It’s all about innovation

Keynote speaker, Cathy Huyghe, and conference convener, Margi Biggs, at the Business of Wine and Food Tourism Conference at the Spier Conference Centre last week PICTURE: EJ LANGER

The third Business of Wine and Food Tourism (BWFT) Conference at Spier Conference in Stellenbosch last Wednesday featured a cross-section of international and local speakers who spoke to the conference theme of innovation in the wine and food tourism sector.

Keynote speaker Cathy Huyghe, author and wine journalist who writes about “the people, business and politics of the wine industry”, presented a detailed insight into the role of big data in the wine industry worldwide, and the potential for its implementation in South Africa.

Big data, by one definition, is larger more complex datasets, which can be processed to identify key business issues, trends, and insights pertinent to a particular industry.

“Big data aggregates and pulls together different strands of information,” she said, “much of which sits in silos, that nobody has yet pulled together.”

“Aggregating (and analysing) previously untapped multiple third-party data sources gives insight into consumers and how they talk, think and feel about wine.

“It takes out the gut and it introduces the head. It is empirical, quantitative and it presents a digital trail of emotions and behaviour (of wine consumers) for us to follow. This is not reinventing the wheel. The data already exists. It is applying data analysis skills to wine (consumer data sets) and the more data that is shared, the clearer the picture becomes.”

Citing a number of examples from America, Ms Huyghe showed how big data analysis can, for example, reveal what wines people are buying where, what other liquor products are bought with wine, where wine is being shipped to and in what formats, and what wines are being consumed with what dishes in restaurants.

Ms Huyghe presented a practical example of a local wine and food tourism destination’s social media engagement. Analysis of a data set which included the destination’s hashtagged social media engagement, and that of consumers posting about the destination, revealed some unintentional mismatches. “The exercise helped (the destination) to meet consumers where they are, and to align its message more with consumer expectations,” Ms Huyghe said. “We need to meet consumers where they are, and big data can help us do that.”

Speaking after the presentation, Hill & Dale winemaker, Guy Weber, said: “Big data is scary. I know it’s something we have to do, but I think it will take the soul out of the business.”

Bolander asked conference convener Margi Biggs for her views about the future of big data in the local wine and food tourism sector. She said that a multi-faceted group of wine and food tourism stakeholders, of which she is a member, is driving a big data project which she believes will be of great benefit to the sector. “The focus of the first BWFT conference was collaboration, and its nice to see that much needed collaboration happening.”

The remaining speakers focused on building a culture of innovation, how to harness the power of social media, e-commerce, amplifying while protecting local biodiversity and seeking ways to create the best in wining and dining, to highlight local wine and food offerings to traditional and newer travellers, of all ages and origins.

As Ms Biggs pointed out: “Just because millennials from Korea are the same age as their counterparts from Khayelitsha or Kansas doesn’t mean they are necessarily seeking the same experience. 

“We need to explore nuanced, culturally sensitive, inventive and practical ways of unlocking the huge potential that still lies to be tapped in our tourism market.”