Hoteliers dip toes into cannabis-based hospitality

Sixty-six percent of Americans now support legalizing marijuana, according to Gallup’s most recent poll. The latest figure marks the third consecutive year that support of the measure has increased and established a new record. So far, 33 U.S. states and the District of Columbia allow medical marijuana usage and 11 states allow recreational marijuana usage. In 2018 Canada became the second country in the world to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. It isn’t a surprise that the hospitality industry is trying to bring hemp and cannabis into the mainstream.

A cannabis plant has more than 100 components; the primary ones that people talk about are the active cannabinoids in the plant, known as phytocannabinoids. Cannabidiol, better known as CBD, is the non-psychoactive cannabis compound. Studies show that it can decrease inflammation, relieve muscle tension and reduce stress, making it a natural fit for spas. There are myriad different CBD products and they are gaining traction in spas for their restorative benefits. Wellness centers around the country are infusing spa treatments, like massages and manicures, with CBD oil. Top-tier hotels such as the Ritz-Carlton Los Angeles and the St. Regis San Francisco now offer CBD spa treatments that incorporate the ingredient.

In addition to spa applications, cannabis also is transforming the food-and-beverage arena. Chefs across the nation, including those in hotels, are experimenting with cannabis-infused cuisine and cocktails. So far, the experimenting has mainly stayed on the East and West coasts, and it is done using CBD.

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At the James New York-NoMad, there is an in-room dining menu solely dedicated to CBD items. Guests can order spicy meatballs, butter lettuce salad, olive tapenade, tater tots, an ice cream sundae and even bottled water—all infused with CBD.

Because marijuana is legal in Washington, The Thompson Seattle hosts dinners that feature marijuana pairings. The property’s executive chef sources the marijuana from the local Lux Pot Shop, pairing it with dishes such as beets with herring, scallops and veal cheeks.

While there are potential opportunities for hotels to offer CBD items, there are some properties in the 11 states that have legalized recreational marijuana usage that have an actual cannabis destination. Properties can permit guests to smoke or consume cannabis on property but generally provide guidelines as to what is acceptable. Because the cost of cleaning smoke from a hotel’s textiles often is cost-prohibitive, smoke-friendly hotels often limit smoking of all kinds to specific outdoor areas.

Brand Involvement

Perhaps one of the most famous pro-cannabis hoteliers is Roger Bloss, the hospitality industry veteran who founded Vantage Hospitality Group and is now CEO/president of Alternative Hospitality. After two devastating health crises—a “widowmaker” heart attack and a near-fatal car accident—Bloss turned to cannabis as a nonaddictive alternative to prescription pain pills. Learning firsthand the benefits of cannabis, he was inspired to create cannabis-based health and wellness hotels. 

The first property is under construction in Desert Hot Springs, Calif., near the site of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Bloss hopes to have the first property open in 2021.

All of his properties will be an all-immersive experience with a variety of cannabis products and physical spaces for education, exploration and discovery. The Coachill Inn Resort will feature 150 rooms and an amphitheater, a lazy-river pool, a brew pub and a park.

The on-property dispensary will be stocked with wellness goods, including cannabis-infused lotions and shampoos, as well as a full range of cannabis products. Guests will be encouraged to share feedback to get the experience they are seeking with concierges who can modify their dosages and delivery methods.

“It’s about making your mind and body feel comfortable,” Bloss said. “It’s achieving peace in mind—not just peace of mind.”

The company has eight additional projects under consideration: three in Las Vegas, two in California, one in Michigan, one in Maryland and one in Oklahoma. The company also is looking to expand internationally with a potential project in Greece. Bloss said he is looking for new construction properties or a certain type of hotel that can be converted and has an owner who is willing to work with him. He always looks for local partners because marijuana is illegal on a federal level but he said he wants “to be a head of the curve since the laws are changing daily.”

Cannabis Tourism

Brian Applegarth is chief education officer of Recreational Embassy, a tourism-marketing agency specializing in developing strategic marketing solutions linking the tourism and cannabis industries. He works with hotels to normalize “heightened” travel experiences and bring hemp and cannabis to the mainstream. He also founded the California Cannabis Tourism Association.

“I’m passionate about travel, tourism and culture and support the cannabis industry,” Applegarth explained. “I’m inspired by cannabis tourism and we offer product and service solutions to hotels to inspire them as well.”

Recreational Embassy helps hotels mitigate risk and offer cannabis services in their hotel model. “What is hemp and cannabis, what’s the legal landscape, what is the terminology you’ll be seeing and how to adapt your model are all things we help with,” Applegarth said.

Every hotel must understand the legal complexities regarding cannabis, Applegarth advised. Rules vary from municipality to municipality in California, where Recreational Embassy operates. The organization helps hotels procure legal, clean, tested and verified cannabis and hemp, and consults on where and how hotels can set up spaces for guests to consume those products. “Going from the black market to the regulated market, there are a lot of industry growing pains,” he said. “Hotels need to be knowledgeable at the very least because the data about the market is so very young.”

In Canada, the Alberta Hotel and Lodging Association has worked with hotels to help them establish guidelines, including their own alcohol and drug policies. “There was a lot of concern at the onset of legalization, but we honestly haven’t had any issues,” said Dave Kaiser, president/CEO of the group. “It must have a plan and be managed well but that will alleviate a lot of risk.”

With legal cannabis smoking now permitted, Kaiser suggested hotels set up designated spaces on property so other guests, especially those will children, don’t have to be exposed.