Over the past 10 years, across Europe, the UK and the States, craft beer growth has been pretty unstoppable. As many smaller breweries have become established people are switching to beer production as something to be taken seriously. While the market is not saturated, it is down to the brewers’ innovations to stay ahead of the curve.
There has always been a need for hospitality businesses to offer unique and memorable experiences alongside their accommodation. Hotels that are themselves unusual and unforgettable are on the rise, not only because they offer something privately satisfactory for the modern traveller but also because they are constantly being immortalised on social media.
Beer and Barge combine both craft beer and unique accommodation. A bold and fun concept brought to life by Dave Oliver and Anni Shelmerdine who ventured to Holland in 2012. They went looking for a place, stayed on a houseboat and never left.
The couple have been hosting barge tours since 2013 with exceptionally diverse groups in terms of both ages and interests. In 2018, Dave and Anni plan to focus on an increasingly popular market, in a bid to attract more people, namely the ‘bike and barge holidaymakers.
“Our business is built around the idea of the all-inclusive bike and barge tour with a beery twist. You can choose our Belgian Beer Tour or the Holland Beer Tour, with both countries offering up some of the best beer in the world as a matter of tradition and also with the explosion of microbreweries.”
Guests board the converted Dutch barge for seven nights, to experience a unique holiday where their accommodation travels with them. Every morning begins with a full breakfast, a takeaway picnic for lunch and then a three-course meal every night. Great beer needs great food and the couple source the freshest ingredients to create their international menu.
Originally from Blackpool, England, Dave and Anni have become aficionados of the local history and culture with all the tips and suggestions a guest would need to build a real bucket-list holiday.
“Each of our routes take the guests on an epic journey through historical towns, fast modern cities and pretty countryside and are particularly tailored to pass at least 10 different breweries or ‘brouwerijen’. Some of these are quite famous, while others are little known. All the activities and tours along the way are optional so everyone gets the chance to be really creative and be flexible with what they want to do.” Dave and Anni explain.
BEER AND BARGE
The concept for Beer and Barge was born on a night out in the pub, as many great ideas are!
“It seemed natural to incorporate something we are passionate about with our business interests and we got really excited by all the positive feedback as we pitched the idea of a craft beer themed cruise to friends, family and clients.” They explain, “At the end of last year, we took some time off to put the final touches on the project and get everything ready for launch in 2018. The first Beer and Barge tours will begin this summer and we are beyond excited.”
Every tour has a four-man dedicated crew; a chef, a skipper, sailor and a host and at capacity each barge can safely hold up to sixteen passengers at a time. This may not be their first foray into the barge tour market, but they are focussing their time on building this business.
“This is a full-time, day and night job,” they explain, “Our floating hotel businesses have been our main focus for the past six years but we’re ready to let our trained staff takeover and make Beer and Barge tours huge.”
Relying on the business experience that the last six years have given them, the pair has the right skills and formula for a successful enterprise and they reveal that the best ways to market such a business is via vigilant marketing. Word of mouth, a daily social media presence, personal networking through pubs/festivals/clubs and societies and talking to industry peers are all vital.
“Beer and Barge is about getting together with other beer lovers and immersing yourself right at the source of many of the world’s best brews,” Dave and Anni explain, “For us, it’s all about cultural enjoyment and offering a unique holiday experience. Our tours are fun, flexible, informative and tasty, with our own personal touch to help create a family environment.”
DAVE AND ANNI
Soon to be married, Dave who is a programmer and Anni who worked in healthcare, moved to Holland in 2012. Now they are building up their second business involved in the waterways of the country. Having built their floating hotel business from the ground (or water!) up, they know the business from front to back and are still deeply in love with what they do as much as they are with each other. But where did the idea of adding beer onto a boat really come from?
“As beer enthusiasts, we’ve always enjoyed a pint or two and in the past few years we’ve become more accustomed to sampling local beers everywhere we go and taking a trip to breweries when we can.
“Both Holland and Belgium offer so much when it comes to beer. In the traditional sense and also with the invigoration of microbreweries. Spending our time between Amsterdam and Bruges has given us a lot of inspiration in that regard. It just seemed natural to combine this with our barge tours and all the positive feedback from people really encouraged us to make it happen.”
No business is always plain sailing and Dave and Anni know the importance of planning ahead and having a strategy.
“We both travelled a lot when we were younger, so we have a sense of what constitutes good hospitality and a memorable experience,” Anni says. “It’s important to know the parameters of your business and a definitive vision of what you want to offer. That way, you can create a clear marketing strategy that your customers will be drawn to.”
“When your guests arrive, the fundamental basics of super squeaky cleanliness, good facilities and friendly service must all be presented. These make the additional personal touches, such as location tips, become the cherry on the cake. Holidaymakers want to make the most of their time, so your personal recommendations can really go that extra mile to making a holiday experience extra special.”
WORK LIFE BALANCE
No matter how much a person loves their job, everyone needs downtime to recharge the batteries. While weekends don’t really exist for Dave and Anni, they do make time for holidays and small breaks throughout the year. Although they explain that at the moment they are still building their new business and this takes precedence over everything.
“We normally try to grab a couple of hours in the evening, just to wind down and chill out,” Dave explains. “It’s good for the body and mind to just switch off for a while each day; that way you stay fresh and focused.”
They also take time to indulge in their hobbies. Anni is a passionate linguist and is very keen on learning new languages. Dave loves everything basketball and between the pair of them, they have an extremely eclectic passion for music. Dave adds, “Cooking nice meals with a few beers can also be very therapeutic!”
Social and family connections are important to the couple as well as they both come from big families.
“Living away from the UK does mean that we miss family time. Although it’s much easier nowadays to use Skype and Whatsapp to keep in touch. We visit as often as we can and they sometimes come and take full advantage of our floating hotels!”
And where do the hosts go when they are holidaying?
“We always try to go to different places, but our favourite is Tulum in Mexico. It has the most stunning beaches, overlooked by ancient ruins and the town is just one road with a few bars and restaurants. The best El Pastor tacos ever can be found in Tulum; you literally cannot get enough of them.” Dave reveals.
Beer and Barge runs throughout the summer in Holland and Belgium with dates available in 2018 and pre-bookings for 2019. While a guest can book up until just four weeks before the beginning of the tour, Dave recommends booking as soon as possible because the boat fills up from January onwards.
“We only take bookings through our website beerandbarge.com.” he says, “The tours are tailored to be flexible and we like to establish relationships with our guests before they arrive, so we can determine their expectations and prepare a great holiday experience.”
You’ll find them on all the major social media platforms as well; Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. They take a very refreshingly open and casual approach to their daily posting:
“We post what we think is interesting and relevant to our market,” Anni explains. “Portraying our lifestyle, experiences, locations visited and of course boat life. It gets people excited about their holiday experience before they’ve even arrived, knowing what to expect. It’s also brilliant to engage with people in your industry and important to stay on top of industry news.”
For Dave and Anni there are a few major events happening in 2018. Their upcoming tours will be the highlight of 2018, seasoned with great food, great beer and the FIFA World Cup!
“Oh and we’re getting married in Costa Rica this year.” Dave adds. “There’s always room for improvement in any business, no matter how successful. Meticulous preparation sets the precedent for smooth daily operations but beyond that you just have to go with the flow. Always listen to what the guests are saying, reflect and take it on board.”
“No matter what business we do though, it’s family and health first, then the little things in life. Good food and putting your feet up after a long day with a nice cold beer.”