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December 29, 2014

How Has Legalized Marijuana Affected Denver's MICE Scene?

It's been a year since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana use, and the Denver Post ran an intriguing story this weekend about the long-term effects of the new laws on the city's MICE scene. 

Earlier this year, Richard Grant, communications director for Visit Denver, the city's convention and visitors bureau, told PCMA's Convene Magazine that the legalization's effects on meetings and events "haven’t just been negligible, they’ve been nonexistent...We survey every group that meets here. Every group has said that it really didn’t have any impact.”

RELATED: Are The New Marijuana Laws Impacting Meetings?

Some large-scale conventions have used Colorado's cannabis laws to incorporate working panels on the ways legal pot can affect their business sectors. Stuart Ruff, director of meetings and events for the Risk and Insurance Management Society, which brought 9,700 attendees to Denver in April, told the paper that the legality of marijuana "certainly impacts" the society's industry. "There are a lot of misperceptions about the (Colorado) law, and we want our members to be educated," Ruff said. After recreational cannabis sales became legal Jan. 1, RIMS decided to hold a convention session entitled, "How Will the Legalization of Marijuana Affect Your Employment Policies?"

Convention locations typically are selected far in advance of the events themselves, the article noted--sometimes as long as 10 years earlier. That means almost all major meetings taking place in Colorado for the next few years were planned before Amendment 64 was approved by Colorado voters in November 2012. Still, Visit Denver CEO Richard Scharf told the Post that legalization "has been a complete non-factor...from either a positive or negative standpoint" for future bookings. Scharf also said Visit Denver officials have taken steps to educate visitors (including convention delegates) on the details and terms of Colorado's cannabis laws, including where it can and cannot be consumed.

Denver's Business Travel Numbers

Denver saw a record number of overnight visitors in 2013, with 14 million leisure and business travelers coming to the city, up 3 percent over 2012. Visitor spending increased 12 percent over 2012 to top $4 billion for the first time. All five of the major business sectors connected to travel and tourism saw an increase in spending in 2013.

For this year, Denver hosted 319,445 convention delegates during the first three quarters of 2014, a 2 percent increase over the 312,536 delegates who attended conventions in the city during the same time period last year. Visit Denver estimated that 2014 should finish with a minimum of 422,000 delegates, significantly up over the previous best year of 2013, in which Denver had 385,292 delegates, and better than 2008, when the Democratic National Convention helped attract 378,863 delegates.  Beyond the Risk and Insurance Management Society, Denver also hosted large-scale events from SIA SnowSports and the American Academy of Dermatology. 

For the first three quarters of the year, Denver’s hotel room occupancy climbed to 78.2 percent versus 73.0 percent for the same time period last year, while average daily rate reached $124.44 for 2014, up from $115.40 in 2013. 

Denver’s increases in occupancy and revenue came in spite of new hotel inventory coming into the market such as the 221-room Renaissance Denver Downtown City Center and the 119-room Crawford Hotel this year, and the 302-room Hampton Inn and Homewood Suites that opened last year. 

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