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!

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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!

 

More Travel Trends for 2017

travel_clip_art_photo ‘Tis the season to look forward. As the year comes to a close, travel pros and journalists give their projections and observations on the future of travel and tourism. Here’s some of the latest, plus my thoughts.

Responsible Travel released predictions for various destinations, and trends they believe will affect travel in 2017, “driven by an increasingly polarized tourism industry.” Let’s see how they support that assertion.

Because of Brexit and the Trump presidential election, Responsible Travel (RT) believes travel will be more polarized than ever before: One camp is made of travelers ‘dominated by a climate of fear and mistrust of strangers‘ (really?) while the other side craves authentic experiences and adventures (this I buy).

According to RT, places viewed as ‘unsafe’ will be avoided by many travelers, plus travel companies will capitalize on their fears. These businesses will market trips that provide a safe ‘home-away-from-home’, removed from local people and real experiences. That may be the case, but it’s nothing new. Some tourists have always preferred to go to ‘safe’ destinations and there are many places that cater to them. An example are the all-inclusive resorts in Mexico, where one does not have to venture past the guarded gates. But even then, the tourists have to get to and from the airport, so there is no true guarantee of safety. Travel in itself always has a level of risk.

Conversely, Responsible Travel cites it has seen rapid 22% growth of folks craving authentic, intrepid experiences, driven by the ‘experience economy’. One example: The company had a nearly 50% increase in revenue from trips to Iran, cited by their guests as a more ‘unusual’ destination. This trend, if it is an industry wide direction, is positive. I have always thought that travelers who actively seek the local experience and to interact with locals helps to bridge cultures.

On to a different report. Liz Weiss, travel editor at U.S. News, penned a feature on a number of trends she gleaned from various travel experts.

Artificial Intelligence Tools Are Improving and Expanding

Travel sites have long been toying with the idea of implementing real-time messaging platforms and personalized automation technology. For example, Google’s AI personal assistance or Siri can book travel plans. Other artificial intelligence tools to watch include Lola, an on-demand travel app that lets you research or book your travel plans on the go, and Expedia, which is planning to launch an AI platform for personal messaging and customer assistance.

Go Green

Consumer and industry interest in ‘going green’ is causing hotels, tour operators and outfitters to use responsible practices plus encourage travelers to plan low-impact getaways. Supposedly people are choosing to travel shorter distances to reduce their carbon footprint. “One trans-Atlantic flight equals a year’s worth of driving, so consider planning an adventure closer to home,” stated Rebecca Warren, managing editor at Lonely Planet. Okay, I get that, but Machu Picchu or the Great Barrier Reef are not just down a drive from where I live. If I want to experience them, I have to fly there. Later in this section Warren states “…and perhaps one of the most immediate ways to help (reduce carbon footprint) is by choosing to visit destinations that will benefit the most from your tourist dollars,” she adds, pointing to destinations like Nepal as a place that’s benefited from tourism money getting funneled into the local economy. Good point, but back to her earlier statement; I can’t drive to Nepal. Kind of contradicting, but the main point for travelers is to be more aware of how your actions affect the world and local environments and cultures and act accordingly.

Attraction Bookings Go Digital

More restaurant reservations, tours and activities are being booked via online distributors. Airbnb’s recently launched its Trips app, which help travelers book experiences and activities while in destinations world wide. This will be a game changer for those businesses, especially in popular destinations. For smaller towns and places that lack critical mass it is yet to be seen as how these types of apps will make an impact.

High-Paying Loyalists Will Be Rewarded

Weiss writes “With frequent-flier program changes among all three legacy carriers (Delta, United and American) that reward travelers based on price paid rather than distance flown, travelers are starting to realize that “when airlines say loyal, they mean spend money,” Clampet says. Another interesting trend is a brewing battle between legacy carriers and low-cost airlines such as Spirit and Frontier airlines. With bare-bones fares like United’s new Basic Economy option, which allows travelers to book discounted tickets but sacrifice the opportunity to use overhead storage space or select a seat prior to check-in, airlines are “catering to people buying on price,”… elite frequent fliers who participate in the program will have the privilege of placing large bags into overhead bins, though they will not earn elite-qualifying miles with basic fares.” To the rich goes the spoils, so to speak.

