Patting itself on the back, Seattle’s Convention and Visitors Bureau, the nonprofit tourism agency that now goes by the punchier name VisitSeattle, excitedly reported last month that the area had record number of visitors in 2012 and that even more are expected in 2013. The press release, however, listed absolutely no reasons for why this will be. Not one. No mention of beautiful scenery, great culture, fish restaurants galore or even a chance to eyeball locations in Fifty Shades of Grey.
I’m wondering if that’s because it’s thought a good chunk of that expected increase will be due to tourists hoping to take advantage of Washington State’s legalization of recreational marijuana use. I could see why Seattle’s image makers–officially, anyway–would not want to say their success will be based in significant part on the selling of drugs. So maybe better to give no reasons than to list a few and leave out the New To Seattle elephant in the loom.
You think I’m making up the pot tourism potential? Consider Arthur Frommer, maybe the best-known brand name in travel writing. “They all claim they don’t want this type of tourism,” he told a Los Angeles audience last month. “Yet the hotels are licking their chops over the hundreds of thousands of people who will go to Colorado and Washington to enjoy this.” (Yes, I, too, was surprised to learn Frommer himself is still alive.)
Or this: “The opportunity for a tourist segment around casual smokers visiting the State is unparallelled,” gushes a Seattle website called washingtonweedsales.com, which seems to be a non-consumer website aimed at the trade.
Complained a letter-writer to a paper in the British Columbia (Canada) border town of Langley, “Washington State is becoming a tourist destination for cannabis connoisseurs. Border communities like Langley can only watch as tourists (and dollars) head south.”
The out-of-state media are having a lot of fun with this, few outlets more so than CNN. The network just aired a segment about the problems Washington State is having in hiring a consultant to help write the rules, which won’t go into effect until later this year. This morning, one of the CNN anchors, noting the state is delaying its selection, implied that might be due to a weed-induced haze.
The New York Daily News last month ran a staff-written story on a bill in the Washington State legislature–I didn’t know the paper covered Olympia–specifying how stores should handle marijuana baggies accidentally dropped by customers. The headline: “Dude, where’s the weed?”
The TV comics are also having a field day (or night), often commenting upon both Washington State and Colorado, which also legalized pleasure pot use. A recent David Letterman list of “Top 10 Things House Plants Have To Say” had this as No. 4: “I’d like to thank the people of Colorado and Washington for legalizing me.” Jay Leno jumped up on the issue early and often.
To me, it’s all future money in the bank for Seattle, even if the tourism folks behind the strange and now-abandoned marketing campaign Metronatural Seattle don’t want to admit it. (This reminds me for some reason of how the business plan of Amazon.com, at least in its earlier years, was based almost completely on encouraging massive illegal tax evasion in other states). Sometime in early 2014, the VisitSeattle poo-bahs likely will be crowing about a record 2013, and maybe lighting up something in celebration. Just don’t ask them what it is.
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