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“That’s how we fit into tourism, and now we’re a huge piece of it. Now I’m sitting on a panel.”

Ryan at Stockton

On Monday, Ryan sped up the Parkway to exit 41 — Stockton University was holding a Beverage Tourism Distinguished Guest Panel, and Ryan was excited to be a part of it.

Ryan was joined by Devon Perry of VisitSouthJersey.com, Larry Sharrott, Jr., of Sharrott Winery, Jon Henderson of Good Time Tricycle Productions (the folks responsible for the Atlantic City Beer and Music Festival, among other things), Mark Ganter of Little Water Distillery, Kenny Ward of Ship Bottom Brewery, and our good friend Vicky Clark of the Cape May County Chamber of Commerce.

“Cape May Brewery is the benchmark,” says Donna Albano, Assistant Professor of Hospitality and Tourism Management Studies at Stockton. “You guys are blazing the trail of the industry, and you represent the industry in the best possible light. You’re able to communicate with a college-aged population, but you’re also able to talk about what it took for you guys to get from point A to point B.

“You guys are really blazing the trail.”

20171120_175705It was a full house in the Board of Trustees Room in Stockton’s beautiful new Campus Center — but that may have been as much for the promise of extra credit as it was for the possibility of free beer.

If the students were expecting free beer, they were in for a sad surprise. We brought stickers, though. Stickers are nice.

The evening started with questions prepared by the department, then the floor was opened to questioning.

The first question needed to be asked: Why is beverage tourism so popular?

Devon said that, in South Jersey, we have a “phenomenal story to tell.” We’re the closest thing to a true agricultural region for people throughout our area — for people from New York, Philadelphia, DC.

“There are stories behind every bottle,” she says, “and you have those stories to take home.”

Larry hit upon the Local Food Movement — people these days are more interested in knowing where their food comes from, and Ryan agreed.

“People want to understand where their stuff is coming from,” Ryan said. “But on top of that, people are looking for an experience more than material goods. We want to go out and do something really unique and then share that experience online.”

The next question was about how the panelists’ organizations fit into beverage tourism, and Jon jumped right into that question.

“I like to think that our organization helped to kick off the craft beer movement in the State of New Jersey,” he said. “We are the second-largest beer festival in the country. We move the equivalent of about a half-a-million dollars of beer in twelve hours, and it’s all craft beer.”

Ryan agreed. “You guys have really been instrumental in putting New Jersey on the map as a craft beer destination.”

But how do we at Cape May fit in?

20171120_184128“If you do a heatmap on folks who are doing a search for ‘breweries in Cape May’,” he said, “they’re not from New Jersey. The majority of them come from suburban Philadelphia, metro New York, metro DC. So we saw an opportunity.”

There were six wineries when we opened, but we wanted to give people an alternative experience.

“That’s how we fit into tourism,” he said, “and now we’re a huge piece of it. Now I’m sitting on a panel.”

“And to be with you, I just want to take a picture of that,” Devon joked, miming taking a selfie with Ryan.

Vicky mentioned that beverage tourism is the fastest-growing niche in tourism in the State of New Jersey.

“We should be very proud of our state’s tourism industry,” she said. “It’s a $44.1B industry. That’s incredible. The majority of it is in South Jersey.”

Yet, it’s a seasonal industry. But with the advent of beverage tourism, we’re starting to see more visitors in the off-season as well.

“Beverage tourism has really has given another opportunity for people to come and visit and come back,” Vicky said. “It’s another thing to do when you’re here in the summertime, but what we’re finding is that more and more people are coming back throughout the year.”

The next question involved connecting with the public and the various strategies we employ to do so. The responses varied, but the general idea is that we do so by developing our own character and personalities — and the personalities involved in the beverage industry are certainly personalities.

“The majority of the marketing that we do is through story,” Ryan said. “No one wants to listen to statistics. We want to have really fun, engaging stories. And I love it. It’s so much fun to tell our story, and the most important part is that it’s genuine.”

Devon made an excellent point in that the stories are great, but they’re only good so far as they get engagement.

“The next time you’re out,” she said, “order a New Jersey beverage, take a picture, and share it using the proper hashtags.

“We’re all ambassadors.”

The next topic reflected the fact that New Jersey’s beverage industry has been able to create a very strong sense of place within their individual brands. Luckily, with our recent redesign, Ryan had a bit to say on the topic. He spoke of the evolution of our brand, culminating with the redesign.

20171120_184130“All of our packaging speaks to who we are as a brand,” he said. “Almost two years ago, we engaged a company to help us think about who we are and what we do, and we really put our big boy pants on.

“When somebody comes to our Tasting Room, they get to experience what we’re really about. Then, when they see our beer on tap in a bar or restaurant or they see our packaging, it really speaks to that. It speaks to New Jersey pride, and it’s really fun to talk about that.”

So, what’s the future of beverage tourism? Is this here to say, or is it just a passing trend?

The general consensus was absolutely not. Beverage tourism is here to stay, and it’s a major economic driver within our state.

“As a consumer,” Ryan said, “this is a great time. Everyone’s stepping up their game. There’s some really good beer out there. And drinking beer has become a hobby. So, you go and order a pint, and you go on your phone to Untappd and you share that experience.

“But from our side, that makes it really competitive. If your liquid isn’t really great, and your messaging isn’t on point, and your people aren’t the best, then it’s probably not going to work out for you.”

Ultimately, beverage tourism is the juggernaut that it is simply because there’s so much great product out there. This industry is marked by competition, certainly, but it’s marked by friendly competition. A rising tide lifts all boats — since New Jersey is putting out such a great product, the more you know about the other guys, the more likely you are to try a Cape May brew.

“It’s a great time to drink beer right now,” Kenny said.

The question-and-answer period saw some great questions from some rather engaged students:

  • What’s holding you back?
  • What’s your favorite ways to connect with customers?
  • What’s keeping New Jersey from growing into a Napa or a Bordeaux?
  • What do you look for in employees?
  • What keeps you from targeting the college-aged beer drinker?
  • How do we create more festivals?

In all, the panel was a great success. The students were undoubtedly drawn in by the promise of extra credit and the allure of an admittedly interesting industry but found an engaging topic.

Yet, the topic of beer tourism isn’t something that you need to be educated on, dear beer drinker. You’re already aware of the importance of beverage tourism — you seek out new breweries when you’re out on the road. You share those experiences with your like-minded friends. You’re the ones driving this industry, keeping us on constant alert to create better and more inventive beverage experiences.

And, ultimately, we cherish that. We wouldn’t have it any other way. You guys set a high bar for us, and we’ll keep grasping for it.

In the meantime, swing down to the Tasting Room to see how we’re doing. See you soon!