Cuba Tourism Will Soar…But At a Cost

Cuba is on the radar for Americans, though it has been a popular destination for Canadians and others for years. I was interested in going there, but decided not to after reading a New York Times article revealing how the surge in visitors is limiting local access to affordable fruits and vegetables. I don’t want to be a part of that problem so I’m taking Cuba off my travel list for the time being.

Finally, while not forecasting travel trends for next year, Google recently revealed the year’s top “trending” travel queries—searches that had the highest spike in traffic over a sustained period in 2016. Trending searches included wellness retreats, solo travel and ride sharing services. I wager many of these will continue to be factors in 2017.

So as Christmas approaches, I wish you all a joyous holiday season. Make it a point to explore the world in 2017. Whether it be a town just around the corner or somewhere on another continent, amazing people, scenery and cultures await. Get out there!

More articles on 2017 travel trends:

Travel Trends for 2017 Part One

How Will Trump Affect Travel and Tourism?

 

How Will Trump Affect Travel And Tourism?

trump-profileSince Donald Trump won the presidential election, there has been a lot of speculation as to how his policies will affect our country. Earlier this month, I started a series of blog posts on travel trends for 2017. Let’s review how this election could affect travel. Here are just four examples:

  • Travel boycotts to the U.S.: There could be boycotts of travelers to not come to the U.S. because of Trump winning the election. In a Travelzoo survey conducted in the U.K. before the election, one in five respondents said they would “definitely” not consider America as a travel destination if Mr. Trump was elected. If those respondents are typical of the nearly four million Brits that visit the U.S. each year, the numbers of visitors could drop by more than one million. This would be unfortunate as our country is truly worth visiting.
  • Americans traveling abroad. Americans will continue to travel. Travel Zoo also reports that of their U.S. members surveyed prior to the election, 61 percent stated they will travel just as much as they did in 2017 and 16 percent will travel even more if Donald Trump were elected. They are concerned though of how they will be treated. According to that survey, sixty-nine percent of those polled are worried that the election negatively impacts how U.S. citizens are perceived overseas. One in five consider safety and security a top concern when abroad. When I went to Australia last April, I was bombarded with questions about Mr. Trump and concerns about him being president. I can only imagine what Americans are dealing with now as they travel abroad. But it’s an opportunity for Americans to have thoughtful discussions with people they meet overseas on American politics and culture.
  • Trade: Trump wants to renegotiate trade agreements and limit travel of certain foreign nationals to increase homeland security. But as president he will have to work with congress on his policies. Even with a Republican controlled legislative branch, I believe the election rhetoric in a number of areas will be tempered. There is concern that the popular visa waiver program our industry has fought hard to implement and sustain will be weakened. I am hopeful that will not be the case. Trump is pro-business, so as a tourism industry we have to demonstrate how travel to the U.S. is vital to our economy.
  • Travel related infrastructure: According to U.S. Travel Association CEO Roger Dow, “Mr. Trump demonstrated throughout his campaign that travel and infrastructure issues have his attention…. Trump has explicitly highlighted the challenges facing our nation’s airports and our aviation security system. He has voiced great enthusiasm for modernizing our roads, rails and airports with his promise to invest $500 billion in infrastructure reform.” Let’s not forget that the president elect is invested in the tourism and hospitality business, being a partner in numerous ventures including hotels, attractions, golf courses and even a winery.

So where does it leave the travel industry with a Trump Presidency? It’s too soon to tell. There could be challenges and there could be opportunities. I strive to be an optimist. Overall, I think travel and tourism will continue to be an economic and job creating engine on the local, national and international stage, regardless of who is president.

And for those international travelers who are thinking of boycotting a visit to the U.S. because of the future president, I close this with these thoughts penned by travel writer Chris Leadbeater this week:

“…the USA is no worse a travel destination today than it was yesterday, or than it will be in November 2020 or January 2025.

The Grand Canyon is as wide and magnificent as ever, the San Francisco skyline still an architectural wonder, the bars of Brooklyn unwaveringly chic, Route 66 still a meandering road-trip ribbon across the landscape, Colorado still a snowy oasis for skiers.

Travel really does broaden the mind – and the world could use some broadening today.”

Photo: Evan Vucci, Associated Press