Impact of Marijuana Legalization on Travel to Colorado

Published on January 23, 2014 by

Summary

  • Flight search demand for Denver has been 6.3% above the national search average since December 1st.
  • Demand has been up at least 10% for each of the last three weeks, and peaked at a 14% increase during the first week of January.
  • Last year, the search demand to Denver during the same time period tracked at or below the national average.
  • Twelve of the top 50 origins for Denver have seen search traffic rise at least 25% compared to the US average since December 1st, with Nashville and Minneapolis leading the pack.
  • Demand increases appear to correlate with stricter drug legislation.

Sale of marijuana for recreational purposes started in Colorado on January 1st and the state reported sales of over $5 million in the first week (1).   This report investigates whether the legalization of marijuana has had an impact on the popularity of Colorado as a destination.

Figure 1 compares search for flights to Denver (solid line) to search for travel to any location in the US (dotted).  The scales are normalized to equate demand through November.  Through most of December Colorado had similar relative popularity to the rest of the US, but starting at the end of December the popularity of Colorado started to increase. On average, the relative demand for Denver has risen by 6.3% since December 1st, with a peak of 14% higher during the first week of January.  For comparison, Figure 2 plots relative demand for flights to Denver early last year when Denver was slightly below national search levels, suggesting this year’s spike is not just a regular seasonal effect.  Although Denver's also been in the news for their January playoff run, that doesn't seem to be a major factor causing increased traffic as neither of Denver's playoff opponent cities showed an above average demand.

Figure 1: Comparison of weekly search demand from all US origins to Denver vs. all US destinations.  The ratio of the two axes are set by equating total demand prior to December 1st.  Overall, demand for Denver has risen by 6.3% since December 1st, with a peak of 14% relative demand in the first week of January.

Figure 2: Last year flight search to Denver trended at or below US average in the early part of the year.

In order to further rule out the possibility that the popularity of Denver is increasing due to the skiing season we looked at search patterns to similar destinations.  Specifically we looked at Albuquerque, Salt Lake City, and Jackson Hole.  Albuquerque, which is the nearest large mixed-use airport to Denver showed demand below the national average both last year and this year.  Ski-centric destinations (Jackson Hole, Salt Lake City)  did show an increased demand for travel, but unlike demand for Denver which peaked in January, the increase in popularity of these places started in November.

Figure 3 shows all origins where flight search to Denver has increased at least 25% relative to average national demand since Dec 1st, chosen from the top 50 largest origins to Denver, namely Nashville (63% increase), Minneapolis (58%), Detroit (53%), Cincinnati (47%), Madison (37%), Cleveland (37%), Indianapolis (36%), Milwaukee (35%), Omaha (32%), Kansas City (30%), Tampa (29%) and Houston (28%).

With the exception of Minneapolis, the locations of increase demand appear to correlate with stricter drug legislation (2).

Figure 3: Origins with at least 25% increase in search rates to Denver compared to the US average, amongst top 50 Denver origins.  Circle size shows search increase (Nashville up 63%, Houston 28%).

 

The top 10 cities by search volume to Denver are shown in Table 1 along with the relative increase or decrease in recent travel demand to Denver.  It can be seen that out of the top 10 only Minneapolis and Dallas show the largest increase, while Newark, Los Angeles, and Washington show a decrease in search volume for travel to Denver.  Only Minneapolis shows up in both the top 10 most popular origins to Denver and the top 10 cities with the highest increase in recent search for travel to Denver.

 

City

Corresponding Airport

Change

New York LGA +10%
Newark EWR -3%
New York JFK +11%
Chicago ORD +16%
Los Angeles LAX -5%
Minneapolis MSP +58%
Chicago MDW +13%
Dallas DFW +19%
Houston IAH +10%
Washington DCA -4%

 

Table 1: Top 10 origins to Denver showing the relative change in search rates for Denver since December 1st, adjusted for the change in search rates over all US origins.

 

Note that the results presented in this study show correlation and not causation.

 1. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/08/marijuana-sales-colorado_n_4552371.html

2. http://norml.org/laws/

Data and Methodology

The data presented in this analysis comes from Hopper’s combined feed of Global Distribution Service (GDS) data sources which includes about 10 million queries and 1 billion trips per day.  Demand is represented as the number of queries not actual ticket purchases, and is calibrated across all GDS sources for each market..  The analysis looked at a weekly average of searches between cities.

34 Comments

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  7. Jessica

    This is an interesting analysis, but you may not know that last year's ski season was very poor in Nov-Dec. This year's is looking much better. So if it's possible to redo the analysis with a few more years back, that would probably have more validity.

    I didn't take the time to find the actual data on the NRCS site, but a quick chart: http://opensnow.com/js/upload/Colorado/2012/11-November/2012-11-27-SNOTEL-CO.png

    Another factor to consider would be business at ski resorts. If that didn't go up this year, then the argument for causation is much stronger. Of course, it is very likely that people are combining their MJ interest with their ski/board trips!

    • Patrick Surry

      Unfortunately we don't have more history (yet). But we did look closely at comparable airports in other states - for example Albuquerque trends very similarly this year vs last, as do "ski-only" destinations like Jackson Hole or Salt Lake City. The only airport that shows a significant change is Denver, which starts to diverge around Jan 1 as compared to last year. So seems like strong circumstantial evidence that it's not to do with skiing.

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