How the industry has changed since travel limits

Nick Strangeway looks at how travel restrictions have left a permanent impression on the global bar trade.

When I first started bartending there weren’t any brand trips. It wasn’t until the late 90s when they started taking us to Manchester from London that we were exposed to other bar cultures and it grew from there. I’m lucky enough to have been all over the world with brands, but the past year’s restrictions on travel have le a gaping chasm in our lives.

Instead of gallivanting around the world doing guest shifts, visiting distilleries and drinking Miller High Life at Tales, we’ve lived our lives virtually through screens. Brands have turned to Zoom tasting sessions while awards ceremonies, once an opportunity to meet up with industry friends, have been hosted through social media channels. But with bars now reopening around the world, hopefully brand trips will follow suit, albeit with a more selective approach.

Major events such as Diageo’s World Class or Bacardí Legacy, once the most anticipated dates in the trade calendar, will likely return with reduced capacity due to a combination of safety and travel budget cuts.

Logistics are also tedious, with some countries executing vaccination programmes better than others and government restrictions varying widely in different countries. But the extroverted personalities of bartenders have never been suppressed more than they have over the past year, and therefore the return of these physical competitions will be huge for the industry.

The visceral nature of visiting a distillery is irreplaceable. With Hepple I know that our story can be quite complex, so taking people to see it first hand makes it far easier to present our message than it would online. However, if a brand simply wants to convey information, then Zoom sessions are perfect. Over the past 12 months they’ve satis ed a huge appetite from the trade to learn and they’re a cheap and effective way of teaching bartenders about your brand.

But physical travel gives you something much more than just a story. Some of the first brand trips I ever went on in the early 2000s didn’t care about teaching you anything, it was just about getting fucked up and having fun and that made me loyal to the brand, and I still am today.

If you want to find out the facts and figures of a brand you can get that in seconds online, but over time you’ll forget it, whereas the memories you create on a trip last a lifetime. Of course a lot of brands have been forced to slash budgets and will continue to use Zoom as a more convenient and accessible way to gain exposure, but inviting members of the trade will always be crucial to their presence in the industry.