Conference focuses on sustainable growth

Margi Biggs, convener of the annual Business of Wine and Food Tourism conference.

The second wine and food tourism conference, which took place at the Spier Conference Centre on Wednesday September 20, focused on collaboration, skills development, sustainability and the creation of unique experiences as key contributors to Winelands tourism growth.

Convened by travel and tourism specialist, Margi Biggs, the conference is in its second year, and gauging by the comments from a number of delegates, it was well received.

Ms Biggs believes that travel and tourism has potential to contribute significantly more than it does to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).  According to Ms Biggs, the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) calculated that last year, the direct contribution of the travel and tourism sector to the South African economy was worth R127,9 billion, accounting for 3% of the country’s GDP, while the indirect contribution was approximately 9%, according to South African Tourism.

Speakers made a number of presentations which spoke to the central themes of the conference.

VinPro executive director, Rico Basson, provided an update of progress with the collaborative wine industry strategic exercise (WISE) aimed at boosting the wine industry in the local market, while WesGro head, Tim Harris, spoke of the opportunities confronting the Cape Winelands, presented by the technology revolution, and South African Tourism’s Amanda Kotze-Nhlapo, stressed the critical role tourism needs to play as a job creator.

Dr Robin Back, a South African-born academic who lives in Miami, presented the results of a research study in the South African wine industry, conducted on a sample of Americans who had visited South African wineries, and their consumer behaviour over a six-year period.

Dr Back revealed that the results indicated that winery tourism does in fact have a positive long-term effect on brand loyalty and purchasing behaviour, but that the strongest effect of positive winery visitation appears to be on brand loyalty, which is shown not to diminish over time.

He also mentioned the significant role of frequent and continuous communication with those who have visited, to further strengthen the bond between the brand and the consumer, adding that wine tourism should be incorporated into overall winery marketing plans.

Arguably the most well received presentation was first on the agenda, when Don Shindle, general manager of the Westin Verasa Hotel in the Napa Valley, spoke about the art of impeccable service.

He explained the importance of expertly and thoroughly trained staff, empowered to act with confidence, in achieving top service standards.  “Everything communicates, so engage your workers and enable them to perform.  Be agile in practices to create loyalty beyond reason, and deliver your brand promise. Teamwork means I am you, and you are me.” His presentation received a standing ovation.

Bolander spoke to a number of delegates to gauge the views of what the conference covered.

Georgina Prout, marketing manager, Glen Carlou Wine Estate: “I find that from what’s been presented today there are some very telling points we can take as an industry moving forward, but what I would really like to see is more looking at the bigger picture. I think we need a greater direction in the wine tourism industry and its an all-encompassing industry, including wine, food, and the ancillary products that come with it. I believe that this should be an industry-led initiative, with government support.”

For Nic van Wyk, executive chef at Haute Cabriere in Franschhoek, collaboration was the greatest outtake: “I think a lot of work needs to be done in the industry with each other. If we don’t stand together and collaborate, nothing will change. I think starting small, within your community makes sense, for example, getting together all the Franschhoek chefs, and pool resources. Perhaps getting a truck to come and deliver dry goods to all of us once a week at a central point, to minimise costs. It’s not only about being sustainable, its also about being profitable. You have to make money at the end of the day.”

Maryna Callow, communications manager at Wines of South Africa (WOSA), found Dr Robin Back’s presentation most though provoking: “It was insightful in so many ways. A great deal of what he said we instinctively know, however, as he said, communication is key, and this needs to be brought across to producers. If you’re not going to use the data you’re collecting to get the bigger picture, then why are you even collecting it? Clearly, data collection is imperative for the industry, and not everyone is doing it. There is much that comes out of that, which we can use, so I’m hoping the delegates who are here today, are taking something from that (presentation).

“They need to be asking how do we get this data, mine this data, and figure out who is visiting us, how do we communicate with them on a regular basis, how do we ensure they keep us front of mind.”

She was backed up by Carolyn Martin, co-owner of Creation Wines in the Hemel and Aarde Valley, who said: “A key dimension for me is actually understanding more about feedback (from visitors), getting feedback, learning from the feedback, in order to spark innovation.”

Both Roy Davies, general manger of The Vineyard Hotel in Cape Town, and Ivan Oertle, sales and marketing manager of Grande Provence Wine Estate in Franschhoek, were excited about Mr Shindle’s presentation. “It reinforced what most of us already know, and some of us already do to varying degrees, which is to focus on the person, and how they feel when they have an experience. Much of what many people do is transactional, and we strive to give an experience, the focus of today, and the impact of the experience is ‘how I feel’,” said Mr Davies.

“I found (his) presentation on service excellence to be the most stimulating of all. It highlights the fact that the people in the business have the most potential to be realised, and what one needs to do for staff, and how staff should operate.

“The message is loud and clear: the people in the company will make it successful,” said Mr Oertle.