There’s money in them there tourists…

Back in the ’70s a craft brewery was founded in California by a bunch of long hairs. This was at a time when the majority of beer in the USA was of the ‘Lite’ variety of weak, tasteless carbonated water pumped out by a few macro brewing firms. In the UK, the ‘Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) was just getting traction, run by gentlemen of a certain age with frankly dodgy facial hair and style in clothes. Long story short, that Californian brewery was Sierra Nevada which went on to form the craft brewing wave and then ride it become one of the largest and most successful craft brewers in the US if not the world.

During the 2000’s they were running out of space in Chico, California and decided to open an east coast brewery, eventually deciding on Mill’s River near Asheville, North Carolina. With the craft beer phenomena in full swing, the new brewery opened in 2015.

Now Sierra Nevada brew nearly their full range of beers in a modern yet traditional (stick with me here) facility in Mill’s River. This is not just an industrial complex, but a tourist destination in its own right. A showcase for its products, its philosophy, its eco-friendly ethics and let’s face it a great way of making money from its followers and tourist.

The facility, both the grounds and the brewery are stunning. What is noticeable is that right from the start there was a dual purpose behind the design. Obviously the place needs to be dedicated to producing excellent beer, which it does admirably, but it was also designed to let visitors have as much access as possible.

From the moment you drive into the complex, everything is aimed at the visitor. Plenty of parking for regular, disabled and those driving energy efficient vehicles. The brewery do tours of course and these range from self guided to 3 hour guided tours covering specific beer interests.

The self guided (turn up and wander) and the 90 minute guided tours are free. More involved tours have a low cost. I’d advise the 90 minute guided tour as it goes where you can’t on your own and includes not only a hugely knowledgeable guide, but a major tasting session! A word of warning. Although the free tours are available all day, you should book in advance on-line ( as they get booked up way in advance.

Obviously the tours are informative and fun, but the aim must be to encourage your loyalty to the brand. Guess where they end? Yes, at the entrance to the gift shop and the restaurant!

The restaurant is a destination in itself. The food is superb, the wait staff well trained, pleasant and efficient, and of course the beverages fit the location with all the regular Sierra Nevada range plus what they term ‘audition’ beers – new offerings where you’re doing the market research. Of the 400+ folks employed on the site between 100 and 200 are employed in the restaurant. The Taproom, as the restaurant is named (, has a number of different seating areas both inside and outside. The outside areas are also dog and kid friendly by the way. Even if you’re not into beer, the restaurant is worth visiting for the food alone.

There is often a wait for seats in the Taproom (it’s worth it), so what to do during your wait? Let the kids play in the playground, walk the dog or stroll in the grounds (they’re even putting in hiking trails, so you can work up a good thirst) or visit gift shop.

The gift shop is a beer-lovers dream. Clothing, beer drinking accessories, and of course beer itself, including rare bottles and brews only available at the brewery.

All in all it’s a lesson in how to add loyal followers to your brand, attract incremental income and also to contribute to the local economy – particularly the tours economy.

Visit the Sierra Nevada Brewery website at

Thinking outside the Kennel

Why do tourists go to the beach? ….or the mountains, or cities? Obvious isn’t it, the beach tourists go for sun, sand, sea and Watersports. Mountains – skiing, and so on. In fact it’s not that. Many beach lovers never go anywhere near the water, they like the beach lifestyle. Many tourists have much more niche reasons for traveling, and it’s these tourists who often bring out of season income. The question is, how do tourist boards, accommodation providers and the like make inroads into the eco-tourism, agri-tourism and pet-tourism areas?

There are more sub sectors of the worldwide tourism industry than you could shake a stick at, but my current experience focuses on the last area, particularly, canine tourism.

We, as you may know, have two dogs (smooth collies, Lola and Jack, thank you for asking) and sometimes we like to travel with them. We load up the mini van and head off to….

