What the legalization of cannabis and the growing wellness industry mean for tourism in Mexico
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By Emily Paxhia, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Poseidon.
Mexico has long been a highly regarded tourist destination; Even before the arrival of cannabis, it was the seventh most visited country, with 49 million tourists a year. Now, with the imminent legalization of cannabis, Mexico is poised to spark the interest of even more tourists.
Mexico is the third country to legalize recreational cannabis nationwide. Of the three, it is by far the one that attracts the most tourists. For some visitors, Mexico has been reduced to a place of cheap tequila shots and sombreros. But for many it is a cultural center with art, fashion, beautiful architecture and incredible gastronomy. Additionally, Mexico has historically been popular with those who want to experience ancient plant-based therapies to restore their bodies and minds.
Tourism in Mexico: a bit of history
In the 1950s, Mexico began to see an influx of tourists who came to try magic mushrooms in rituals designed to bring their participants closer to nature, God or their own psyche. Much of that tourism focused on a small town in Oaxaca , where a healer and former farmer named María Sabina dosed characters like Timothy Leary, John Lennon and Bob Dylan.
But recent years have seen an increase in interest in adaptogenic mushrooms , such as shiitake, chaga, and reishi. These supposedly help the body adapt to environmental and psychological stressors, strengthen the immune system, promote sleep, and reduce inflammation. Now found in all sorts of products from skincare to shake powders, these mushrooms pair well with cannabis and offer the opportunity to reap the benefits of these natural remedies without the psychedelic side effects.
Mexico has also seen its share of wellness tourism focused on fitness, rather than spiritual.
Before Tulum was known for famous DJs and four-star hotels, it was a peaceful haven for yoga fans. They started flocking to this quiet town in the '90s to practice their asanas along the coast. As word of its charms spread, Tulum underwent a transformation along with a population boom; the city had 2,000 residents in 1990 and has approximately 40,000 today. It's no exaggeration to say that cannabis-centric spas and well-run yoga centers could have the same effect in countless other locations around the country.
The potential of the cannabis business in Mexico
Legalization in Mexico presents an intriguing proposition for foreign investors, along with a ton of challenges. The country is highly dependent on its association with the United States and is therefore vulnerable to any change in the free trade agreement. In addition, some business sectors in Mexico are reserved for the citizens of the country, and the economy is especially vulnerable to fluctuations in the price of oil. Infrastructure, especially in relation to transport, can be very poor.
Still, the potential for a profitable cannabis business is high . Ideally, foreign investors would partner with expert local teams who know how to get around government regulations and take advantage of their established networks. For example, we have the case of Landsteiner Scientific , a pharmaceutical laboratory with almost 25 years old. This company has the capacity to manufacture and distribute medical devices and a strong branch of cannabis research.
Related content: Palliative Medicine: Why the Mexican Pharmaceutical Landsteiner Started Investigating Cannabis
Less ideal is the concept of foreign investors setting up operations on the ground with little knowledge of the existing market and insisting that the country play by their rules. For cannabis startups to truly flourish in Mexico, domestic and foreign investors would do well to partner and take advantage of each other's strengths.
Since Mexico is much more than just its stunning beaches, we will also see how legalization alters the landscape of its larger urban areas, some of which have a European feel. With 21 million inhabitants, Mexico City has a complex cultural history and more museums (art, architectural, anthropological and historical) than any other city in the world, as well as thriving culinary and fashion scenes. Its streets are reminiscent of those of Milan, with its 19th century buildings inspired by French, Spanish and Italian architecture, and its women and men impeccably dressed in suits.
The possibilities are endless. Will there be cannabis tours through Mexico City's beautiful Xochimilco canals? High-end boutiques in Colonia Roma selling handmade pipes? Hotel spas offering CBD lotions and THC tinctures in minibars?
Legalization offers the possibility of creating rustic cannabis experiences that fit with Mexico's deep historical traditions , such as temazcal rituals or cacao ceremonies. It is a smart measure from the point of view of tourism; above all because increasingly demanding wellness tourists seek hyper-local and authentic experiences that they will not find anywhere else.
There are huge financial gains on the horizon for Mexico. Headset projects that the country's legal sales market could be worth $ 840 million in its first year. In fact, the TAM (Total Addressable Market) is now four times that of Canada and three times that of the US. All of this means that we are likely to see huge changes in Mexico's approach to tourism in general; and that we attract wellness-focused tourists who set the trends.