2017 Beer Tourism & Marketing Conference
Asheville Meeting Focuses on Craft Beer Tourism
By Dave Grandmaison
I had no idea what to expect from the first annual Beer Marketing and Tourism Conference when I stumbled across the event’s webpage last fall but I knew that I had to get to Asheville for the meeting… I mean it’s Asheville… Beer City USA. Boasting more breweries per capita than any U.S. city, Asheville offers roughly 100 local beers that can be enjoyed at approximately 20 breweries in the city and additional breweries in outlying areas. Let’s just say that I was not disappointed.
Asheville, in many respects, reminds me of Duluth. Its vibrant craft beer scene is on the rise – a well established market that kicked off in 1994 with the launch of Highland Brewing Company (same year as Lake Superior Brewing helped launch Duluth’s craft beer renaissance). Since then, Asheville’s beer scene has flourished and the entire region has embraced the economic benefits of craft beer – particularly the positive impacts craft beer has had on the tourism industry. It’s a community effort led by Explore Asheville, the Asheville Brewers Alliance and backed up with exceptional beer and delicious local food.
Beyond the beer, Asheville is also the home to a robust outdoor adventure scene and – much like Duluth – has a variety of amazing adventure opportunities. Sitting there in North Carolina – striking up conversations with friendly strangers and exploring the city of 87,000 (or so) – I felt strangely at home.
Beer Tourism is a Big Deal
I’m serious… it really is. When I told people that I was going to a beer marketing and tourism meeting in Asheville, most of them thought I was joking… or looking for an excuse to be a beer tourist for a week. Ok. I can see that. But listen, craft beer is making some real impacts to communities across the U.S. (including Duluth) and clever Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs) and Convention and Visitors Bureaus (CVBs) are allocating substantial resources to bolster craft beer tourism in their communities. It’s big.
Related: Locally Crafted Beer and the Rise of the Brewery Tourist
According to Julia Herz – Craft Beer Program Director for the Brewers Association and the conference’s welcome speaker – beer sales now account for 1.5% of the Gross Domestic Product in the U.S. and the craft beer market continues to grow along with the number of folks who consider themselves “Beer Lovers”. People are making their travel decisions in light of a destination’s craft beer scene – the diversity, its reputation, and related events.
The bottom line? Craft beer tourism is a significant economic driver for the regions, cities, and towns that have developed a comprehensive and connected craft beer community.
Breweries, too, are getting the message. Most U.S. breweries now offer tours and many of them are working closely with local tour operators – like The Duluth Experience – to facilitate high-quality, craft beer experiences that move travelers through the local craft beer community and connect the brewing scene in a way that individual breweries cannot. Storytelling and exposure to a variety of craft beer options are key elements in the overall experience.
One particularly refreshing bit of data that Julia presented, explained the importance of visiting a craft brewery. A Brewers Association survey asked the question: “After your visit(s) to a craft brewery, how do your purchasing habitat of that brewery’s product change?” The responses to the survey indicate that there is a “Halo Effect” where visitors are much more likely to purchase the beer from a brewery that they’ve developed a personal relationship with… this is something we’ve noticed with our tours and have been talking about since launching our brewery tours in 2013. It was cool to see national data backing up the trends we’ve seen with our guests here in Duluth. Plus… “Halo Effect” sounds pretty cool.
Travel Trending Towards Authenticity
Keith Novak, Director of Marketing Communications at Travelocity, dove deep into craft beer as a travel trend – picking up where Julia’s inspiring welcome left off. According to his copious data, demands for culinary experiences grew by 150% from 2015 to 2016 and travelers are looking for local food, local drinks, and an authentic exploration of the communities they visit. The “Experience Economy” is alive and well in today’s travel industry and it is undoubtedly expanding in its significance for towns like Asheville and Duluth.
Putting Duluth’s Craft Beer Tour Scene in Perspective
What does this mean for a destination like Duluth? Well, Millenials are in the sweet-spot for experience-based travel and their search for authenticity is driving them to small- and medium-sized destinations… that’s us. Craft beer, locally sourced food, and locally made products are driving travel decisions and connecting travelers to new locations that are off the beaten path. Duluth is poised to take full advantage of this shift and will – I believe – emerge as a leading destination for the experienced traveler.
Duluth has embraced the true essence of “local”. Furthermore, Duluth has emerged as a must-visit destination at a key point in time for the growing experience economy. Our sense of community has extended beyond craft beer to include other like-minded businesses (e.g., bakers, distillers, restauranteurs, artisans, etc.) with collaboration and cross-promotion now the norm. Then, of course, add in the world-class outdoor adventure that’s infused into just about everything we do here in Duluth… all of this equates to a ton of potential for Duluth tourism.
I walked away from the Beer Marketing and Tourism Conference with a refreshed energy and new perspective regarding Duluth’s place in the expanding, experience-based tourism industry and I can say that we’re well on our way to greatness.
It’s a real pleasure… and honor… to be part of this amazing craft community. Cheers!