WA tourism push needs more beer

The Western Australian Government’s goal to raise the value of tourism to $12 billion by 2020 could be boosted by more attention to ales, pilsners and lagers, Edith Cowan University (ECU) researchers suggest.

Tourism WA’s Taste 2020 quite rightly focuses on the South West region’s premium food and wines as a way to increase the 400,000 ‘gourmet travellers’ who currently grace our state annually.

However, the recent boom in craft breweries indicates wine’s less revered younger brother has earned a seat at the table.

“Judging from the awards brewers in WA are getting, it’s fair to say they’re producing really good beers,” said Nevil Alexander from ECU’s School of Business and Law.

“Craft breweries work very well with wineries and food, as they fit the ‘premium’ reputation of the region, particularly the Margaret River brand.

“However, they need recognition and support to thrive.”

Currently there are approximately 66 craft breweries in WA, with the highest concentrations in Perth and the Swan Valley and between Dunsborough and Margaret River.

Since 2006, craft breweries in Australia have risen from 30 to 528; and an average of 68 new establishments per year have opened since 2014, with a closure rate of only 4 per cent.

 Researching the way forward

In a recent publication from ongoing research, Mr Alexander and Dr Abel Duarte Alonso canvassed 57 craft brewery operators and 219 hobby craft brewers to identify challenges and opportunities related to tourism engagement.

In terms of barriers, commercial brewers pointed to the long distance between breweries, unfair competition from larger breweries and a lack of critical mass.

Hobbyists were most concerned with costs, particularly excise tax on craft beer, but also noted distance.

“Both groups indicated that the craft brew experience would work best in combination with other activities, whether that is gourmet food, wineries or things like festivals and sporting events,” Mr Alexander said.

“This would help overcome concerns about the distance between breweries and provide those taking tours with a more enhanced experience.”

Hobbyists also had a keen desire for behind-the-scene activities such as hop farm tours or opportunities to observe the malting process.

“There is clearly a desire for craft brewery experiences – the whole industry is evolving, and we need to recognise beer as a tourism asset,” Mr Alexander said.

Mr Alexander is also chief steward of the Perth Royal Beer Show.

‘Craft Beer Tourism Development “Down Under”: Perspectives of Two Stakeholder Groups’ was published in Tourism Planning & Development.