Sunday, February 16, 2014
Buffalo Trace Tourism Growth Surpasses Statewide Totals
The Kentucky Bourbon Trail®, Bourbon Trail® and Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour® are all registered trademarks of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association (KDA). The official tours include only those attractions that are owned by dues-paying KDA members.
The elephant in the room that is Kentucky bourbon tourism is, of course, Sazerac and its two Kentucky distilleries, Buffalo Trace (Frankfort) and Barton 1792 (Bardstown). Sazerac quit the KDA several years ago, saying it felt it could better use its KDA dues by investing in its own tourism enterprise. Lawsuits and a settlement followed, and an atmosphere of mutual hostility remains.
Yet both are doing well. In 2013, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail® recorded more than 630,000 visits, a new milestone for the tour. A record 571,701 people visited the 'heritage' (i.e., big) distilleries, a 12% increase over 2012. An additional 61,698 traveled to the participating craft distilleries.
Numbers were up even more at Sazerac's distilleries, 34% at Buffalo Trace and 31% at Barton 1792. At Buffalo Trace, 84,629 guests took a tour in 2013, compared to 63,181 in 2012. Counting people who came to events at the distillery, including private events held at the Clubhouse (which can be rented), Buffalo Trace received 97,930 total visitors in 2013, a 21% increase over 2012.
The folks at Sazerac point to those numbers as evidence that they are better off outside the KDA, using the money they would be spending on KDA dues to enhance and publicize their own tourism offering. Both Sazerac distilleries provide free tours and tastings, and at Buffalo Trace five different tours are available.
The KDA argues that Sazerac benefits from the Association's general tourism promotion expenditures even though Sazerac doesn't help pay for them, but as KDA has gotten more aggressive about trying to undermine any non-KDA events and attractions, with the Sazerac distilleries at the top of that list (and all under the table, of course), that argument loses most of its credibility.
Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to be a distiller to be a KDA member. You just have to have a bourbon production facility in the state and pay the dues. Neither Diageo nor Michters distills in Kentucky and yet both belong to the KDA. Diageo qualifies because it ages bourbon at Stitzel-Weller, and Michters bottles its products at a facility nearby. Neither is open for tourism although, for $150, you can get inside Stitzel-Weller as part of the Kentucky Bourbon Affair.
In addition to members, KDA now has sponsors. Dozens of bourbon-inspired restaurants, bars, hotels, transportation companies, markets, specialty food stores, and convention and visitors bureaus signed on in 2013.
Most non-parties to the KDA-Sazerac conflict, including the state and relevant county and city tourism bureaus, try to remain independent and, thus, neutral. KDA, despite its pose to the contrary, is a private entity whose members are its sole concern and in that way, it is exactly the same as Sazerac. There should be more than enough room for both to thrive, as the statistics indicate is the case, and for the entry of any other persons or groups who want to provide bourbon-related experiences for Kentucky visitors.
No 'gatekeeper' is needed nor wanted.