Caribbean Looks to Marijuana as Potential New Attraction for Tourists

A report by Matt Turner for Travel Agent Central.

The Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) hosted a Facebook Live earlier this morning, bringing together a team to discuss a potential new attraction and revenue source in tourism: Marijuana.

The chat comprised CTO secretary general, Hugh RileyAntigua & Barbuda’s ambassador to Ethiopia and member of the Caribbean Community’s commission on marijuana L. Franklin “Ras Franki” Francis; president of the Grenada Hotel & Tourism AssociationJerry Rappaport; Canadian journalist Adrian Brijbassi; Barbadian pollster Peter WickhamNew York City-based Dr. William Gibbs; and Bryanna Hylton, a Jamaican student who won this year’s CTO Tourism Youth Congress.

Although marijuana is legal only in Jamaica, the CTO looked to the future about the possibilities of what the herb could do for tourism. The hottest topic is its use for wellness. As Riley noted, the CTO’s theme for 2018 is Wellness and Rejuvenation, which brought them to the discussion of marijuana as a potential remedy. He posed the question: As more parts of the world begin to legalize the use of marijuana (both medicinally and recreationally), how can the Caribbean take advantage of this?

Brijbassi, a Canadian, helped provide some background information as to the efforts Canada went through when deciding to legalize marijuana. He mentioned that Colorado has seen 90 million tourists this year so far. Of those, 15 percent have partaken in a marijuana experience, and many of these travelers visited explicitly for that experience. He added that the Global Wellness Institute reports wellness tourism is a $3.7 trillion industry. (It was also noted that $200 million was raised this year in Colorado as a result of marijuana-related business; in the first month of its legalization, the state brought in $14 million from recreational use and $22.5 million from medical use.) But the way to attract visitors must be controlled; he likened it to wineries, craft beer breweries and the cigar industry. The “connoisseur-ship” aspect should be at the forefront of the Caribbean’s approach, where travelers can tour fields and learn about the plant—not simply come to indulge.

Following, Grenada’s Rappaport said that as more countries legalize marijuana, they will increasingly look to destinations where they can maintain the same lifestyle. In additional to marijuana, he says that the Caribbean has a wealth of herbs that must be researched to see how they can be used medicinally and as part of the wellness industry.

Barbados’ Wickham offered a counterpoint, saying the Caribbean may not reap tremendous economic benefits from the legalization and incorporation of marijuana into the tourism industry if they are too late to the game. In other words, it will be old news for travelers looking for marijuana-related experiences. However, others in the group were less worried about this. Hylton said that the Caribbean as a whole still has a positive stigma among travelers for the use of marijuana (even though only Jamaica has legalized it), meaning it shouldn’t be difficult to catch up in terms of popularity. Riley added that the Caribbean doesn’t need marijuana to become a top tourist destination, since it already is. The incorporation of marijuana into wellness tourism could just be one additional factor to bringing in tourists.

Rappaport sees a specific benefit in being a bit late to the game: This way, the Caribbean can see how other destinations are handling the legalization. Festivals could also be a possibility—to create events centered specifically around marijuana. For instance, Jamaica could host a Bob Marley festival, and if (and when, they said) that’s a success, the other islands will try to follow suit.

Riley concluded by saying still plenty of research and educating needs to take place before they move forward, as, he noted, the group didn’t host the Facebook Live to discuss the explicit legalization—only how they can benefit from tourism if their islands did, in fact, decriminalize marijuana. Communities would have to be involved so that economic impacts would be felt throughout, he added.

So, while this likely won’t be available in the immediate future, marijuana-based wellness tourism may one of the next big things. And the Caribbean will be looking to capitalize.

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