Updated: August 6, 2014 at 3:26 pm
Gwen David is constantly thinking of new ways to market her Avenue Hotel Bed & Breakfast Inn in Manitou Springs.
She advertises on websites for those in search of romantic weekend getaways.
She hits all the outdoor enthusiast websites.
And now, since the grand opening of Maggie's Farm recreational marijuana store in Manitou Springs, she is having her B&B marketed as cannabis-friendly on a website specifically promoting marijuana-friendly accommodations.
"We are on a number of websites to get your name out there, so people can see you," David said.
Since recreational marijuana use became legal in Colorado on Jan. 1, David has allowed customers to smoke marijuana in a designated smoking area outside of the historic inn, which was built in 1886 at 711 Manitou Ave.
But she doesn't want it to be trivialized as some sort of pothead establishment, she said. She considers it an upscale B&B with a price point at about $120 to $150 per night. And she isn't planning a splashy marketing campaign on her B&B website or changing her advertising strategy, she said. Her cannabis-friendly status is simply stated in the B&Bs smoking policy.
Instead, she is partnering with Kush Tourism, a Seattle-based tour company that connects travelers to cannabis tours and marijuana-friendly accommodations and attractions in Washington and Colorado. Using the tour company's website targets travelers specifically looking for cannabis friendly lodging and won't alienate other travelers, she said.
"We like to have a comfortable, relaxing, upscale place for people to enjoy the purchases they made," she said.
It seems discreet is the strategy when it comes to hotels and B&Bs finding their way in the new era of pot tourism, said Michael Gordon, CEO of Kush Tourism. His company partners with high-end hotels and B&Bs to target baby-boomers - the same age group that might be interested in wine or beer tours, he said.
At first, Kush Tourism focused just on cannabis tours. But the telephone and website was busy with inquiries: Where could a traveler stay and smoke the marijuana they just purchased? Gordon said.
Now his company, which launched in January, is working with about 10 hotels and B&Bs in Washington and Colorado, including Manitou's Avenue Hotel B&B, and more are showing interest in marketing their marijuana-friendly status, he said. But hotels and B&Bs don't want to hang flashing neon signs saying pot smokers are welcome. They are leaving that message up to tour companies, he said.
"People are traveling to Colorado and they want to smoke pot and they want to find a place where they don't have to slink around," Gordon said.
But don't look for a promotional cannabis brochure next to ones touting the Emma Crawford Coffin Race or Manitou Springs artisan shops at the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce. The chamber will keep track of cannabis-friendly hotels and B&Bs in the area should anyone ask, but it will not promote the town's retail marijuana store or pot-friendly lodges in its literature or on its website, said Leslie Lewis, Manitou Springs chamber director.
Cannabis-friendly hotels and B&Bs also won't be used to promote the region in the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau's annual "Official Guide for Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak Region," said Amy Long, CVB vice president of marketing and partnerships.
"With our main branding focus being family-friendly and outdoor adventure, we are not promoting cannabis tourism at this time," she said. "No judging. This is just the best way to serve our main target market." The CVB's website includes information about Colorado's marijuana law. But the information is not on the main page.
David said she understands the hesitation.
"I think people are still finding their comfort level," she said. "It has been illegal for so long."
She said business at her inn hasn't increased because of her policy, but she's seen "an increase in people who are more openly talking about it and asking about our policy."
Sallie Clark, an El Paso County Commissioner who owns the Holden House 1902 B&B at 1102 W. Pikes Peak Ave., is concerned about B&Bs in the region promoting cannabis use and hopes travelers will not assume all B&Bs allow marijuana smoking.
"There is a perception that marijuana is legal in any setting, in any place," Clark said. "That is not the case."
Cannabis tourism also will not be promoted by the Bed and Breakfast Innkeepers of Colorado, said Clark, who is marketing director for the association. Instead, B&B owners have been advised to strengthen their smoking policies and make sure that customers know what the policy is in advance.
But demand for cannabis friendly hotel rooms in Colorado is overwhelming, said Mike Eymer, who runs Colorado Cannabis Tours in Denver. There are days when an estimated 100 inquiries are made to his company about pot-friendly lodging, he said. He started his tour company in January to take travelers to dispensaries and to meet cannabis growers. Now he also works with two upscale Denver hotelsthat allow marijuana smoking ("We keep them anonymous until someone is booked, he said"), and he wishes there were six more because he would have enough customers to keep them busy.
"It's a great marketing strategy," Eymer said. "The (hoteliers) are happy to not to have to deal with it. By going through us, they won't turn off the other guests."
Gordon from Kush Tourism suspects that as demand grows for cannabis-friendly lodging, more hotels and B&Bs will change their smoking policies and may even become more aggressive about marketing themselves as a placewhere marijuana smokers can light up.
"It will be a gradual change," he said. "You look at hotels and they all have mini-bars. In every single one of them you can get a shot of whiskey. Alcohol was illegal at one point."