A dispensary tour, a grow-your-own-pot class and “ganja yoga” — these are a few of the cannabis-friendly experiences one Canadian tour operator plans to offer after the country legalizes recreational marijuana later this month.
While Canada High Tours is waiting for Oct. 17 before taking any reservations for its robust slate of tour packages, the company’s CEO says demand is already picking up with a recent increase in booking enquiries. The company has planned tours in several markets including Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.
“Fair to say things are ramping up for us,” founder and CEO Matt Cronin told BNN Bloomberg in an email interview.
Canada High Tours, of course, isn’t the only one preparing for the end of pot prohibition and curious tourists from around the world. While Canada’s tourism boards are waiting to see where the dust settles before making any big moves to promote cannabis tourism, tour operators themselves are forging ahead with the expectation of strong and growing enthusiasm among travellers.
And it’s not hard to see why, given that Canada could eventually generate as much as $2 billion in annual tourism revenue from cannabis tourism, according to an estimate by Gocanna CEO Shaman Ferraro previously reported by BNN Bloomberg in August.
Cronin said that interest in his company’s tours has been coming from all over the world. “Today for us it’s Canadian domestic, U.S., U.K., rest of Western Europe, Australia — in that order,” he said.
Meanwhile, another cannabis tour company that operates in Toronto is directing its marketing efforts to residents of U.S. border states, many of whom live nearer to Canada than to states where marijuana is legal.
“Convenience is king, so I expect border states to be more interested than the southern states, especially in terms of day travel,” Neev Tapiero, owner of Canadian Kush Tours, told BNN Bloomberg in a phone interview.
Canadian Kush Tours plans to offer experiences like a cannabis cooking class and a party bus with a vapour lounge tent.
And in Smiths Falls, Ont., home to Canopy Growth Corp., the company’s Tweed Visitor Centre has welcomed hundreds of visitors from all over the world since it opened its doors in August, the company told BNN Bloomberg.
Visitors can explore grow rooms, learn about the history of cannabis and exit through a gift shop where “perhaps soon, you’ll be able to add a pop of green to your shopping bag,” Canopy’s Director of Marketing Amy Wasserman told BNN Bloomberg in an email.
Canopy Chairman and Co-CEO Bruce Linton said in a Sept. 27 interview that the centre’s merchandise sales has been a boon for brand recognition.
“Our best day was more than $30,000 of shirts and hats sold, which say ‘Tweed’ and people walk around, in a sense, supporting and promoting this is a trusted brand,” Linton said in a television interview with BNN Bloomberg.
While tourism businesses like High Tours and Kush Tours expressed confidence in the burgeoning cannabis tourism market, they also cited the challenge of an uncertain and evolving environment.
“You have to be very nimble in your model and approach … adaptability is key,” Cronin said.
Staying on sidelines
Meanwhile, a number of Canadian tourism boards are choosing to tread carefully, a sign that not everyone has warmed up to promoting destinations with Canadian cannabis in the same way as Niagara or California wines.
“Destination Canada doesn’t speculate on the potential effects of policy or legislation changes on the tourism industry,” a spokesperson for the government agency told BNN Bloomberg in an email when asked about how it’s readying for legal cannabis.
The tourism association that represents the Windsor, Ont. region — located less than an hour away from the facilities of major cannabis producer Aphria Inc. in Leamington, Ont. — also indicated it’s taking a cautious approach.
“What would we be advertising to tourists?” Gordon Orr, CEO of Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island, told BNN Bloomberg in a phone interview. “You have to give them something to do, and that’s really the part that is still very much unknown.”
But Orr isn’t ruling out promoting the industry, if and once it matures in his jurisdiction. He gave an example of how the board developed a partnership with the region’s breweries.
“We had a handful of craft breweries pop up, now at least a dozen in the area. So what we decided to do was bring those groups together,” Orr said. That led to the creation of the Barrels, Bottles and Brews program, which incentivizes tourists to visit multiple breweries in order to collect enough stamps for a “passport” to redeem a gift.
“We didn’t see one craft brewery and say, ‘Hey, let’s jump on this,’ because that’s not going to be enough of a draw,” Orr said.
“Once [cannabis is] legalized and businesses start to gather and develop and mature, we will look at it and say, ‘Is this a program we want to pursue?’ If it becomes that … then we’re going to help capitalize on it with them.”
Cannabis Canada is BNN Bloomberg’s in-depth series exploring the stunning formation of the entirely new — and controversial — Canadian recreational marijuana industry. Read more from the special series here and subscribe to our Cannabis Canada newsletter to have the latest marijuana news delivered directly to your inbox every day.
PEI-based firm aims to guide consumers on safe cannabis tourism
Along with the black market, the varying provincial regulations on recreational marijuana sales and consumption will pose challenges for travellers who want to distinguish safe and legal experiences from ones that aren’t.
Gocanna, a member-based tourism guide based in Charlottetown, PEI, hopes to counter that by providing seals of approval for cannabis-friendly businesses that abide by the regulations of each jurisdiction.
“What we set out to do from day one very much aligns with government policy. We are trying to eliminate the black market by helping businesses understand how to operate legally, and distinguishing ones that are so we can guide consumers to those services and products,” Gocanna CEO Shaman Ferraro told BNN Bloomberg in a phone interview.
Gocanna will issue four different seals that identify the type of service provided, according to its website:
1) A circle seal: a member “that is familiar with cannabis and provides safe complimentary amenity features for their customers to enjoy.”
2) A square seal: a member that is a licensed retailer.
3) A pentagon seal: a member that is authorized to designate on-site consumption areas.
4) A hexagon seal: a member that is a licensed retailer and that is authorized to designate on-site consumption areas.
“As a consumer or traveller, you don’t necessarily need to know the intricate details of every 13 provincial and territorial frameworks if you know how to recognize our four symbols,” Ferraro said.