On October 17, 2018, the day Canada’s legalization of recreational marijuana came into effect, many hotels were still hazy about any policy regarding cannabis-consuming guests. The Cannabis Act allows registered guests to use marijuana in a hotel, motel or inn room, as long as that room is a designated smoking room. However, the Act also states that any hotel choosing to prohibit marijuana use entirely on its property can do so, with specific policies in place.
Many hotels have cannabis policies mirroring that of cigarette-smoking restrictions for guests, coupled with a zero-tolerance stance for staff.
Marian Barbieri, vice-president, Human Resources for New Castle Hotels & Resorts, which manages properties under the Marriott and Choice banners, says, “Marriott has taken the position that 100 per cent of its facilities will be cannabis-free. [That’s] the same for staff, except it refers to cannabis in all forms, absent a medical-marijuana need to accommodate. Cannabis is not allowed [as an] alternative to alcohol, whether entertaining on property or off. And as most — if not all — of our Canadian hotels are smoke-free, smoking cannabis has no place in the guest experience. I would not be surprised if this latter part changes, but that is the position at this time.”
Lynn Henderson, director of Public Relations for the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, says, in accordance with local bylaws, the hotel prohibits smoking of any kind in and around the hotel. “This includes balconies and deck areas, as they are considered public space on our property,” she says.
“[Many hoteliers] are taking a wait-and-see attitude. Like anything else, we need to make sure it’s safety first, make sure your policies are there and your management is educated on the aspects of what they need to police and what not to police,” says Tony Elenis, president and CEO of the Mississauga, Ont.-based Ontario Restaurant, Hotel & Motel Association (ORHMA), which was involved in the provincial government’s consultation process prior to legalization.
“What we’re hearing from the industry is really a go-slow approach,” says Ty Speer, president and CEO of Tourism Vancouver. “It’s an enormous policy change for the government, but I don’t really get the sense we’re going to undergo any kind of a seismic shift. It’s so new that most businesses are saying, ‘First, we ought to make sure we have our own house in order, then we’ll get a sense of what we’re seeing from customers, what they’re asking, what they’re doing.’”
Part of the uncertainty in developing official policies lies in the delicate balance between allowing guests to consume a legal product (wherever cigarette smoking is allowed) and protecting those who object to that product being consumed in their presence. In addition, many hoteliers are deciding how to incorporate cannabis consumption while still abiding by the Smoke-Free Places Act.
“We largely live in a no-smoking world these days and none of that is going to change,” says Speer. “There are laws that supersede consumption and just because cannabis is legal, the no-smoking laws do not stand aside for that. There are ways hotels will need to contemplate what’s appropriate. Over and above the law, hotel owners will probably have a view as to what they want their management companies to do. And then the management companies themselves will consider, pretty carefully, the degree to which they want to have corporate policies versus individual hotel policies. [They will likely] respond to the demand.”
It’s expected that some hotels that currently offer smoking rooms for tobacco will eventually allow smoking or vaping marijuana in those rooms. But, as Elenis says, “Those hotels that have a corporate-type base, which most do, have more non-smoking rooms than smoking rooms.” If there is sudden demand for more smoking rooms, spurred on by cannabis consumers, Elenis says hotels will likely offer more smoking rooms.
Independent hotels and boutiques — as well as bed-and-breakfasts — not bound by corporate oversight may be more open to allowing cannabis consumption on their property. In fact, one entrepreneur has built his entire business around it. Sean Roby, founder of Colorado-based Bud and Breakfast, which lists pot-friendly accommodations across Canada and the U.S., noted a surge of new listings here since legalization — topping 100 in Canada — and he predicts listings could exceed 1,000 within a year.
Operators in Prince Edward Island and Ontario are more optimistic about the potential influence of cannabis legalization on tourism, which some experts claim could ultimately add $2 billion annually to the economy. Shaman Ferraro, CEO of Charlottetown’s cannabis-tourism guide Gocanna, says, “I’m getting a lot of interest and inquiries [from hotels], but overall people are in “wait-and-see” mode.” Ferraro declines to name the properties, saying one is a member of a major chain, “which has created an internal challenge for them as its parent company is based in the U.S.”
Matt Cronin, CEO of Toronto-based Canada High Tours, which conducts tours to cannabis-friendly destinations across the country, says he was approached by some global brands prior to legalization that were interested in partnering with his company to provide accommodation to his tour groups. But now? “Radio silence,” he says. “Where we’ve made progress is with the smaller sole-owner hotels, the B&Bs, et cetera. We do have placeholders for packages on our website that feature lodgings that provide a consumption space, but we’ve not fully developed them and we haven’t released the names of the hotels either, as it could jeopardize our working relationship with them.”
Canada is only the second country in the world, after Uruguay, to legalize recreational marijuana broadly and there’s been a lot of media buzz surrounding the potential of cannabis tourism. But, are tourists really clamoring across our borders to light up? “I’m not hearing that yet,” says Elenis. “There aren’t thousands of people coming across the border. It’s not the Wild West.”
Speer agrees. “One, the choice to consume cannabis is a lifestyle choice. It’s a ‘yes’ to a small subset of people and a ‘no’ to a much larger subset of people. So you’re dealing with a finite group of people. The fact it’s now legal probably doesn’t change a whole lot in terms of changing the size of the consumer group. And, for better or for worse, people have been consuming here and in other parts of the world anyway. Rightly or wrongly, cannabis had a reasonable degree of availability in Vancouver before it was legalized.”
At best, Speer says cannabis tourism could evolve to the point it mirrors wine or craft-beer tourism. “The B.C. wine industry, which is now an important contributor to the tourism industry, took several decades to move past being a production industry to being an experiential industry. The cannabis industry is going to have to go through that as well.”
For now, however, Tourism Vancouver’s lines are not blowing up from cannabis-consuming enthusiasts eager to take advantage of the new laws. “It’s been a very topical story internationally,” says Speer. “That will die down and we’ll need to take at least six months, maybe longer, to get any kind of a feel for what the level of buzz is around people trying to understand what can and can’t be done.”
As for how hotels will respond to this budding new industry, Elenis says it depends on how loud that buzz gets. “[For the] independent operator, the consumer really changes the culture in everything we do,” he explains, adding the industry will undoubtedly respond based on consumer demand — or lack thereof.
Written by Robin Roberts