An appetite for travel

Produced by the Oregon Business marketing department

1013 YS TravelOregon 03They sip. They sup. Visitors sampling Oregon’s renowned culinary products bring their appetites – and their wallets. 

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Produced by the Oregon Business marketing department 

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Above: Traveling beer enthusiasts seek out Ninkasi Brewing Company’s offerings at its popular tasting room. // Photo by Christopher Barth
Below: Visitors learn about winemaking “among the vines” at Phelps Creek Vineyards. // Photo by Ron Burke
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With a subtle pop, Becky Morus coaxes the cork out of a bottle of Columbia Gorge pinot noir, and tips it toward the glasses of four eager Californians visiting Phelps Creek Vineyards in the Hood River Valley.

It’s no surprise Oregon’s 28 million-plus overnight visitors take delight in the state’s iconic places; now research shows they take delight in its products, too — particularly culinary products. They come to sample fine wine, craft beer and artisanal cheeses. They shop at fish markets and farm stands. They take cooking classes, hit up countless food carts and dine at some of the West’s top tables. According to a recent study commissioned by Travel Oregon, six in 10 visitors to the state participate in a culinary experience during their stay.

Thanks to that hearty appetite, culinary tourism is a significant portion of the $9.2 billion travel and tourism injects into the Oregon economy.

Visits that keep on giving

Phelps Creek Vineyards taps into the growing interest by offering a variety of tours, featuring barrel tastings, picnic lunches and rides by horseback or hay wagon through its 30-acre vineyard. The family-owned winery hosted some 350 guests — from New York to Texas to Asia — in its first year of tours. Nearly all of those guests also joined the Phelps Creek wine club, each membership adding another $300 in annual sales.

“They become loyal to the brand,” says Morus, the winery’s operations manager. “Once they visit, guests establish a personal connection to the product and to this place. Every time they open a bottle of our wine back home or dining out, they get to experience those vacation memories and share them with their friends.”

Numbers tell the story

Research underscores Phelps Creek’s experience. A 2011 Travel Oregon study showed visitors don’t only buy Oregon goods while on their trips; nearly 60% continued to do so when they returned home. Wine, beer and food products top the list.

What’s more, 40% of Oregon visitors believe sharing Oregon products with family and friends will greatly influence their decision to visit Oregon in the future. It doesn’t take an economist to appreciate the magic of that kind of business leverage.

This tourism-driven bounty of increased sales spurs business expansion and job growth. So do visitors on business trips: 2.6% say they’d consider expanding, opening or relocating a business in Oregon. Not a small percentage when you consider it represents nearly 700,000 new business prospects.

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Above: A wine-pairing experience awaits visitors at the Phelps Creek Vineyards picnic spot. // Photo by Andrea Johnson
Below: Employees of Ninkasi Brewing Company busy keeping up with demand. // Photo: Joni Kabana
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Behind the scenes

“There’s a sensibility that draws people to Oregon,” suggests Nikos Ridge, CEO of Eugene-based Ninkasi Brewing Company. “They come to enjoy the outdoors, our quality of life and our quality of products.”

Oregon’s renowned craft-beer reputation dovetails nicely into that scene. “People expect good beer to come from here,” notes Ridge. Ninkasi builds product awareness by participating in beer festivals, sponsoring events and fostering a strong social-media presence. Once consumers discover Ninkasi beer, they often seek out the Eugene brewery and tasting room, Ridge reports, as part of a Northwest beer-tasting tour.

It all pays off handsomely for Ninkasi. In its eighth year of business, the firm ranks 31st in the nation for craft-beer production. About half of its sales are out of state.

Ninkasi’s success flows through Eugene and beyond. The company employs 87 and is currently expanding its production facility for the fourth time — a $25 million project expected to add 40 new employees over the next five years — in the Whiteaker neighborhood. This once economically depressed area of Eugene now thrives with new residents, restaurants, retail and other thriving breweries like Hop Valley and Oakshire.

Last year Ninkasi donated $250,000 to hundreds of nonprofit and community organizations. It benefits other business sectors, too, from the hops it purchases from Willamette Valley farmers to the spent grain it supplies to Eugene’s Oregon Natural Meats for cattle feed.

It’s a hoppy, happy cycle that continually feeds Oregon’s economy. So fill a glass with your favorite IPA or pinot, and raise a toast to Oregon’s 28-million-plus overnight visitors and the burgeoning worldwide fan base they’ve become for Oregon products.