Canna-Tourism Company Curates Trips for Influencers
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To understand weed, you need to experience it first hand. That’s the motto of Lauren Mundell, who runs Hi Curious, a company that hosts Colorado-based small groups cannabis tours. The entrepreneur has made it her mission to help cannabis newbies satisfy their curiosity about legal cannabis for both wellness and recreational usage.
“People call me ‘The Fairy Weed Mother.’ I help people figure out how to get started with cannabis and pair the right products/dosage for the way they want to feel while participating in an experience,” she says.
As more states hop on the legalization train, cannabis-based tourist excursions have been popping up. With companies like Seattle’s Kush Tourism and Northern California’s Emerald Farm Tours offering experiences overnight experiences and cannabis-themed city tours that pair traditional tourism experiences with cannabis. Danny Schaefer, CEO of My 420 Tours, which brands themselves as “America’s First ‘Legal’ Marijuana Tourism Company, has definitely seen a surge. “We’re at a 30-plus percent year over year growth even though tourism in Colorado is down,” he said. And the Colorado Department of Revenue reported that the state attracted 6.5 million cannatourists in 2016 alone and expected growth beyond that of at least 6 percent the following year.
Stepping out on her own
Prior to founding Hi Curious, Mundell spent 20 years in corporate PR, leaving where she ran the food and wellness practice at Ketchum Communications New York for eight years. After transitioning into the business development role within the company, the public relations guru had an unexpected career change of heart and felt a calling to leave behind clients like Avocados from Mexico, Weightwatchers, and Frito Lay to shift her focus to legal cannabis.
In March of 2018, Mundell visited a friend in Colorado and experienced her first edible. “She offered me a 1906 bliss cup -- which is basically the most amazing peanut butter cup with 5mg THC and CBD inside,” she recalls. And, instead of that out- of- control college high she had experienced years ago as a freshman at Cornell, Mundell was surprised to feel inspired and relaxed.
After further experimenting with cannabis, she took a two-week vacation with her husband to Florida and brought along some cannabis pens for the ride. “I was feeling so good and I was like, I should start sharing about how great cannabis is making me feel on Instagram,” she says.
Mundell was shocked to see how many of her friends and acquaintances were curious about her posts. She approached her bosses and asked if they were interested in starting a cannabis practice at the firm but was told that it “wasn’t something they were ready for.” So, in September 2018, she set off on her own to launch Hi Curious.
The original plan was for Hi Curious to serves as an education entertainment platform. "We saw it as a media property -- a website," Mundell says, but she quickly learned that in order to accept trust the product, her consumers needed to try it. “And the challenge right now is unless you live in a legal state, you can’t."
So Mundell wrangled a group of her canna-curious friends, took them to Colorado to introduce them to cannabis products, and her Hi Curious tours began.
“Our mission is to show the world that cannabis is a wellness supplement that really shouldn't be feared and should be respected,” says Mundell. To execute this, Hi Curious curates luxury cannabis experiences in Colorado for mainstream wellness influencers and media personnel as a means of “broadening the audience/awareness of the cannabis industry outside legal states.”
Educating the canna skeptics
Hi Curious began offering tours in October 2018 and the response thus far has been positive, says Mundell, who jokes that guests “always leave on a high note” and are quick to share their experiences on social media accounts and in articles across various publications.
The company recently hosted writer Jane Mulkerrins, a “relatively inexperienced cannabis user” who documented her experience of sampling marijuana-infused chocolate at the Denver factory of 1906, finding an extra dose of Zen during cannabis yoga, and snacking on edibles while strolling through Red Rocks Park, for the Financial Times. For Mundell, having her skeptic guest write about experiencing an “Aha moment” during the weekend was a Hi Curious success.
