Wine tourism is an increasingly important element of wine marketing and sales as both authenticity and identity grow as ways to differentiate products in today’s incredibly crowded and competitive global market. Nothing like the personal experience that wine visitors often receive to turn customers into ambassadors.
Of course wine tourism does more than sell wine because tourists spend time and money on food, lodging, local crafts, and more. With proper planning and broad local participation (which doesn’t always happen), wine tourism can be an engine of sustainable rural development. Or at least that’s the idea behind the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) global wine tourism conference, which will be held this September in Chisinau, Moldova.
So wine tourism is on my mind and I was therefore excited when I received an email from Wine Australia about $7.4 million in grants to support 21 regional wine tourism initiatives. That’s a lot of seed money — what do they hope to grow? And how?
The grants range from the relatively small and focused projects ($20,000 to digitalize the Canberra district’s wine map and translate it into additional languages) to the fairly large and ambitious initiatives (grants of $250,000 each to McLaren Vale, Adeliade Hills, Swan Valley, and Barossa Valley wine growers associations).
The Swan Valley project caught my attention because it appears to be the sort of focused multi-level, partnership-driven approach to regional development through wine tourism that I think often works best. Here is a summary of the grant:
Singapore Visitors to Swan Valley: establish a consortium of industry, government and academia to work collaboratively on: an audit of existing services/products, up-skilling of tourism operators and development of tourism products, with a strong focus on the Singapore market.
There are two themes that run through the Australian projects chosen to receive these wine tourism grants. The first is a focus on Asian tourists and especially Chinese tourists, with Hong Kong and Singapore also in the frame. The Geelong Winegrowers Association recognizes (as do many others) that a successful program for Chinese wine tourists means more than opening the cellar door. Here is the description of their grant project:
China ready – developing regional and operator capabilities to attract international tourism and increase average spend: development of regional digital and promotional assets; dedicated content for the Chinese visitor to be used across the digital platforms (including WeChat and website) and China-ready workshops encourage collaboration between wineries and tourism operators.
Getting “China Ready” is an important goal for many international wine destinations. When I checked in a few years ago there were only a small handful of Chinese language speaking winery guides in Napa Valley — most wineries were far from “China Ready” then.
Chinese visitors are especially important for Australia. Proximity is one factor, of course, but wine market strategy is another. China is now Australia’s #1 wine export market, surpassing both the U.S. and the U.K.
The second theme I see in the Australian grants is an emphasis on digital technology. No surprise there: people spend more and more time fiddling with their smart phones. It seems like screen time is replacing face time everywhere. If you want to get on wine tourists radar, you need to get on their screens first.
There are a number of interesting initiatives on the grant list ranging from simple websites (in multiple languages, of course!) to augmented reality and virtual reality tours. Riverland Wine’s project, seeks to use technology to stir interest in a region that is less famous than the Barossa or Hunter Valleys.
Riverland on the verge: international market research and development of virtual reality (VR) content to give international visitors virtual tours of Riverland wine attractions from local wine centres.
Most of the grants will support marketing projects, as you might expect. I am particularly interested in the ones that also seek to shape what visitors do once they arrive and how those activities can support sustainable rural development projects like those we will discuss in September at the UNWTO conference in Moldova!
Congratulations to Wine Australia on its 21 wine tourism initiatives. I look forward to learning more as the programs unfold.