HB EXCLUSIVE: For industry vet, cannabis hotels are the next frontier

DESERT HOT SPRINGS, CA—When Roger Bloss founded Vantage Hospitality and launched the Americas Best Value Inn brand in 1999, he took a risk, fostering the owner/brand relationship with the “a voice and a vote” promise that became synonymous with the company. That launch changed the industry.

Now, as the CEO/president of Alternative Hospitality Inc., a division of MJ Holdings, Bloss is hoping to change the industry again with the launch of the first portfolio of health and wellness cannabis-based hotels.

The 150-room Coachill Inn Resort here—set to break ground later this year—will be the first of eight properties currently under development to include a dispensary, wellness goods and services to educate guests about the health-enhancing aspects of cannabis.

“First and foremost, it is going to be a great hotel,” he said. “It is very important to understand this is not a place to go and smoke marijuana. It is not a smokehouse. You are going to go there for a lot of different reasons. One may be to learn and be educated. One may be to experiment. One may be to just indulge. There are a lot of different ways that people address this. The largest growing segment of cannabis consumption is baby boomers. It is not about smoking pot; it is really about how it can affect you in positive ways—whether it is mind, body or soul. Those are the things we are going to do. We are going to make it super fun. We are going to make it a super experience.”

Bloss expects all of the hotels to be boutique, lifestyle properties. “I want them to be about a 3- to 3.5-diamond quality in terms of physical quality,” he said. “I think I will have great service, but I am not looking to be luxury. I am looking for people who are able to afford $150-200 room rate a night. I am looking for people who want to have these experiences. I am not looking to price this out of people’s pockets and out of the market.”

Potential partners for the properties must bring one thing to the table first and foremost: land. “Of the eight deals I have done, every single one of them, I required the partner to put the land in the deal,” said Bloss. “If you want one of my hotels, you have got to put up the land and you have got to stay in the deal. I want the local knowledge, I want the local presence. I want to know what is going on in that town because of the changes that are going to happen in this industry. I want the local feel and ambiance.”

The launch of the cannabis-based hotels is not just a business move for Bloss—the substance helped him recover after a major accident. “In the summer of ’09, I drove my truck off a cliff,” he said. “It was a horrific accident. They basically told me that I would never walk again. It just beat the heck out of me. I was still running Vantage, the tenth largest hotel company in the world, but yet I couldn’t move. I couldn’t get on airplanes. I couldn’t get in a car. It was really difficult. They try to put you on pain meds, and I refused to do it. I am against pharmaceuticals and things like that.”

Instead, his doctor recommended cannabis. “I thought it was worth a try,” said Bloss. “I liked that it was all natural. I tried it and, lo and behold, it gave me the ability to alleviate some of my pain. It gave me the ability to really get into my physical therapy and it didn’t hinder what I was doing in terms of being a professional.”

The hotels will act as an opportunity to learn and experiment with cannabis, and for guests to find what works best for them—something that took Bloss 10 years to find. “After I sold Vantage to Red Lion Hotels Corp., I didn’t want to exit the industry,” he said. “I didn’t want to exit what I loved to do, but I wanted to create something that was for people with like-minds—people who want to experiment, who really want to travel, who want to learn. Everybody loves experiential travel and things of that nature now… Before it became mainstream, there wasn’t all of this information out there. After going through a lot of trials, and then with the laws that came into place, with the experiential travel, I started thinking about letting people touch, feel and smell with different products.”

Obviously, the planned future properties will be in the 10 states that currently have made the recreational use of cannabis legal.

Bloss realizes that as laws change around the country, and the possibility of further legalization increases, the longevity of the cannabis component of the properties may be short. “I definitely believe that in 2020, it is going to be part of the political platform of many,” he said. “I believe that it will be federally legal within the next decade, if not in this or the next administration.”

He continued, “This is why this is going to be a great hotel. It is going to be great service. It is going to be great everything. I cannot build a hotel on a four- to 10-year business plan. I have to make sure the hotels are sustainable, in the right locations, operated effectively and efficiently where people want to be, want to stay from day one. It is going to take on a different type of operation because I have to make sure that these are my customers for the long term, not just for a weekend to give it a shot. That is the key for me—being able to have it adaptable to being a great hotel. Cannabis just happens to be a byproduct of that.” HB

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