Bob’s Blog: Wine Tourism Hunter
Wine-Tourism Hunter as I like to call it, rather than the longer version, Hunter Valley Wine and Tourism Association (HVWTA…not to be confused with LB…..) in association with the Cessnock and Singleton Councils ( The Alliance …so to speak) have just announced reaching the $300,000 fundraising pledges target to mount a major marketing campaign with Destination NSW with matching dollar value coming from Destination NSW itself.
Congratulations, the drought in marketing is about to be broken – there has been no major promotion of the region for at least 3 years. For a destination which has been the second largest tourist attraction in NSW, we have lost the plot to some extent and we are now seeing the effects of this neglect.
The Hunter, as we know, has long been a wine growing area, since the 1820’s in fact. The development of tourism (not just wine tasting) alongside grape growing is a relatively new phenomenon and the two industries are just coming to recognize their interdependence.
The Around Hermitage Association is a great example of wineries, accommodation at various levels, tour operators and other tourist attractions working together to builds their businesses. The Lovedale group with their Long Lunch have set an example, as have the Broke-Fordwich with their Italian Festival and of course, the Parishioners (Parish of Pokolbin) are old hands at attracting visitors with their major concerts etc., bless them.
The concept of wine tourism has gradually developed as the generation of baby boomers and their children, have sought to develop their understanding and taste of wine as well as enjoy the countryside, with journeys to the wine growing areas. Indeed some baby boomers have made lifestyle decisions and made the move to plant vineyards and develop boutique cellar door outlets. The Hunter, with Pokolbin and Broke in particular, is not unique in this regard but our proximity to Sydney and Newcastle has put us in a commanding position.
Resources from the tourist industry such as wine tours, accommodation (small and large with their various attractions) restaurants, hospitality catering, wait and service staff and public relations play a key role. These combined with wineries, cellar door outlets, vineyards, festivals, long lunches and other vineyard related activities including, harvesting, irrigation services, cooling and refrigeration, tractor and engineering and machinery services blend into what is becoming an amalgamated Wine-tourism industry that forms a rather large regional employer. It is estimated that over $300m is brought into our destination a year through wine-tourism and it may well be much more.
Wine-related tourism has become increasingly important not only to the small but also the larger wine producers as well as to the many accommodation places, tour guides, restaurants, gardens, golf and wedding venues. In some destinations around the world, the combined wine and tourism industries have become the major employers replacing older industries and here in the Hunter as mining matures alternative employment in the wine-tourism area has occurred. (e.g. engineering support services)
Wine tourism has now become the subject of research and books and articles are being written exploring the phenomenon. Attempts at defining the subject include “visitation to vineyards, wineries, wine festivals and wine shows for which the grape wine tasting and/or experiencing the attributes of a grape wine region are the prime motivating factors for visitors” this definition does not include length of stay so it includes day trips, excursions, and overnight stay.
Of course, some visitors are attracted to the rural nature of the vineyard area, the scenery, the open fields and the associated restaurants and activities. They may not be so interested in tasting or purchasing wine. Some may be tempted to take a closer look at wine if the romance of the vineyards gets to them!
None the less, there is an increased interest in wine and the desire to see where it comes from and how it is made, and to meet the producers (here small wineries have a real role). This, when combined with the attractive surrounds of vineyard areas, has led to a growth of wine tourism. In general wine growing areas have pleasant climates most of the year. How often do we see couples and groups being photographed in the vines, and in this exceptionally hot summer the green vines still seem to attract the photographers and the iPhone holders can be seen springing into action!
Driving around and walking, even bike riding (note the Hermitage Road initiative) and taking in the views of this highly developed form of agriculture enables city dwellers the opportunity to commune with nature and become conversant with this unique product where both primary and secondary production are combined.
Wine-tourism can enhance the knowledge of the visitor giving them confidence in their discussions of wine and at the same time they can taste the end product and buy it at the source. The image of the vineyard and memories of the visit can make an indelible impression and hopefully establish lasting relationships. Of course, if managed badly through lack of service or disinterest in the visitors it can go completely wrong!
The development of smaller boutique wineries has become the core business of wine tourism although many still do not recognize this. The proximity of smaller stay accommodation to the Boutique wineries creates a patchwork of inter-related tourism. Many more established wineries avail themselves of the opportunity to try out new products with almost immediate feedback, it provides a sales channel, a means of promotion, brand recognition, and a way of educating the visitors both in winemaking aspects and the uniqueness of their brands.
As we all know the relatively new cellar doors sell most of their wine on site or develop a mail-order list of visitors attracted to their wines. This is an important and essential source of cash flow but it depends on visitor numbers in order for the business to grow.
The lifestyle aspect of having a cellar door includes the satisfaction of hosting visitors, most of whom are delightful people as my wife Mary often says. Our Spring and Autumn long lunches let us entertain people, get to know our customers and we often combine this with a mix of friends who like to see and enjoy what we do.
Wine-tourism is a concept that is undergoing substantial development as it embraces the two industries and we are only just coming to understand the implications for our regional economy. Work undertaken by Ian Napier and the HVWTA to try and evaluate the true value is interesting but as always challenged by lack of assessable and verifiable data.
Today there is competition between wine tourist destinations –Orange, Mudgee, Canberra, the south coast and the Southern Highlands are all vying for tourists. The choice of destinations and various attractions can be influenced by a well-constructed marketing campaign. We like to think the Hunter is the premium wine-tourism destination particularly with its long history and focus on table wines.
However, the old saying “out of sight, out of mind” is very relevant if we want to maintain interest in the Hunter as a destination. The slowing down of tourist interest in the last year or so is of great concern. Hence the $300,000 response from the local businesses to the Alliance initiative to develop a new marketing strategy is great news, but this can only be the beginning.
Word of mouth also is important where previous experiences and enjoyment can be conveyed first hand, it also helps with return visits. A poor experience can have a multiplier effect so we all can benefit but at the same time suffer if our tourists are not properly looked after.
Those of us with cellar doors recognize not all visitors have wine related motivations or their partners and friends may not be so interested in wine. The availability of non- wine products such as Olives, relishes, jams, figs in season, pottery, and a range of gifts often means sales to those not into wine and helps the profitability of the cellar door. Chocolate also seems to gravitate to winery areas again to cater for the varying interests of our tourists.
This diversification is not confined to the smaller wineries, the Ben Ean winery initiative in its new form has Olive and Cheese shops as well as a restaurant alongside local and iconic Australian wines. The McGuigan cellar door has had a cheese outlet for many years.
We have seen the increase in weddings in the vines. The selling of the mystery and romance of wine has spilled over into that of nuptials! The “winescape” – the mix of neat well cared for rows of vines, the gentle slopes, the river flats, the well-manicured gardens and attractive wineries all add to the imagery and the concept of primary agriculture and propagation.
As a destination, the Hunter has benefited from the Hunter Valley Gardens with attractions for people of all ages including children. The Nulkaba Zoo is a favourite of our grandchildren and is part of the diverse attractions available.
While a lot of this is stating the obvious what is now important is to view wine-tourism as a whole and recognize the need to work closely supporting all the aspects of what makes the Hunter a desirable destination, trying to enhance the wine-tourism experience to the benefit of all.
I have used Wine Tourism Around the World, Development, Marketing, and Markets;
Edited by C Michael Hall et al, Butterworth-Heinemann, Oxford, 2002 as a key reference for this blog.
Author: Robert Lusby AM
©Around Hermitage Association Inc.