Andrew McEvoy, CEO of Tourism Australia at ATE12 Perth (all images by Graham Howe)
Graham Howe reports on innovative strategies to promote wine tourism
unveiled at the Australian Tourism Exchange 2012 (ATE12) he attended in
Perth in June.
Food and wine tourism is a big money-spinner in Australia, a long-haul destination which annually attracts some six million foreign tourists to an A$94 billion tourism industry (R800 bn). Announcing the latest phase in "There's Nothing like Australia" (a A$250m global ad-campaign), Andrew McEvoy, CEO of Tourism Australia, focused at ATE12 on "food and wine tourism in Australia" as the next phase in a global "Best of Australia" initiative to promote the top wine regions in the country. ('The best of' national landscapes, golf and indigenous tourism were rolled out first.)
Wine tourism is fragmented in a vast country where some forty different wine regions compete for the foreign and domestic tourist buck. While iconic wine routes located close to major tourist gateway cities such as Hunter (Sydney), Barossa (Adelaide), Margaret River (Perth) and Yarra (Melbourne) take the lion's share of the tourist spend, many emerging wine routes are coming to the fore by focusing on regional hero varieties, wine styles, unique cellar-door experiences and local gourmet produce.
"The Margaret River Gourmet Escape" was a major new event unveiled at ATE12. Twenty-five of the world's top chefs, food and wine critics - including the likes of Heston Blumenthal (Fat Duck, UK) and Rene Redzepi (Noma, Copenhagen) - will attend the inaugural event taking place in Western Australia from 22 to 25 November. Gwyn Dolphin, executive director of Eventscorp (a division of Tourism Western Australia) unveiled what is billed as "the biggest and most prestigious food and wine event in the southern hemisphere" at ATE12. The hub of the festival will be a gourmet village at Leeuwin Estate, an iconic Australian winery in Margaret River.
Ten thousand visitors are expected to attend the inaugural Margaret River Gourmet Escape. The gourmet village will feature master classes, cooking demos by top local and international chefs, meet the winemaker sessions, wine 'odysseys', and food and wine theatre matching to showcase the produce of Western Australia. The organisers emphasise the event will spread to four emerging wine regions in the south-west - and promote the natural attractions of the state through beach barbecues, surfer's breakfasts, lunches in the vines, foraging expeditions in forests and eco-tourism.
While I was attending ATE12, 'the truffle kafuffle', an 'emerging food festival' was making headlines in Manjimup in Margaret River. A relative newcomer, with 130 wineries opening since the late 1960s, Margaret River enjoys a winning ratio - making only 3% of Australia's wine but 20% of its premium brands. So the locals say. Simone Horgan-Furlong of Leeuwin, comments, "Margaret River is making wines that are being recognised alongside the great regions of the world, yet we're still such a youthful industry. To have this kind of benchmark festival to showcase what we do, and bring the world's leading food and wine identities to us is a very exciting proposal." Food and wine, sun and surf are the big attractions - as well as nine micro-breweries on the wine route. Ale trails are a big drawcard in a thirsty country.
State and wine region tourism associations were among the hundreds of tourism operators from around Australia who showcased their attractions to 700 travel operators, buyers and media from 40 countries who attended ATE12 in Perth, the largest travel trade show in the southern hemisphere. I interviewed many about the new trends and use of digital technology in food and wine tourism in Australia.
The 'greying' of the traditional food and wine consumer is a dilemma for many wine tourism destinations. Dean Gorddard, MD of Hunter Valley Wine Country Tourism, comments, "We're trying to go for a much younger demographic - to attract consumers on a pathway of discovery of wine - and build the next generation of wine-lovers. We're also trying to switch from the mid-week daytrippers to overnight visitors. We're getting a reputation for amazing 'big-name' concerts in the vineyards (Elton John, Neil Diamond, George Michael, Sting). We're a high-awareness destination as Sydney's adult playground. The concerts create more noise, the sizzle."
"Hunter is a diverse lifestyle experience with spas, golf courses and 320 weddings per year" says Dean. To reach a new generation of wine-lovers - and solve the dilemma of choice with its 150 cellars, 65 restaurants and 180 places to stay - Hunter Valley Wine Country has launched a quirky new interactive iPhone app which invited users to discover your Hunter Valley personality - inter alia the educated palate, food fanatic or trusty friend - and then download an itinerary with dynamic content on suitable matching wineries, restaurants and tourism activities.
"Digital advocacy" is the buzzword in the Australian tourism industry - whether marketing Wine/Food, Outback and Wildlife destinations (aka as "WOW" tourism), sun and surf, adventure, nature or cultural tourism. Andrew McEvoy, CEO of Tourism Australia likes to talk about the role of "word of mouse" (sic) as a powerful marketing tool in selling Australia. He comments, "Digital advocacy is at the heart of the latest phase of the 'There's nothing like Australia' campaign. We have embraced social media platforms - through for example a new ad which promotes twelve iconic Australian journeys through an interactive tablet application - and actively encourage people to share their passion for Australia through their own social networks."
The strategy of the 'There's nothing like Australia' campaign was to get 60 000 ordinary Australians and visitors to become tourism advocates and upload their own story of their favourite destination onto a digital map of Australia for millions of Internet users to download. Many of the stories are about food and wine destinations.
Nick Baker of Tourism Australia, comments, "It's not just about the big ad. We see ourselves as storytellers for the country. Words and images are our core business. Holiday snapshots on facebook inspire other travellers with the transformative experience of a holiday in Australia - and our unique lifestyle. Tourism Australia is the biggest tourist site in the world with three million facebook members."
Diane Glasson of Destination New South Wales comments "Food and wine is a core part of how we sell Sydney, the number one dining destination in Australia". She focused on a gastronomic tourism initiative called 'Destination Dining Sydney', an exciting new city partnership which brings together twelve of Sydney's top chefs and restaurants to promote Sydney as a global gastronomic destination - including Neil Perry (Rockpool), Peter Gilmore (Quay - 26th in The World's Top Fifty Restaurants), Marque (Mark Best - rated 62nd), Tetsuya's and Justin North (Café Becasse).
Neighbouring Canberra, celebrating its centenary in 2013, has 35 boutique wineries on an emerging wine route marketed under the trademark "liquid geography" campaign - named after the diversity of the soils, varieties and altitude. At AT12 we attended a tasting of Canberra’s superb cool-climate Shiraz, Viognier and Pinot Noir. (James Halliday put 19 ACT wines in his Top 100 NSW wines 2010.) Then there's South Australia, home to 200 wineries within an easy hour's drive of Adelaide.
Jacob's Creek - national winner of best tourism restaurant and winery in the Australian Tourism Awards 2011 - is the major tourism hub in the Barossa, South Australia’s iconic wine route. One in eight visitors to the Barossa visit Jacob's Creek, and 30% are international who come to see the home of the brand exported to 75 countries. At ATE12, Renee Jeffrey spoke about unique cellar-door attractions that draw visitors to the cellar-door - inter alia a tutored tasting of iconic wines, wine and food sensory experience, a walking tour of the display vineyard which showcases fourteen signature grapes, a master class led by a winemaker - and a tasting of new varieties such as Fiano, Vermentino and Graciano only available at the cellar-door.
The future of food and wine tourism has arrived in the digital revolution down under.
*Graham Howe attended the Australian Tourism Exchange 2012 as a guest of Qantas, Tourism Australia and Tourism Western Australia - see www.australia.com, www.westernaustralia.com and www.qantas.com.