Homegrown beer festival hits the road to Kelowna 

Great Okanagan Beer Festival expands on success in Whistler

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - Here be Beer Kelowna's Waterfront Park, home to this weekend's Great Okanagan Beer Festival.
  • Photo submitted
  • Here be Beer Kelowna's Waterfront Park, home to this weekend's Great Okanagan Beer Festival.

After two successful years of hosting the Whistler Village Beer Festival (WVBF), Gibbons Hospitality is exporting the beer-fuelled celebration to Kelowna.

The Great Okanagan Beer Festival (GOBF) takes place this Saturday (May 9), bringing more than 40 breweries to Waterfront Park on the shores of Okanagan Lake. In the style of the WVBF's expanded programming, there will also be a host of satellite events taking place throughout Kelowna's pubs and tap houses.

"It's super exciting," said Liam Peyton, festival and events manager for Gibbons Hospitality.

"The biggest thing has been the learning curve, having the confidence, operationally, from what we've been doing in Whistler for the last couple years."

The impetus to bring a beer festival to Kelowna came after an article in BC Business Magazine highlighted how the WVBF doubled in size in its second year and how the festival awarded its "Best in Fest" winners with draft beer contracts in Whistler's bars and pubs, rather than bestowing titles or prize money.

"When I read that article in BC Business, I kind of sprung into action," said Chad Douglas, the sports and events sales manager for Tourism Kelowna. "Some of what (the article) was talking about was (Gibbons') ability to attract visitors and their understanding of how to get those visitors into our businesses. Gibbons is kind of uniquely qualified to do that because they own bars and pubs in Whistler, so they understand our stakeholder model."

Kelowna already has an established summer tourism model but just like in Whistler, Douglas is constantly looking for events to add to its portfolio and attract visitors during shoulder season periods.

"We hadn't had a real, established beer festival," said Douglas. "It was a lot about timing for us. We want to make sure people are coming here not necessarily just in the busy summer months. This fits the bill perfectly with a nice early May (date) when the weather is warming up and people are starting to think about getting outside."

Another strategy that meshed well with the spring beer festival concept was Kelowna's desire to diversify its events portfolio. The Okanagan has an international reputation for its wineries, but boosting visits on the notion of "beer tourism" was an attractive notion.

"Wine is kind of king here," said Douglas. "We've done well with wine festivals so it's just a matter of getting visitors to know a little more about the fact that we do have beer here and spirits as well. With the help of this festival and with the help of Gibbons those sectors are going to emerge. We're going to start to have really nice balance here for people to visit."

The heart of these Gibbons beer festivals beats with the breweries themselves. Peyton and the team at Gibbons are extremely proud of the fact that their festivals were incubated right here in British Columbia and they continue to support the craft brewers of B.C. through both the WVBF and the GOBF.

"We have a partnership this year with the BC Craft Brewers Guild and we offered a booth discount for their members," said Peyton.

"If they attend Kelowna and then Whistler (in September) they get an extra discount when they come to Whistler for more incentive. We really want to stay true to the B.C. craft beer scene, 32 of the 43 breweries in attendance are all members of the BC Craft Brewers Guild."

By partnering and cross promoting the two festivals, the goal is to get a percentage of the visitors attending both festivals in May and September. Peyton also noted that their cross section of ticket sales for the GOBF is from a slightly older demographic than that of the WVBF.

"(The) majority of our ticket sales in Whistler for the last two years are in the 25 to 34 category," he said. "It's pretty balanced between the 25 to 34 and the 35 to 44 bracket (in Kelowna) which is pretty cool. They're also responding to different marketing mediums — radio is really popular out there."

This week a small contingent of Whistler locals will be attending the GOBF after enjoying what the Whistler beer festival had to offer.

"I haven't seen Kelowna before so it was a great chance to get away during the dead season," said Andrea Howard, a Whistler resident originally from Australia who is attending with her partner and another Whistler couple.

"It's the first time I've travelled for anything like a beer festival. I had so much fun at the Whistler one and I hear there's a lot of good wine (in the Okanagan) as well. If there's time that will be on the cards as well."

For more information on the Great Okanagan Beer Festival head to www.gibbonsevents.com/great-okanagan-beer-festival.

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