Image of marijuana related marijuana shirts in Denver
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Both travel-data service Hopper.com and booking service Hotels.com say they're seeing a major increase in interest from travelers searching for flights and hotel rooms coinciding with the city's annual 420 marijuana celebration, which is taking place the Saturday and Sunday before Monday, April 20.
 
Last year was the first year marijuana was widely – and legally -- available for tourists visiting Colorado, and the marijuana festival on Easter Sunday drew tens of thousands of visitors to the heart of Denver for the festival. Festival participants openly consume marijuana, listen to pot-friendly musicians and sample a wide variety of munchies, sending a massive cloud of pot smoke above the city.
 
The phrase "420" is a longtime code for marijuana users, who work it into dating profiles or post it on signs to show their shared interest. The festival also coincides with the annual Cannabis Cup show, hosted by High Times magazine.
 
Hopper data analyst Tyler Hanson said airline searches to Colorado had been trending down over the past few months as ski season winds down. But there's a 36% increase in searches coinciding with April 17. "What we're seeing here are more people than usual are trying to fly to Colorado on that Friday," he said. "You see a broad decline through March and early April … except for this curious bump that's centered on the 17th of April."
 
Hotels.com reported seeing a 60% jump in hotel searches for Denver for the same weekend, compared to last year. And last year was a 73% increase over 2013, before recreational marijuana stores had opened, the company said.
 
Colorado's tourism officials have generally declined to discuss the impact of marijuana on visitation numbers. But a 2014 state report concluded that tourists were buying up to 90% of the recreational marijuana sold in Colorado's ski towns.
 
Marijuana tourists visiting Colorado quickly run into the harsh reality that there are few places they can legally consume: Public consumption is outlawed, and many hotels also prohibit any kind of smoking. That's given rise to a variety of companies catering to those smokers. Among them: a marijuana-friendly booking service called Bud & Breakfast, and limo services that collect visitors from the airport and take them directly to a pot shop, allowing them to smoke in the back before being delivered to their hotels.
 
A small number of hotels and B&Bs in Colorado offer marijuana-friendly lodging, among them First Inn of Pagosa, in the southwestern Colorado town of Pagosa Springs near Wolf Creek Ski Area. The independent hotel about 276 miles southwest of Denver added "420 Friendly" to its sign in July and has seen business boom since then, workers say.
 
Sean Roby, the founder of Bud & Breakfast, said he's been getting calls from booking agencies around the country because marijuana-friendly lodging can be hard to find. Like Hotels.com, Roby said he's experiencing a significant increase in interest from tourists in connection with the festival.
 
"The 420 holiday is going to see people inundating not only Denver but all the places where marijuana is legal," he said.
 
Hotels.com said while interest in Colorado climbed 51% from 2013 to 2014, there's a similar pattern in Washington state, where legal recreational sales before last summer. There, hotel searches jumped 61% in the second half of the year, compared to the same period the year before, the company said. And tourist interest in Oregon is already rising, even though legal sales won't begin until this summer. Searches for the three-month period after Oregon sales begin have risen 25% statewide, and jumped 64% for Portland, Hotels.com said.
 
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