Monday, May 23, 2011

BC as a Beer Tourist Destination is a Win-Win-Win Situation

VCBW along with The Great Canadian Beer Festival show
BC has the right stuff to become a major
destination for beer tourists.
Well done Vancouver Craft Beer Week organizers, host establishments and to all those who bought tickets and made the week-long celebration of craft beer a success!!

The main thing I took away from the VCBW, not counting the IPA-induced hangover I had the day after the Brothers in Hops event, is that British Columbia has a huge potential to become a craft beer destination and not for just one week of the year and not just centered in Vancouver. Victoria's Great Canadian Beer Festival, which has been highlighting BC craft beers and drawing beer tourists to their event since 1993, is another example of how a local event has the ability to draw beer enthusiasts from beyond their local scene. The Okanagan Fest of Ales is another prime example of how an event can draw both local and out-of-town beer enthusiasts to a craft-beer focused event. At the Brothers in Hops event I met several people who had come to Vancouver from out-of-town, some from quite a distance, for the VCBW and I am sure this was the case for the majority, if not all the events held during the week.

But I am wondering to myself why those involved in the craft beer industry wait for a major event such as the VCBW to lure out-of-towners to their communities to explore and taste the amazing craft beers available in this province. British Columbia is thought of as one of the most beautiful places in the world, hence Beautiful BC on our license plates. This province has something to offer almost everyone including the discerning craft beer lover. Tourism is a major industry here and we have a burgeoning and booming craft beer industry so it makes sense to me to marry the two. I know that I have seen advertising and package tours produced by the wine industry trying to lure tourists to the Okanagan, so why would it not work for craft beer? Our province is carved up into distinct and diverse regions, each with their own unique characteristics, including, for the most part, great craft breweries. It seems only natural that an industry such as the craft beer industry, take advantage of these natural assets to help draw people to their areas to tour their breweries and drink their beers.

The Ontario Craft Brewers Opportunity
Fund  encourages craft beer manufacturers
to expanded activities to grow their
business and be more competitive

The Ontario Craft Brewers (OCB) successfully lobbied the Ontario Provincial Government for grant money to help their industry thrive and grow by working the angle they could help increase and enhance tourism in the province. The government developed the Ontario Microbrewery Strategy (OMS)and provided the OCB with significant grant money, $5 million over five years, "for marketing, training and other promotion activities for Ontario's small brewers". With that money, the association has been able to join together to market craft beer and promote themselves, benefiting both the industry as a whole and the breweries individually. In addition to the OMS, the Ontario government, once it realized how viable the craft beer industry was and how much of an economical upside there was to supporting it, went a step further and put $8 million into the Ontario Craft Brewers Opportunity Fund, which helps support the development and expansion of smaller craft breweries (those that produce 300,000 hectolitres or less).

According to Steve Eaton of the BrandFire Marketing Group, who have worked with the OCB for the past four years to develop their marketing campaign, the province's craft beer industry saw significant growth after being able to secure their substantial government grants which allowed them to develop such great promotional tools as their Discovery Pack, iPhone app, podcasts and very interactive and informative website. By getting the politicians on board, using tourism as their proverbial foot in the door, the OCB have put themselves on the Ontario political map. 

By actively trying to lobby the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Training and its minister Pat Bell, the BC Craft Brewers Guild may be able to tap into funding they can use to help their industry grow in strength and numbers so they can better take on the mega macrobreweries in the market place. When I recently spoke to the BC Craft Brewers Guild (BCCBG) Co-chair, Tod Melnyk, for a recent post entitled "No More Excuses", Melynk's Number One reason why the BCCBG are not more active and high-profile is the guild's lack of financial resources. He stated this was the OCB's government support was a major factor in their ability to be so advanced, organized and successful and he is not wrong. But the OCB did not just sit on their butts and wait for the government to dump money on their front door. No, they actively formulated a plan and went after the money. If I were the BCCBG, I would be sitting up and taking notice of my Ontario brethren and contacting them for some advice on how to successfully lobby a government for funds. Those are some substantial dollars being funneled the way of the Ontario craft beer industry. I know the political climate may be different out east, but we have both provincial and municipal elections looming, which is usually a good time to go looking for money from the powers that be who are trying to befriend as many voters as possible.

A quick glance at the BC Tourism Partners BC Tourism Associations list shows that both the their are 38 groups working with Tourism BC, three related to the wine industry, but none related directly to the craft beer. This may be a good place to start. Lobbying the government to recognize and support the craft beer industry may take substantial time and effort, but if the payoff is grant money and support like the OCB currently have, it would be well worth the effort. Our provincial government seems to always want to follow in the footsteps of Ontario (hello HST) so the BC brewers can use the example set by Ontario to help further their lobby. It seems to be a win-win-win situation in Ontario, with the OCB getting substantial funding to help their industry grow and market itself while the Province of Ontario is gaining jobs and positive economic spin-offs from the contributions the craft breweries to the economy and the consumers are getting more and more great craft to choose from.

The Ontario Craft Brewers successfully lobbied
the Provincial Government for millions of dollars...maybe our BC craft brewers
should take some lessons.

If it is too daunting a task for the BCCBG to organize craft breweries from the entire province to lobby, I don't see why smaller regional craft brewers associations can't be formed which can then work in smaller groups to promote their regions and go after municipal and provincial government support. Why not a Vancouver Island Craft Brewers Association, Lower Mainland Craft Brewer's Association or an Okanagan Craft Brewers Association? Maybe if the brewers get organized and in sync on a local level, they can then move to join forces province-wide later on down the road. Smaller regional brewers associations may also be able to link up with local wine and vintners associations to promote tours and tourism through advertising, festivals etc.

I think it is about time that those breweries employing our talented brewers get more politically motivated and up their game. If we want our craft beer scene to continue to mature, grow and become more vibrant, then those involved need to start supporting and promoting their own industry as a whole. If we want to strive to be an Oregon/Portland-like mecca for craft beer and destination for craft beer lovers from all over N America, our local craft breweries have to develop the political will to do what they can to better their industry here. By luring tourists to our great province to drink craft beer, the industry can widen its market and local consumers will undoubtedly benefit from a stronger local scene which will be able to support more craft breweries, producing more great craft beers and craft-beer friendly establishments for them to frequent.

Beautiful BC is the perfect
setting to turn into a craft-beer

The government should be able to see the logic in supporting a growing industry. Supportive grant money could mean more craft breweries which means more jobs in BC and increased tax dollars taken in from the businesses themselves and from the sale of the beer to licensed establishments and to consumers.  Creating a beer tourist friendly atmosphere could bring new travellers to BC who will be also spending money on hotels, meals, entertainment etc which benefits all in the communities they are visiting.
Let's face it, this shouldn't be hard of a sell.

Supernatural BC, great craft beer....sounds like a great place for a vacation.

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