Jessamyn Stanley, a body positivity influencer who has shown interest in advocating for cannabis legalization, also recently joined Hi Curious for a tour. with Hi Curious. “She really wanted to come out to Colorado and learn about pioneers in the industry,” Mundell explains. Stanley’s trip included dinners with pro-cannabis Colorado politicians and legislators. “Jessamyn had a chance to ask a lot of really important questions, as she’s thinking about how to be a good advocate for cannabis legalization in North Carolina,” Mundell says.
Six months in, Mundell is working off a “small friends and family investment fund” and bankrolling everything else herself, along with her co-founding husband, Barry Krauss, a retired Navy commander. “We're selling our house in New York and funding our dreams with the equity that luckily we've been able to build over the course of the past few years,” she explains.
Hi Curious partners with brands like Pax (loose-leaf vaporizers), The Lab (cannabis concentrates), Ajoya (dispensary), SUM (sublinguals), and Coda (infused chocolates) who in turn garner awareness. “They can't advertise on social media or digital media at all. So the only way to do it is really creatively,” says Mundell. “Our business model is that brands pay us, we put their brands in front of influencers, media and Hi Curious consumers,” she says.
Mundell says that people have been flocking to Colorado because “weed is legal and they can get high” but notes that this demographic don’t know what to during a visit, beyond renting an Airbnb and popping into a local dispensary. “Really what we do is help people figure out what they should be using or what they might want to try to enhance their vacation in Colorado,” she says.
She’d eventually love to have a Hi Curious compound in Colorado where people can come to have a controlled wellness experience. “But for now, public consumption isn't legal anyway. So this is the way we are doing it through trips,” says Mundell, who adds that while endeavors do fall into the cannabis tourism world, she doesn’t consider her colleagues in that space competition “because we're more of a marketing company than a tourism brand.”
While her curated influencer and media trips are sponsored, Hi Curious also offers custom paid experiences for small groups, which start at $3,000 per person for three nights and include everything but airfare: “chef-made meals, housekeeping, transportation, a full-time cannabis concierge, and cannabis-induced Colorado experiences such as hikes, concerts, and sightseeing.” Each trip is custom designed “to the group’s curiosity – some people who come on our trips are using legal cannabis for the first time, which is a very different way to consume than people may be familiar with,” says Mundell -- and typically features an intimate group of 6-8 people, preferably with everyone knowing each other so as to create a safe space for cannabis exploration.
Once guests land in Colorado, everything is seamless “and the only decisions they have to make are fun ones over their 4 days with us,” Mundell says. A typical itinerary includes a stop at 1906 New Highs chocolate factory then it’s off to a beautiful home where a chef has stocked all of the guests' favorite foods. “We typically spend the first afternoon and evening learning about cannabis and trying new products and delivery methods,” she says, noting that she has partnered with The Clinic and Ajoya “to bring the dispensary to us and we let the experts guide us through the options in Colorado cannabis.”
Then it’s time for several dispensary stops. “But, the best part of our trips is experiencing the best of Colorado with a cannabis coach to make sure each hike, ski, concert, sunrise yoga class, shopping trip and meal is perfectly enhanced by products that are right for you,” says Mundell, who adds that this summer, Hi Curious is hosting music VIPs near Red Rocks and creating the ultimate live music experience. “Our chef will prepare the tailgate while guests immerse in the lot culture.”
Through utilizing her public relations background to break into the cannabis industry, Mundell has one key piece of advice for those looking to enter the space. “Build a national presence now,” she says. “A small fish in the cannabis industry now has the chance to become a big fish as the market grows,” she says, noting that “one to one to many marketing” is the key to building a loyal community that shares your message naturally. “Brands that invest in building nationally recognizability now will protect themselves from being lost as legalization continues to grow,” she explains. And finding the right audience is key.
To pair herself with the ideal influencers, Mundell has been using word of mouth referrals and networking on social media forums. “If someone is willing to use their influence to tell an authentic story about their Hi-Curious experience and cannabis for well-being, then we want to help make a custom trip possible,” she says.