Last spring, Dr. Neil Reid, a professor of geography and planning, planned to spend a few days at the Gran Sasso Science Institute in L’Aquila, Italy, as part of an academic conference where he would participate in a workshop for Ph.D. students and researchers in the fields of economic geography and regional science.
The opportunity at GSSI was enticing enough — and then he was invited to participate in a local food and beer festival in Lecce nei Marsi, a small community of 1,600-plus residents about an hour’s drive southeast of L’Aquila.
“It was an interesting connection,” said Reid, an expert on the craft brewing industry and its economic geography. “They paired the two events so that I could go to GSSI and participate in the academic event and then go out to Lecce nei Marsi and participate in the local food and beer festival.”
In fact, the Gran Sasso Science Institute academic conference and the Lecce nei Marsi festival complemented each other.
One focus of the conference explored the benefits of beer and food tourism, while the Lecce Nei Marsi local beer and food festival, which also included a dozen nearby communities, was part of a larger tourism strategy to promote the area’s natural attractions including hiking and other outdoor activities.
“One of the strategies for beer and food tourism is that it’s part of the economic development initiative” for small towns, Reid said. “Other places in Italy have done this quite successfully.”
Just as food and wine enthusiasts have traveled worldwide for years to eat and drink at region-specific restaurants and wineries, craft beer enthusiasts are now traveling to “taste the place” where the craft beer is made.
“That’s beer tourism,” Reid said. “Beer is always freshest at the point of production and beer tourists want to go to drink a beer where it was made. You’re not just going there to drink any old beer. You’re going there to taste a beer that is a unique local project.”
At the invitation of the Mayor of Lecce nei Marsi, Reid shared his expertise on the growing beer tourism industry during the mini conference to kick off the Lecce nei Marsi festival.
“Having a local food and beer festival represents a tourism opportunity,” he told them. “It will not solve all the problems but it’s one piece of a broader strategy that could help develop a local community from a socio-economic perspective.”
Reid said he got something out of the trip as well.
“I’d read a lot about small-town Italy but I’d never been to one,” he said. “It was interesting to see how this place was thinking about beer as an economic asset — not just beer, but beer and food – seeing this as a potential tourist attraction and how they see this as something that can help their community. They plan to repeat the festival next year and the year after that.”