By Nicole Di Tomasso
TORONTO — The tourism and cannabis industries came together virtually for the third-annual New Heights Cannabis Summit to showcase opportunities for canna-tourism experiences that could aid tourism recovery and restore pre-COVID-19-pandemic revenue. The summit featured presentations from powerful leaders who are actively shaping the canna-tourism space, as well as networking and product-development sessions.
This summit comes on the heels of the government starting to review the legal framework regulating cannabis, which is currently argued to be too restrictive when it comes to marketing, branding and advertising practices in comparison to other age-prohibited goods (alcohol and tobacco) that are advertised and promoted nationwide.
“This three-year anniversary marks the beginning of an 18-month process where the federal government will look at the legislation around cannabis and start to make adjustments,” said Jennifer Mason, founder and president of New Heights Cannabis and JLM Strategic Marketing. “I have more questions about cannabis tourism than I have answers, and that’s why it’s so important to have these events to bring together the people who are making a lot of these trailblazing moves and who are fighting for normalization and de-stigmatization through a number of activities and events.”
Throughout the summit, attendees were introduced to a number of canna-tourism activities, events and products, including culinary experiences, consumption lounges, cannabis hotels, weed yoga, cannabis business conferences, weed and wine tours, spa-and-wellness experiences and more. Consequently, these activities will generate new revenue while also providing opportunities to educate and destigmatize, engage and connect with brands and establish social responsibility.
While the pandemic decimated the tourism industry, the cannabis industry continued to grow. In the first half of 2021, the cannabis industry reached $1.8 billion in sales.
“When new opportunities are presented to us, we must take them with both hands,” said Christopher Bloore, president and CEO, Tourism Industry Association of Ontario (TIAO). “It’s clear that cannabis is a growing sector and it’s continuously expanding throughout Ontario, so why shouldn’t Ontario’s tourism businesses reap the economic benefits of canna-tourism and build upon the potential of making the province a hotspot travel destination for cannabis? As tourism caters to a variety of ages and groups of people, cannabis can do the same.”
Currently, New Heights Cannabis is working on Canada’s first Cannabis Tourism Research Study in association with the University of Guelph and Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics to provide the data that cannabis and tourism businesses, regions and decision-makers need to feel confident in investing in canna tourism experiences. Leading the study is Susan Dupej, cannabis-tourism researcher and post-doctoral fellow at the University of Guelph. Although the study is still in its preliminary stages, Dupej said more than 70 per cent of respondents were either extremely likely or somewhat likely to incorporate cannabis into a trip.
“This is evidence that cannabis is indeed a choice factor for a segment of the tourist market. In other words, cannabis is an important factor when tourists are determining their destination choice,” said Dupej. “What we know so far is that there are several cannabis-related activities that stand out more than others as being of interest while being on vacation: a retreat/getaway (75 per cent); followed by staying at a cannabis-friendly accommodation (71 per cent); and infused dining experiences (70 per cent).”
Additional sessions covered topics such as innovations in product development, on-premise consumption in restaurants, bars and lounges, retail outlet expansion, airport advertising and retail, location-based service technology and marketing and media.
The summit concluded with a cannabis business panel discussion, including Anthony Carnavale, founder of Clean Piece Toronto; Gayle Duncan, Chief Growth Officer of The Green Organic Dutchman; and Dany Lefebvre, CEO of La Feuille Verte; and Lucas Margulis, founder and president of High Bar Hospitality & Event Group. As successful business leaders, the panelists highlighted strategies that other business owners can implement to bridge the two industries and attract new visitors to their destinations.
“Hearing from [our participants and attendees] reassures me that this is going to happen,” said Mason. “We need to stay the course and be resilient, and I think that’s something the cannabis and tourism [industries] have in common. They’re very collaborative, and there’s going to be great [cultural synergy]. Now that we’re going into recovery, let’s have more events and spread ourselves across the country. Anyone who wants to contribute to this effort is always welcome.”