WA bus route revives ailing beer tourism

A new bus route on Perth’s outskirts has proven a WA university study was on the correct path with its claim that beer travel could pave a road to recovery for the State’s ailing tourism sector.

The Swan Valley Explorer Bus was launched in late October, providing a much-needed hop-on, hop-off service between breweries in the wine, beer and local produce district about a 40-minute drive north-east of the city.

The region had been poorly deficient in transport opportunities and with the State reeling from a downturn in tourists, some of the beer venues in the area were experiencing a drop-off in visitors, particularly midweek.

A one-way trip from the Perth CBD to the Swan Valley is around $55 via Uber (significantly more by taxi) and then travel between the breweries increases the cost as the distance can be up to 10km. Then there are the expenses at the venues.

But the Swan Valley Explorer Bus has had an immediate effect on the six breweries – Mash, Feral, Duckstein, Elmar’s, Ironbark and Homestead – plus the emerging Funk cidery.

The Swan Valley Explorer Bus works on a loop route that starts and finishes at Guildford train station, which is on Transperth’s Midland line. Visitors leaving Perth Station can be at Guildford in 18 minutes, linking with the various bus departures seven days a week.

An all-day bus ticket costs $20 and reaches 26 stops on the route, including wineries, chocolate factories and wildlife parks.

Mash Brewing owner Brad Cox conceded traffic to his Henley Brook premises had been falling early in 2018 but noticed an immediate spike when the bus service kicked into gear.

“It has been excellent. From day one it has livened up the Valley, specifically mid-week,” Cox said.

“Weekday trade has been very touristy and since the service started we started to see waves of people coming midweek.

“You know when the bus is coming because people tend to move out and go on to the next beer venue. But then the next bus comes with more tourists. You see them walk in, take in the dining, drinking and working their maps. And the flow continues.

“We’ve seen people specifically saying they’ve used it to target the breweries only. I’m sure it is the same for others with the wineries but there is definitely a targeted beer tour approach for some of the bus users.

“There are lot more Asian tourists coming through in groups of 20 to have something to eat and drink and move on as a group. That wasn’t happening much before.

“What we want to do is move that bus experience up a level. Get that bus ticket and take it over two days, stay in the accommodation next door and then travel to the different venues around the Valley. It has a lot more scope from a beer tourism level.”

WA needs all the help it can get to attract interstate and overseas visitors. Even the manager of the Swan Valley Explorer, Adam Barnard – a leading tour bus operator, told Seven West Media this week that the local tourism industry was on its knees and WA was “squandering an opportunity that has been seized by every other State”.

Visitors to the west coast spent $166 million less last year than 2017 and more than 1,000 jobs had evaporated in the sector. In comparison, overseas visitor numbers were up 15 per cent in Tasmania and 6 per cent in New South Wales.

There have been calls for extra funding for WA tourism projects. And while the State Government contributed $50,000 for a six-month trial of the Swan Valley Explorer bus, brewery venues being serviced also had to each contribute between $2,000 and $5,000 for route stops.

The investment has backed the recent report by Edith Cowan University that identified the WA brewing community as a rich tourism source.

Most of the State’s beer producers were located in rural areas and the growing interest in consuming brews at the source, coupled with WA’s outstanding reputation for quality ales, lagers, stouts et al provided the Government with a travel avenue worth exploring.

The university’s Craft Beer Tourism Development “Down Under” report was co-authored by senior School and Business Law lecturer Nevil Alexander, the long-serving head steward for the Perth Royal Beer Show Awards.

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

“Groups [in the study] 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.

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

The key platform of the Government’s new tourism strategy was to call WA the ‘Road Trip State’ and it even enlisted tennis great Roger Federer to promote the message at a cost of $2 million, which also included his appearance fee for the Hopman Cup.

Another State Government agency, Tourism WA, has provided some financial support to promote the Peel Region Craft Brewing and Wine Trail south of Perth. The self-guided tour includes King Road Brewing in Oldbury, White Lakes Brewing in Baldivis and Three Rivers Brewery in Greenfields.

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