Beer and hop tourism is growing in the Yakima Valley

Like the bines in the fields, the Yakima Valley beer and hop scene has been sprouting new success everywhere you look.  Yakima Valley Tourism has been in the thick of it with our beer and craft beverage marketing and media relations efforts. A quick recap of what’s been going on since last summer.

First off, the region welcomed new breweries and tap rooms this past year. Redifer Brewing Co. in downtown Yakima opened just this month. Cowiche Creek Brewing opened doors near Tieton in mid-April and earlier Berchman’s Brewing opened their tap room on North Front Street downtown. The space Berchman is in has a strong brewing history: It was home to North Yakima Brewing & Malting, which was owned by the family of Berchman’s co-owner Laurie Robinson. Likewise, the space housed Grant’s Brewery Pub before it was relocated to the train depot. Ten years ago there was just two breweries in the Yakima Valley: Snipes Mountain and Witstran Brewing. Today there are ten commercial breweries (plus a number of nanobreweries) with more in the works or close to opening.

Meanwhile, existing breweries continued to flex their muscles and expand their products. For example, Bale Breaker Brewing Co. completed an expansion that will grow their capacity while allowing them to introduce experimental beers. They were invited to be part of a team of brewers to create a beer for Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp Across America program.

Hop production last year continued to sky rocket. In 2016, there were 37,444 acres of hops harvested in the Yakima Valley, a 30% increase from 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As you know, the Valley is the nation’s largest hop producer, with 75% of all hops grown in America coming from our fields.

On the food front, after a labor of love and patience, our friends at HopTown Pizza opened a storefront at the old mercantile store in the Piety Flats region of I-82. Just take exit I-82 Exit 44 and head North towards the gas station.

To build on and encourage the momentum, Yakima Valley Tourism has dedicated a number of projects to promote the Yakima Valley as a beer and hop destination.

Our marketing campaigns have a strong “come to the source” angle. We’re encouraging visitors to come see, experience and taste where their food and beverages are grown and made. One angle of the campaign has focused heavily on the hop industry, because if it were not for the hops the Valley grows, there really wouldn’t be the craft beer scene in the U.S. Nowhere else in the nation can you see, smell and ‘feel’ the hop culture better than the Yakima Valley.  We updated our website to make it easier to get hop and beer info, maps and events.

In February Yakima Valley Tourism was a major sponsor at the Seattle Wine & Food Experience as the Featured Tourism Region. We brought 15 of our wine, craft beverage and restaurant members to show off our food and beverage scene. More than 2,500 craft beverage lovers sipped and sampled their way through our huge booth, which included a mock hop field. Prior to the show there was a media preview with dozens of Seattle metro media to meet and pitch story ideas.

In March I attended the inaugural Beer Tourism and Marketing Conference in Asheville, North Carolina. I  joined colleagues from towns across the country on a panel to discuss our local beer scenes and marketing.  It was great to attend a convention where I did not have to explain where the Yakima Valley was located.  Most attendees not only knew of the Valley, many had been here before. One guy even referred to his trip here as “a journey to hop Mecca.”

In April, The World Food Travel Association (WFTA) recognized the Yakima Valley Tuesday with the 2017 FoodTrekking award for Best Beer Experience. Yakima Valley Tourism nominated the Valley for the recognition.  According to WFTA, the FoodTrekking awards recognize worldwide excellence in food and beverage tourism in eight categories.  WFTA is a non-profit organization recognized as the world’s leading authority on food tourism. Its mission is to drive economic development for the food, drink, travel and hospitality trade. The Association was founded in 2003 and brings food tourism information and opportunities to 35,000 industry professionals in 139 countries.

Our work continues this summer. Through a partnership with the Washington Beer Commission, we’re exhibiting at their beer festivals around the state. Replicating a hop field with hop bines and wooden poles, our “selfie” booth informs attendees about where their beer comes plus welcomes them to visit the Valley.

Throughout the past year we’ve hosted numerous beer writers and bloggers, sharing with them the stories of the hop industry, the families behind the beer scene and the overall bounty of the Valley. Take a peek at the many beer focused features the Valley has received this year.  During the Fresh Hop Ale Festival beer week in September we’ll be hosting top level beer writers to the Valley, so watch for more features down the road.

Have a great summer and be sure to enjoy some fresh locally gown beers!


Beer Tourism Is Big Business

Last week I had the pleasure to attend and be a panelist at the inaugural  Beer Marketing & Tourism Conference in Asheville, North Carolina. Not only was it educational, it was also great fun.

Some 250 folks from all over the U.S. and a few foreign countries were in attendance, representing destinations, breweries, beer media and tour operators. There were a variety of speakers and workshops covering a number of topics, a reception where folks had a chance to sample craft beers from across the country plus a fascinating tour of the new Sierra Nevada Brewery in town (fun fact on them: they bottle 900 bottles of beer a minute at that facility!)