Well, currently North Carolina near Asheville. Madame Researcher found a resort that is aimed at dog owners and their fur traveling companions. It’s called Barkwell’s in Mill’s River (

I’m naturally suspicious of anywhere that sets itself up to cater for a particular sub set of humanity. I suppose I’m nervous of Nerdism running rampant. There’s also the risk that a pet friendly resort may be particularly human un-friendly. That’s certainly not the case with Barkwell’s who appear to have written the book on how to create and run a luxury mountain resort that works for ‘normal’ tourists with dogs.

A past General Manager of the Peabody Hotel in Orlando (now the Hyatt Regency Orlando) once told me of her initial worry about hosting dogs in her upmarket hotel. She expected damage, dog fights, smells, ‘accidents’ – the whole range of worries that you’d expect. In fact, she found out that the dog owners took great care to avoid the above, and that she had less problems than with children and cheer leader conventions! Even better, the dog owners appear willing to pay extra for the cost of having a dog stay in the room.

Barkwell’s has 6 cabins scattered around their completely fenced 8 acres of property in the quiet Countryside just outside Asheville. They bill the cabins as luxury, and they really are. Unlike many ‘vacation rentals’ these are furnished to an excellent standard with top marque dishwashers, laundry equipment etc. Granite countertops and great bathrooms. Each cabin is in its own gated area – ours being close to 1/3 acre – and has its own hot tub which is checked and serviced daily. It is a luxury mountain resort, that happens to cater for dogs.

Given that there are some 77.8 million dogs in the USA and 55.4 million families own a dog. That’s a big potential ‘niche’ market. 79% of dog owners consider that the pet is part of the family and the nation spends $60.59 billion (2015 estimated) on their pets each year. (statistics from The American Pet Product Association).

But back to Barkwell’s. The owners and staff are particularly hospitable yet not interfering. The feel is totally unlike most vacation rentals. The surrounding area is dog friendly and has a thriving and varied tourism economy. If you have dogs and like the idea of them joining the family vacation I can recommend it. If you’re a CVB or tourist board, you may want to consider some of these ‘niche’ tourist markets, they’re a rich source of incremental growth and income.
Enough of this though, time for a walk round the lake, or perhaps a beer tasting at the very local Sierra Nevada brewery – but that’s a story for another time.

Nashville – let’s sleep in the station

Among my wife’s other multiple talents is that she’s an amazing researcher. Combine this with being a frustrated travel agent and it makes for staying in some interesting places. Perfect for an admitted ‘hotel junkie’ like me.

We recently needed to travel to Louisville and not wanting to drive the whole journey in one go, Madam Researcher took on the job of finding an hotel en route that was different. ‘Let’s stay in the train station’ she announced. I may be a ferroeqinologist (Google it!) but my days of camping out on benches in stations is long since past. Enter the Union Station Hotel…

Originally started in1898 this Gothic pile was completed in 1900. It boasted the largest trainshed (the covered bit where the trains came in) was the largest unsupported span in the USA and could hold 10 trains at one time. Apparently it even had two alligator ponds on the train level – imagine getting that past ‘health and safety’ these days. Celebrities passed through, including Al Capone on his way to the Pen. The place stopped being a station in 1979 and reopened as a luxury hotel in the ’80s, but was refitted in 2007.

The Union Station Hotel ( is now part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection with 125 rooms and a number of suites.

It’s certainly spectacular and the lobby is one of a king – see the photos. The staff are proud of their hotel and it shows. From the guest point of view though, don’t think of it as a ‘normal chain hotel’ it certainly isn’t that. Rooms below the third floor, where reception is, I understand are dark and can be noisy although we didn’t stay in one, so that’s pure heresay! However above lobby level they are amazing with high ceilings and modern styled interiors. If you’re looking for regular rooms, this isn’t the place to go, but if you’re open to experiences it’s worth it.

There’s a great bar too and the in house restaurant, Prime 108, is a four star rated joint. They certainly do a good steak, and the wait staff are excellent.

As always, check peer reviews on TripAdvisor etc, but read between the lines. This is not a cookie cutter hotel, but it’s worth camping out in the station!