The 2015 Wine Tourism Conference opened with the assertion: “Wine is the ultimate invitation.” This sentiment was echoed in the keynote address by Sally Cope (Ultimate Winery Experiences Australia), who shared research on the top reasons consumers across 15 countries pick a travel destination:
- Food and wine
- People and culture
- Nature and wildlife
General session speakers discussed topics such as the agricultural nature of wine tourism and an overview of China’s wine and wine tourism landscape, while breakout sessions provided tactical advice on customer service in the tasting room and smart website design. Below is a recap of takeaways from the conference that may be useful or thought-provoking to wineries, regional associations or others in the Oregon wine tourism industry.
Lessons from other regions and regional organizations
- The concept of “go local” is not just about marketing; it’s a living reality. Farms, local meat, local brewing all comprise the local ecosystem; the wine industry is a part of that.
- When identifying target markets, identify both primary and secondary markets, considering ease of access and strength of wine consumption.
- It’s not a regional association’s job to sell the wine – it can bring people to the door but the winery needs to sell it with compelling experiences, good products, effective salespeople and strong engagement.
Wine tourism is agricultural tourism (or, the importance of being a good neighbor)
- Local opposition to wine tourism is growing in wine regions throughout the U.S. (e.g. push-back against increased vehicular traffic on country roads).
- Be a good neighbor first. Establish parameters for operations. Consider this as part of your code of sustainability.
- Keep in mind a winery permit is not an entitlement; it is a privilege to do things in agricultural areas (like sell alcohol) – especially important for tour operators that visit your establishment to respect.
- Connect consumers to the land: show where your vineyards are or where your grapes are sourced from. Have maps and show them off!
- Get involved with your community – be a good neighbor by donating space for civic occasions.
- What about partnering with other ag tourism businesses? Wine is far ahead of other ag but there is potential for growth with synergistic ag verticals (cheese, livestock/meats). People visiting wine country need to eat, after all!
Know your story
- The majority of customers in your tasting room want to know: How did you get into the wine business? This presents a unique opportunity for every winery and the way you answer the question is increasingly important. Your story is what inspires visitation and is unique to you.
- Branding is important – define brand story and learn how to tell it in different and creative ways.
- No matter their level of wine knowledge, people want an authentic experience – what the region is like, what it’s known for. They want to learn and are hungry for education (at the right level for them). Be adaptable.
Tasting room lessons
- Diversify experiences: tour/tasting; tasting only; a la carte tasting; reserve tasting – price differently. Many visitors are educated on the basics; they want something that goes beyond the expected.
- Make it accessible to first-time visitors AND loyal customers. Many club members will stay away if you’re overrun with newbies; consider a separate space for club members.
- Consider that every customer who comes in the door is a good wine customer (or has that potential) – just on the nature of being there. Don’t make assumptions when people come through the door – you can’t tell who will end up being your best customer.
Setting your brand apart through customer service
- Consider this: 55% of people are willing to pay more for a guaranteed good experience; 86% willing to pay for upgraded experience.
- Seated tastings have a higher club signup rate and higher purchase than tasting bars
- Identify your five core values and live them daily. Use them for every decision about every detail, and make sure your staff knows and understands them. Develop them based on:
- Your story and brand
- Your mission and visionWhat is important to you, your staff and your customers (ask them to find out!)
- Ensure your customer experience and approach to service fits your values. Service details such as water, food, glassware? Service location – standing at tasting bar, seated in private room?
- Hire staff that fit your values and image – they represent your brand 24/7. Train them, test them and track them.
- Share the experience you offer with others:
- Invite industry members and regional hospitality folks frequently to see your offerings
- Stay in touch with your mailing list frequently, even if you’re not selling something
- Translate your experience to your website and share in social channels
- Share news and new offerings with local media
- Invite your loyal customers to give feedback; initiate a rewards or loyalty program.
- See this presentation for more DTC statistics, insights and ideas.
Courting the media (for wineries and regions)
- Writers will be more interested in writing about your community than your individual business – pitch them a complete package. Wine is the hook but there’s much more to it than just wine – it’s a complete tourism message.
- The easier you can make it for media, the better. Create owned content like blog posts that can get picked up by other media. Distribute press materials on flash drives. Provide downloadable, useable photography. Pick thematics (e.g. sustainability, diversity, heritage vineyards, German varieties) to develop stories around. In other words, make it easy for other people to promote you.
- Video: very few wineries have integrated compelling video into their media toolkit. Video is a great medium for storytelling and is easily shareable. It doesn’t need to be (and shouldn’t be) overproduced; overproduced videos are generally less engaging.
- While best practices in website design are ever-evolving, there are several rules that remain constant:
- Have clear and consistent navigation
- Ensure your site is mobile friendly for improved customer experience and higher search rankings. See the presentation below for a way to test your site’s mobile-friendliness.
- Have a call-to-action on your homepage: what do you want visitors to do when they get to your site?
- Ensure your loading speed is fast – one in four people abandon a site if it takes more than four seconds to load (four in ten give up on mobile in three seconds!). See the presentation below for a way to test your site’s load time.
- Be socially engaged, but make your site the hub for all your content – then link to it in your social channels
- See this presentation for examples of good web design and links to test out your site.
Connecting with Chinese wine consumers
- Although per capita wine consumption is relatively low, China is the largest red wine market in world with 46% CAGR (capitalized annual growth rate) over last nine years.
- If you are active in the Chinese market, be very cognizant of cultural norms: many colors and numbers have significance.
- Superlatives work very well in messaging. Translate any collateral and expect press releases to be picked up verbatim.
- The company Union Pay produces more than 50% of credit cards globally. Accommodate the purchases of more foreign tourists by accepting Union Pay cards in addition to MasterCard and Visa.
- Consumers are less interested in the scores of critics and are becoming more confident in making and expressing their own opinions.
- Donations: pick those causes that are near and dear to you.
- Don’t try to be in every (communications) channel doing everything with limited resources. Pick a few and execute them well.
- Consider coop marketing plans if you have similar goals to other organizations.
- Don’t badmouth other businesses in your area – and tell your staff not to, too!
- Don’t forget to invite people back to your tasting room! At a minimum, they will consider the offer.