Definitely the Yakima Valley and our hops were a popular topic. I was approached by beer focused tour operators about tours to the region for their clients, plus media were interested in doing stories on our hop culture and breweries.

Here’s a rundown of some of the facts shared by the Brewers Association and others:

  • Beer sales in the USA are nearly $107 billion annually, more than double spent on wine.
  • There are 5,300 breweries in the USA with 99% of them being considered craft or small breweries (under six million barrels or less per year).
  • 69% of the beer produced in the USA come from just two producers.
  • Craft beers sales on the rise: In 2011 just 6% of the beer volume was from craft breweries. In five years it has doubled to 12%.
  • 36% of Americans visited one to five craft breweries in the past 12 months, according to a Nielsen Company poll.
  • 77% of Americans stated in a Travelocity survey that they like to visit a craft brewery while traveling.
  • There is at least one craft brewery located within 10 miles of 75% of the U.S. population.
  • 10 million people took structured beer tours in 2014.
  • There are 149 beer focused tour operators in America.
  • Currently 75% of craft drinkers are male, but female craft consumers are growing.
  • The USA is the number one destination in the world for beer fans.

We are blessed here in the Yakima Valley, not only for the fact that we grow 75% of America’s hops, but also that we have a growing beer scene. When I arrived here ten years ago we had four breweries in the Valley. Since then that number has doubled and there are four more breweries in the hopper (pardon the pun!). Our Yakima Fresh Hop Festival is renowned and was recently recognized by the Brewers Association as one of the 10 Craft Beer Festivals You Don’t Want To Miss in 2017. Other beer events have been created and hop growers are offering more educational opportunities for the home brewer and industry. Acreage planted to hops has grown 30% in the past two years to more than 35,000 acres. Plus the industry has added research facilities, most notably the John I Haas Innovation Center here in Yakima. Together, these make for a unique beer destination and experiences you can’t find anywhere else.

Breweries and the hop industry have a long history in the Yakima Valley. Except during the prohibition era, we’ve been growing hops since the late 1870s. In years past we had a few breweries that eventually closed, including the North Yakima Brewing and Malting Company which opened in 1905 and later, the Yakima Brewing & Malting Co (also known as Grant’s Brewery Pub), reputed to have been the first U.S. brewpub since prohibition.

With growing interest in the craft beer movement I think the future looks bright for our area. So raise a pint and say cheers to our local craft beer industry and our hop growers that make the whole beer industry great!


Global Travel Intentions: Where, What and Why of Future Travel

asiaSince 2006, Visa has released a Global Travel Intentions Study providing insights in to the travel plans of international travelers. The newest edition shows that due to greater options, travel opportunities are reaching more people. Regardless of political or economic situations, people are optimistic about their future travel plans.

Here is a sampling of their findings:

  • Travelers from Asia aspire to travel further to the West while travelers from the Americas intend to stay within the region.
  • While the USA remains the number one place to visit, some European mainstays such as France and the UK are giving way to Asian countries like Japan.
  • Though budget is one of the key factors in selecting destinations, travelers are increasingly prioritizing good scenery and attractions when making their decisions.
  • Travelers continue to combine business and pleasure travel (about 20%).
  • Millennials and affluent travelers are showing a growing interest in personal guided tours with nearly one in five opting for this arrangement – compared with one in 10 in 2013.
  • Travelers surveyed are more spontaneous. One in two planned their last trip in a month or less.
  • Being online is important for travelers, not for work but for their social networks to share information and images of their vacation.
  • Going alone: One in five travelers have traveled on their own on their most recent leisure trip. Interestingly, there are more women who intending to travel alone in 2015.
  • Rise of the mobile: Mobile devices are the most important gadget for travelers surveyed. Most travelers use their device to access information sites about the destination throughout their journey.
  • Most travel spending at the destination is on retail, dining and tourist activities. This is largely consistent with the 2013 survey.

Want more? Take a look at the Visa study.

United States and China Extend Visas for Short-term Business Travelers, Tourists and Students

In November President Obama announced the extension of travel visa validity periods between the United States and China. The result is that the visas will be good for ten years instead of one, a very good move for tourism for both countries.

China is the largest international travel market in the world. Many Chinese indicate they want to come to America, but only about 2% currently do so, largeley because of the visa process. In 2013 the U.S. welcomed 1.8 million Chinese visitors  and they spent over $21 billion during their visits. Now with this change the U.S. Commerce Department is projecting that by 2021 as many as 7 million Chinese visitors who spend upwards of $85 billion could be possible.  Government data shows that Chinese visitors spend about $7,000 per person in the U.S., compared to an average of $4,500 for other overseas visitors.

Chinese visitors frequent major U.S. destinations such as New York City and Las Vegas. My hope is that with the opportunity to visit more frequently lesser visited areas like the Pacific Northwest will become more favorable destinations.

Getting a U.S. visa will still involve waiting in lines at a consulate during the work day, passing an interview plus waiting at least three days to receive the visa. But having it last for ten years I think will make the process worth it and more Chinese will pursue one.