource to draw in customers. But given the recency of cannabis legalization, little is known about who is interested in cannabis tourism, and where their interests lie.
Conducted by cannabis tourism experts New Heights Cannabis, and Susan Dupej, Ph.D., post-doctoral fellow at the University of Guelph. The Canadian Cannabis Tourism Research Study provides relevant insights about tourists’ interest in cannabis tourism in Canada.
Canna tourism 101
Cannabis tourism refers to recreational and leisure experiences that incorporate the purchase, consumption, usage, and education of cannabis. Traditional tourism staples (i.e. adventure tours, city tours, spas, attractions, cooking classes, outdoor recreation) have the potential to become cannabis tourism experiences in Canada.
The emerging supply of cannabis-related tourism activities and amenities in Canada aligns with a growing perception of normalization due to the pervasiveness of cannabis retail outlets in most communities across the country. Normalization is driving a new set of tourist attitudes, expectations, and demand for unique experiences while on vacation.
In a time of recovery, tourism and hospitality businesses need to offer tourists more than what they can get at home.
Socialization as a reason to travel, now more than ever, will be a trigger to get people back out spending time and money in restaurants, bars, sporting venues, attractions and other activities that bring people together.
Cannabis can integrate into the existing tourism infrastructure as either a dedicated experience or an element of an activity. For example, offering cannabis-infused foods and beverages on par with alcoholic beverages is an element of a tourism experience, versus a dedicated tour of a cannabis facility and farmgate store.
There are infinite possibilities. However, there are only a limited number of cannabis tourism providers currently operating in Canada.
The lag in development is no doubt due to two factors: 1) the slow growth of retail cannabis – this barrier has now been removed; and 2) due to the crushing effects the tourism industry has endured during the ongoing pandemic.
Recovery will be a reality of the tourism industry for many years, but new packages and offerings can help. When travelling, many people want to do things they have never done before, making them an ideal target to offer a dedicated or side excursion involving cannabis.
One of the first cannabis tourism experiences established in Canada is Canopy Growth’s Tweed Visitor Centre in Smith Falls, Ont. The growth operation and visitor centre sit on the same patch of land that once housed the famous Hershey Chocolate Factory. While it’s temporarily closed due to the pandemic, the age-gated facility offers self-guided tours to see real grow rooms and highlights the fascinating history of cannabis, billing themselves as “your all-access pass to the past, present, and future of cannabis.”
Aurora Cannabis also has a cannabis tourism play with their flagship store in West Edmonton Mall, Alberta’s top tourist destination which attracts more than 30 million visitors a year. A separate event space in the store allows for experiences like musical shows, comedy evenings, movie nights, and more.
In addition to the opportunity to attract domestic tourists, responses to the research study included people from over 10 international countries who have expressed interest in visiting a cannabis tourism experience in Canada. This is a big opportunity for Canadian companies to design an experience that only a country with fully-legalized recreational cannabis can offer.
What do tourists want?
What are consumers looking for from canna tourism? Early results from the New Heights Cannabis Tourism research study indicate there are things we can learn from the wine tourism industry.
Like wine regions, a cannabis region can emerge from an area where there is a cluster of growers with quality product who are open and able to welcome tourists. Tourists can be invited to tour the grow area, touch the plant, try a sample, and make a purchase at the onsite store.
Another similarity is that cannabis can be incorporated into dining through curation by a specialty chef who can provide a very unique educational and entertaining tourism culinary experience.
As demonstrated in California, Colorado, and now Nevada, cannabis tourism is an economic driver and has the potential to be a much-needed stimulus to the Canadian economy as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We know the hospitality and tourism industries are on their knees. And anything that could bring people into those premises to stay longer and spend more, can only be a good thing right now,” says Chris Bloore, president and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario (TIAO) about his desire to see legalization of the on-premise channel for infused cannabis foods and beverages.
There are many areas for growth in the cannabis tourism sector, including farmgate stores and consumption lounges. As regulations stand, both farmgate stores and lounges face significant restrictions and regulatory hurdles. In Ontario, while farmgate stores are now legal, the product must still go through the provincial supplier and lounges are primarily operating outdoors on private property. However, these challenges don’t mean that there aren’t brands delivering innovative customer experiences.
We know that people are consuming billions of dollars of cannabis in Canada year over year since legalization in October 2018. At the moment, we continue to consume at home or in small intimate groups because the pandemic has forced us all to social distance. However, as recovery continues, people want to get out, socialize, and travel. Not only will they continue to purchase and consume cannabis, but they will want to do it when they are out having fun with their family and friends.
Jennifer Mason is responsible for driving cannabis tourism in Canada. She developed and hosted three New Heights Cannabis Tourism Summits in partnership with the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario (TIAO), and is the driving force behind the first Canadian Cannabis Tourism Research study.
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