The word is out: The two states with legal weed have turned into Meccas for stoner tourists. Few locals are toking, the story goes, and most of the weed is going to sleazy visitors from out of state.
The only problem? Local officials say it isn’t true. A couple of travel websites insist they have evidence proving more people are traveling to Colorado and Washington in the wake of legalization there. But nothing suggests tourists make up the majority of potheads anywhere.
Weed entrepreneurs in Colorado and Washington definitely make an effort to attract visitors, and some people have been known to drive across America for a taste of legal dope. Special marijuana events draw huge crowds from around the country.
This April, on 4/20, about 30,000 people visited the Cannabis Cup expo in Denver. And Seattle just hosted Hempfest, a yearly weekend festival that brings in about 250,000 weed lovers.
But officials in both cities say they’ve seen little evidence to suggest many tourists are coming for the pot. Of course, they have an interest in promoting their communities as wholesome family destinations, so they may not want to explore the real volume of tourists.
Experts at two travel websites say they’ve seen a significant increase in “interest” about tourism to Washington and Colorado since pot was legalized in 2012.
“We’ve seen that searches for both destinations have spiked dramatically,” said Taylor Cole, spokesman for Hotels.com North America.
Cole said his company saw a 73 percent increase in web traffic related to Denver around the time of the Cannabis Cup, and a 68 percent rise in people searching for travel information about Seattle during the first week after pot hit the retail market there.
But those are one-time events, likely to attract a larger number of tourists. There’s no evidence big crowds come to either state at other times.
Officials at Hopper.com, a site used by travelers to compare airfares, said they’ve seen a 10 percent increase this year in the level of interest among people searching for autumn flights to Spokane, Wash. They saw a 3 percent rise in Seattle over the same period.
At Hotels.com, Cole said Denver is doing better than Seattle in the competition for the tourist market. During the fist six months of 2014, the website saw an increase of 37 percent in searches for Denver, while Seattle searches increased 29 percent.
“Our search data does show that Denver and Colorado have seen more significant search increases in the first seven months of the year,” Cole said.
There’s one major problem with this data, though: It’s based on Web searches rather than actual ticket purchases. Interest in travel to Washington or Colorado may have increased substantially in recent months, but that doesn’t mean many more people are actually going there.