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Enotourism: The New World launches a pre-emptive strike

A country’s heritage may be discovered many ways and that through winemaking heritage is a growing success. Overly focused on the production of the best wines in the world, French professionals forgot that tours of their properties were part of a more global, indispensable strategy. Producers in the New World, meanwhile, have understood this and surged ahead. And now it is time for France to catch up, estimates Paul Dubrule, author of a recent report.

Is France behind in enotourism? If we are to believe Paul Dubrule, there is no doubt. The co-founder of the Accor group and ex-president of Maison de la France very recently delivered his report for the ministries of Agriculture and Tourism. The results are clear: France – the home of Petrus, Romanée-Conti, Yquem and other Dom Pérignon – is lagging behind. Other wine producing countries are nibbling away at its market shares in the aisles of the supermarkets or on restaurant menus. The same ones have gained ground when it comes to exploiting their winemaking heritage to benefit tourism. Spanish and Italian professionals were quick to exploit this manna. The vintners in the New World as well, with Americans, South Africans and Australians in the lead. In France, it has only been for a few years – and in a disparate manner – that the offer has been developed around tourist products and focused marketing tools. And yet, with an estimated potential of 7 million visitors for France alone, enotourism is anything but a niche market.South Coast Winery Resort & Spa in California, Wine Resort Vinas de Cafayate in Argentina, Cape Lodge in Australia: several independents hoteliers are successfully exploiting the enotourism goldmine. The Sources de Caudalie shows that France has not always been behind in the field. The vinotherapypioneer, located in the heart of the vineyards of Château Smith Haut Lafitte, this hotel concept associates wine, culture, gastronomy, luxury and relaxation. Its success teaches a lesson. The Can Bonastre Wine Resort, near Barcelona, took its inspiration from it and positions itself as an oasis of relaxation in the middle of vineyards. In Spain as well, at the heart of one of the most famous domains in Rioja, Starwood opened the Marques de Riscal Hotel at the end of last year. It is a first stepinto enotourism for a hotel group, and this member of the Luxury Collection welcomes a Caudalie spa. The avant-garde architecture signed Frank O. Gehry, who designed the Guggenheim in Bilbao, made this hotel a hotel destination in itself. And this enological resort may count on both Leisure and Business clientele thanks to its auditorium for hosting meetings and incentives.Is France definitively behind? Certainly not. Wine and gastronomy are essential values in the identity of the destination France. With its world-renown vineyards and its 5,000 cellars open to the public, the perspectives are endless. And things begin to move when all the actors in viticultural tourism have everything to gain: tour operators, hoteliers, restaurants and, first and foremost, the vintner who grows his direct sales. Now, every two years, the Maison de la France, which promotes tourism in France, organizes a meeting of foreign tour-operators and the players in French enotourism. The goal: to increase the awareness of the different wine routes and new products such as “Destination vignobles” in the Bordelais, “Secrets de terroir” in the Beaujolais, or “Tourisme de terroir en Corbières”.The major advantage of creating specific products for this clientele target is that it travels both individually and in groups, and it tends to disregard spending. For example, American amateurs discovering wines and vineyards will spend nearly 1,000 dollars (750 euros) per trip. These men and women – who express growing interest in this theme –generally have high revenues, once their children have grown up. Enotourism amateurs are very often in the 35 to 64 age range.According to a survey by the Agence française d’ingénierie touristique in 2001, the conclusions of which are still up to date, enotourists may be broken down into four groups, two of which have an enological bent:• vineyard amateurs, or habitués who go to a specific region to buy the wine they like;• wine amateurs, or connoisseurs whose goal is to discover a region’s wines.These two clientele profiles share 40% of the market evenly between them. The other 60% is shared by enotourists whose motivations are more tourism oriented:• amateurs of the region (22%) who visit a region for both its wine and its appeal:• and finally amateurs of the tourist offer (38%), whose initial goal is to discover the region. For these epicureans, wine is a preponderant element in the choice of destination.It is within this final category that the largest source of foreign clientele may be found. In France, 80% of this clientele is European, from Belgium, the United Kingdom, Germany and Switzerland. For now, Americans, the Japanese, the Russians still only account for a small portion of this clientele. But for enotourism actors in France, the primary source of enotourists is domestic. One quarter of the French have, at least once in their lives, chosen their vacation destination in order to taste and buy wine. The most renowned regions are also the most visited. The Bordelais (21%), Alsace (17%) and Champagne (+12%) are the Top 3, ahead of Bourgogne, the Rhône Valley and Languedoc-Roussillon.The phenomenon is similar in the United States. The offer has explode from 3,000 wineries to 5,000 in five years. And Americans, increasingly enlightened amateurs, are rushing to visit them. California is in the lead with nearly 20 million visitors, ahead of New York and its 4 million visitors. According to a recent study by the Travel Industry Association (TIA), 27 million travelers in recent years associated their desire to travel with an enological dimension. Meaning one fifth of leisure tourism. Still according to the TIA, this market segment could even gain the majority in a near future. This is important for tourism in Europe’s winemaking regions. Stars and Stripes, the magazine of America’s armed forces, recently published a dossier dedicated to enotourisme, highlighting the south of Spain, Styria in Austria and the French Jura… with an exhaustive list of all wine-related events in 2007 in most European countries.Domestic or foreign, clientele want above all to discover the appeal of a region while tasting its best wines. Some regions are at an advantage because of their rich heritage. St Emilion for example, listed at Unesco, is a motor for enotourism in France. The Upper Haut Douro valley in Portugal, the Upper Rhine Valley in Germany, the region of Tokaji in Hungary, Wachau in Austria, and the Cinqueterre in Italy also take advantage of their listing to attract customers. In order to stand out among the competition, the region must organize concepts that go beyond the wine product to highlight their gastronomic and architectural heritage and landscapes.The enotourist is thirsty to discover, but appreciates being guided. In South Africa, every measure is taken to make their visits easier. Vintners and actors in tourism have organized a system of shuttles by bus that allow tourists to visit the region of Cape Town. The “Wine hopper” travels from cellar to cellar at the request of clients. Another initiative in South Africa and Australia’s Barossa Valley is the “Cellar door pass”, which is a package that includes tasting and the purchase of 6 bottles from partners in the operation. In France, many regions are organizing themselves as well. Thus, the guide published by Inter-Rhône suggests nine itineraries to discover the Rhône Valley and its 420 cellars. But, more than anything, it is the quality and the professionalism of reception, the clarity of tourist information and the vintner’s sensitivity to the needs of tourism such as knowledge of languages – and the fact that a visitor is not necessarily a buyer – will make the difference.It is necessary to create a network to ensure this sector that is in full expansion is put top its best advantage. Thus, Recevin, a European network that includes a hundred or so winemaking municipalities, does not hesitate to ask the European Union to make 2008 “the year of enotourism and taste education”. Well represented in Italy and Spain, as well as in France, Germany, Greece and Portugal, this network recently opened in the East with Dobrovo in Slovenia and Sopron in Hungary. It actively supports the European project Vintur, cofinanced by the European Union, which tries to coordinate exchanges between European regions to develop wine tourism by favoring exchange and communication of good practices between partners.The structure of this market is developing worldwide. Several other initiatives have also been taken. Already in 1999, eight major enotourism cities (Bordeaux, Bilbao/Rioja, Le Cap, Florence, Melbourne, Mendoza, Porto and San Francisco/Napa Valley) gathered together to create a global “Great Wines Capitals Network”. In France, the conclusions of the report by Paul Dubrule also encourage the Comités nationaux des Interprofessions du Vin, the regions and ministers to join forces to professionalize the promotion of 17 winemaking regions that make up the French offer. The creation of an enotourism charter and the extension of the “Qualité Tourisme” label to the sector are being reflected on. In this sector where the personality of each winemaker plays an important role, strength comes through unity.Enotourism and the hotel industry South Coast Winery Resort & Spa in California, Wine Resort Vinas de Cafayate in Argentina, Cape Lodge in Australia: several independents hoteliers are successfully exploiting the enotourism goldmine. The Sources de Caudalie shows that France has not always been behind in the field. The vinotherapypioneer, located in the heart of the vineyards of Château Smith Haut Lafitte, this hotel concept associates wine, culture, gastronomy, luxury and relaxation. Its success teaches a lesson. The Can Bonastre Wine Resort, near Barcelona, took its inspiration from it and positions itself as an oasis of relaxation in the middle of vineyards. In Spain as well, at the heart of one of the most famous domains in Rioja, Starwood opened the Marques de Riscal Hotel at the end of last year. It is a first stepinto enotourism for a hotel group, and this member of the Luxury Collection welcomes a Caudalie spa. The avant-garde architecture signed Frank O. Gehry, who designed the Guggenheim in Bilbao, made this hotel a hotel destination in itself. And this enological resort may count on both Leisure and Business clientele thanks to its auditorium for hosting meetings and incentives.

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