More good news for marijuana in Colorado: A new study finds legalization has given a big boost to the tourism industry there.
The study, commissioned by the Colorado Tourism Office and released in December, reports that legal cannabis is responsible for influencing 48 percent of plans to visit the state. That’s much more than they had been willing to acknowledge in the past, when they pointed to their own marketing efforts as cause for the increase.
And indeed, the last two years have seen a significant uptick in visits to Colorado. But the study suggests it can be explained largely by the legalization of marijuana in 2012.
Colorado marijuana laws influence half of tourists
Officials behind the study examined survey data from October and November of potential summer vacationers who saw the state’s tourism ad campaign, titled “Come to Life.” They found that Colorado’s liberal marijuana laws influenced travelers’ decisions more than 48 percent of the time.
“I think it is rearing its head as a significant travel and tourism amenity for visitors coming to Colorado,” said Al White, former head of the Colorado Tourism Office who sits on the board of a marijuana tourism business.
The study was authored by Denise Miller, director of tourism surveys for Strategic Marketing and Research Insights (SMARI). She noted that it may not represent the views of all tourists, since travelers who decided to avoid the state over legalization were not polled. What’s more, less than 10 percent of tourists who answered the survey said they actually shopped at a dispensary while there.
“I think definitely the laws are having an influence when people are considering Colorado,” Miller said. “We can see that it’s still not a large percentage in terms of what people are doing, but it’s become more of a motivator for those who want to do it. It’s certainly having some influence, both, I think, positive and negative on that decision process.”
Nationwide survey data
The study was based on surveys, each with 33 questions, that were given to more than 3,000 tourists traveling from Dallas, Chicago, Indianapolis, Houston, Milwaukee, St. Louis, San Diego, and several other cities. Roughy 10 percent of respondents told Miller and her team that they visited Colorado between April and September 2015.
State officials have touted “Come to Life” and its success in attracting tourists. The campaign includes TV, print, and digital ads, along with billboards, in the target markets. It went national over the summer, and reached roughly 2 million more people than in 2014.
But the ads studiously avoid the issue of legal marijuana. Even so, more than 20 percent of tourists who responded to the survey said cannabis played an “extremely influential” role in their vacation plans. Another 20 percent said the availability of the drug was “very much influential,” while 7 percent described it as “somewhat influential.”
The number of tourists who actually buy cannabis remains small, however, just 8 percent, the same result as last year. Eighty-five percent of the visitors who shopped at dispensaries this year said legalization was a primary reason they visited Colorado; last year 29 percent said the same.
Voters legalized marijuana at the polls in 2012. The drug became legal in 2013, and the first retail pot went on sale New Year’s Day 2014. The new industry has generated many millions of dollars in economic output and tax revenue, more than meeting initial expectations.
In 2014, about 65 percent of travelers said cannabis played no part in their plans, while the rest said they were either “more likely to visit” because of the drug or “less likely to visit.” This year, a slightly larger group of respondents, 20 percent, said legalization made them more likely to visit Colorado, with another 15 percent saying marijuana made them less likely to visit and the rest saying it made no difference.