To the question “is wine tourism the answer to increasing sales?” we asked Stefano Soglia, expert on the development of tourism programmes in Italy and Elena Zeni, owner of Cantina Zeni, one of the most visited wineries on Lake Garda and president of the Bardolino “strada del vino” association to give us their insight.
Stefano Soglia – From Products to Experiences
Over recent years travellers’ tastes have changed, there’s been a move away from the top 50 destinations and travellers are becoming more interested in broadening their horizons. This can mean travelling to new places or enjoying different experiences in places that are already known.
The US has 20m winery visits a year behind this is France with just under 12m. Italy – whilst producing about the same quantity of wine as the French – has less than half of the winery visits with about 5m per year. Wineries that are successful in attracting visitors are so because of the experiences they can offer. These experiences can range from the setting, architecture, services and attractions to the services they offer on-site such as cooking courses, involvement in harvesting and recreational activities.
Wine tourists can be split into various groups -
1) Tourists by chance – in Italy these account for 1.9m people. These are the people who jump in their car for a day out and end up at a winery.
2) Wine tourists – people who go purposefully to the winery to broaden their knowledge. This group usually have high incomes, are likely to buy wine and are perhaps some of the most desireable wine tourists.
3) Talent scouts – they are likely to have a checklist of destinations to tick off. They are always on the look out for new experiences
4) Luxury lovers – looking for luxury. Have high spending power.
Not all wineries can offer something to all these segments. Each segment is very different.
In Italy wine tourism is very concentrated in certain locations, Tuscany for example accounts for over 40% of all wine tourists. The difficulty of getting involved in wine tourism for wineries is the concentration in location but also the seasonality with most winery visits being concentrated between april and october. This makes it hard for smaller wineries to make the investment in proper infrastructure for wine tourism. Another problem is that by making a standardised approach to wine tourism, a winery may find themselves loosing their authenticity.
Drivers for wine tourism include : the product, the location, local attractions and the services the winery can provide (eg specialised courses or recreational activities).
Strategies that wineries looking to develop wine tourism:
- diversifying the target – increasing the range of experiences offered to cater to diverse age groups such as children (play activities, learning about the vines etc) and the more senior traveller
- networking – by teaming up with producers of regional food products, the winery can offer a more complete experience and create synergy between members of the network.
- wider range of experiences – such as cooking courses, guided bike rides in the vineyards, hands-on experience of harvesting – are all enlarged experiences that can be used by a winery to increase their scope of visitor and differentiate their experience.
- authentic story-telling – tell the story of the product and the winery online and also offline creates a stronger bond with the brand. People remember stories and trivia and are likely to tell this to their friends creating more – and more trusted exposure.
Advantages of developing wine tourism for wine producers :
1) increased brand loyalty and exposure to products (consumers may discover products that they didn’t know whilst having already had experience of the brand for ex.)
2) having tourists at your site gives you the chance to understand consumer perceptions and behaviour, test new ideas directly on the consumer
3) opens up other revenue streams such as merchandising and increases margins on bottles sold through the removal of middle-men distributors. These activities are also a valuable source of cash flow.
However, wineries must remember that these developments require investment not only financial but also in terms of time and expertise. Often the activity is very seasonal creating logistical and management problems. Capital investment is likely to be high too.
There are however different approaches to wine tourism. It can be a gradual process as follows :
1) being part of “cellar open days” organised in the region where on one or two days a year the cellar is open to visitors. This limits investment (promotion of the event is done by the consortium, visits are usually carried out by owners themselves) yet ensures the winery gains some of the advantages linked to wine tourism – inc. brand loyalty for example.
2) Specific and permanent structure – such as a tasting room. This involves investment in capital and personnel.
3) Investment for hospitality – creating areas that can then be used for other functions such as weddings and events
4) Creating a destination – using an “archistar” to create an innovative winery worth visiting. Ideal destination for the Luxury lovers. Eg Carapace Lunelli, Marques de Riscal in Elciego. This is a very risky strategy and requires huge investment.
Increasing activities in wine tourism makes sense if :
- consumers are able to find your wines when they go home and the brand loyalty developed on-site will then be translated into continued purchases in their home market.
- the experience you are able to offer them is memorable
- you have a product around which brand loyalty can be built (if selling bulk wine perhaps not worth the investment)
- the wine tourism activities can also support other more lucrative activities in the winery – such as letting of location, increasing sales in on-site shop etc.
- you are prepared – financially and mentally to invest.
Final conclusions : There’s a right time for everything. It may be that you are not ready to develop these activities yet, start small and go forward but don’t stick at something that is neither lucrative nor purposeful to your winery. If the investment is not paying off in any of the ways described above, use your resources wiser and do something else. Wine tourism is not for everyone.
The full presentation :
Elena Zeni – A case study of Wine Tourism – Yes it does help to sell wine!
Elena is part of the family winery Cantina Zeni that produces over 1.5m bottles of wine on the shores of Lake Garda in the appellation of Bardolino. The area attracts over 14m tourists a year and has 104 wineries that also bottle their own wine.
The “Strada del Vino” wine route was founded in 1984 but only in recent years has developed its activities to include events, courses and a website dedicated to the wineries in the area.
Zeni – a case study. In 1986 when the methanol crisis hit, Cantine Zeni found themselves with an alarming decrease in international sales. Over 40% of sales were lost for a number of years and one of their most important markets, Germany, was severly affected. It was a difficult time and one which presented two options : either close the activity or invest and develop something new. This was the start of Zeni Enotourism.
In 1991, Zeni opened its wine museum covering 60m2 and employing 1 member of staff. It started to be successful and over the years the space increased. In 2012, the museum which now covers 1900m2 and employs 7 staff attracted over 120,000 visitors. Staff are true brand ambassadors, trained in customer service, marketing and wine and have indepth knowledge of the wines, the history of the winery and the area.
Besides offering visits to the winery, the hospitality section of Cantina Zeni also organises events for companies, schools and ho-re-ca in the local area. They have also developed a range of experiences from hosting fashion shows, to providing workshops for children and experiences for tourists looking to have a hands-on experience of making wine. These activities are now responsible for approx. 25% of the turnover of the company.
Elena’s full presentation :
(scroll down to get to the conclusions of the session)
Conclusions : Wine tourism and Innovation
Innovation in wine tourism will come from developing either the wine or the area. More clearly said – if an area is important as a tourist destination, the winery should concentrate on improving the wine and the image of the wine (ie. Zeni in Bardolino). If the area is however more important for the wine it makes (ie some parts of Tuscany), innovation will come through developing experiences linked to the area rather than the wine.
Wineries will also start to work with a network developing events and projects with producers of food to reach out to the same public yet sharing the costs and risks. They will also start to see their competitors in a different light and recognise that collaboration will reap rewards for all. For example in Franciacorta, three wineries are open every Sunday on a rotating basis. This means that the three benefit from working together by creating a “wine tourist” circuit for that day. This is a simple way of increasing their exposure without having the fixed cost involved in developing a permanent structure for wine tourism.
Thanks once again to Stefano Soglia and Elena Zeni!