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Wine Tourism Conference Review

by on December 14, 2011

Wine blogger Ed Thralls from Wine Tourism Conference to be targeted to wine tourism professionals from throughout North America and beyond. The conference took place November 16-17, 2012 in Napa,California. Ed agreed to provide his review of the conference for the wine blogging community. This is his review.

First Wine Tourism Conference Riveting and Revealing

The inaugural Wine Tourism Conference was held November 16-17 at the newly revived Napa Marriott hot on the heels of yet another inaugural Napa event, the Napa Valley Film Festival.  This is the first conference focused on increasing and enhancing tourism to wine regions around the globe by discussing industry trends and issues as well as sharing best practices.  It was interesting to hear that 35% of attendees were from states other than California.

Zephyr Adventures, creators of the well established Wine Bloggers Conference and industry-leading adventure travel tour operator, partnered with MartinCalder Productions to organize the conference bringing a mix of speakers from the California Wine & Tourism Commission, San Francisco Travel, Sonoma State University, Google, as well as wine experts and personalities that included Michael Mondavi, Allen Shoup, Ray Isle, Leslie Sbrocco, Paul Wagner and Sara Schneider just to name a few.  Every session was informative, full of valuable information and often entertaining.  And let’s not forget the wine provided by the event sponsors.  Here are a few highlights that grabbed my attention…

Leveraging the Nearby Metro

Catherine Beteta, President of the California Travel and Tourism Commission, talked about their “Visit California” program.  She shared that tourism (by hotel revenue per room) to the San Francisco bay area increased by 11.3% in August (latest data) and is California’s top export by more than 3x the next category.  To execute their strategic plan they focus heavily on branding and engagement including the use of videos, traditional print publications and premier sponsorships.  Social media is very important to the marketing mix in that it provides critical peer-to-peer conversation.  Catherine states that video is a key tool for them and that the California Wine Month campaign held in September by the Wine Institute was an example of a successful social media effort.  She states that the level of success you achieve depends on “how you package your brand to trigger that interest or emotion you want.”

Michael Mondavi notes that wine eventually led to the arrival of tourists to the Napa Valley, while Allen Shoup described how that was the opposite for the state of Washington.  The Walla Walla region was discussed often throughout the conference of an example of a remote wine region that has a challenge of attracting visitors from the Seattle metro area due to its remote location.  Both agreed, though, regardless of situation, “it’s about the story… the appeal, the history, and how we got here” that helps attract visitors to wine country.  People are also planning vacation destinations based on the complete culinary experiences they can have, according to Catherine.

Tasting Rooms

When it comes to attracting visitors to winery tasting rooms there is a dichotomy of increase selling pressure in these trying times vs. the loss of longer term customer, a hypothesis put forth to Steve Cueller of Sonoma State University by John Jordan of Jordan Winery.  What Steve found, among a lot of other cool statistical data in studies he performed in both Sonoma and Napa, was an inverse relationship of attendance and sales revenue/person.  This makes sense, and is practically obvious, when considering what Michael and Allen spoke of earlier.  When you have more visitors, there is a smaller amount of time spent with each, depending on tasting room resources, to tell the story and sell the product.  Keep in mind that each tasting room is also competing with another 5.2 wineries that wine country tourists will visit per trip.

There is an opportunity for wineries to stand out before visitors even arrive through the use of online review sites and, of course, social media.  Up to 70% of all tourists use the Internet to gather information and develop itineraries for their trips and 40% of travel researchers use user-generated content online.  This means blogs, search engines, micro blogs, social media sites, review sites and more.  The key here is to “make yourself relevant at the point someone is looking for information, or what we call ‘the moment of truth’,” according to Joe Rosenberg of Google.  TripAdvisor’s Todd Skelton further explained the “importance of monitoring review sites for your tasting room, maintaining the information and responding to comments as appropriate.”

Note to wineries:  take a moment, or better yet make it an ongoing exercise, and search for yourself on Google, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Twitter, Foursquare (tips),, wine forums, or use a free tool like Vintank’s Social Connect (just to name a few) to get an understanding of what tourists can read about you.  Do you like what you see?  If not, you better start working on your online image because Google searches about wine are up 33% since 2006.

Direct to Consumer

Barbara Insel of Stonebridge Research provided some interesting, although somewhat dated (Nielsen, 2007), statistics about Direct to Consumer (DTC) purchasing habits:

* Only 3% of all wine sales in the U.S. are DTC
* Roughly half of DTC sales are from the tasting room
* 88.5% of U.S. adults have never bought wine direct!
* 8.23% purchase at tasting room
* 1.94% purchases from wine club

It would be interesting to see how these figures have changed over the past 4 years as new media adoption (including mobile) continues to increase as a rapid pace.

A Case for Social Media

A compelling case was made for social media use in the wine industry by a fellow blogger, Marcy Gordon of Come for the Wine.  She described how her Wines of Croatia (#WoCroatia) effort not only increased awareness for the wines but also for the region.  Her journey is well documented on her blog (start HERE), so no need to repeat it here.  Ultimately, she was able to build awareness in this country for Croatian wines and the buzz reach was wide enough to gain followers and engagement from Croatians themselves.  Eventually, it lead to Marcy being invited to the country to continue the story she had started.

It clear that social media must be part of the marketing mix and that this topic is much bigger than just Facebook and Twitter.  It’s about a winery’s overall online presence, availability to and engagement with consumers, as well as significant value proposition in the face of competition.  There was “argument” on Twitter (#winetourismconf) during this part of the conference regarding whether or not Twitter is a direct sales tool.  What’s your take?  Does the altruistic view of being solely a community of conversation and sharing of valuable information by early adopters prevail or has that ideal become diluted as more and more everyday users register?  A recent study showed that 43% of Twitter users follow brands specifically looking for deals and offers.


In summary, the wine industry needs to continue to think outside the box and perhaps the box is our own wine country region.  As a winery, are you leveraging your local metropolis and do you understand your online presence?  Are you talking about the amenities in the area to attract visitors and are you providing the right information at the “moment of truth?”  How can wineries target tourists to surrounding areas that provide products and services that round out a complete experience for them?  90% of visitors to San Francisco do not bring their children with them.  Recall the statement by Catherine about travel planners looking for a complete culinary experience.  Joe Rosenberg shares these top reasons people come to wine country based on Google search trends (see anything missing from your value proposition?):

* Taste wine
* Wine knowledge
* Experience
* Scenic beauty
* Culinary
* Fun/Relax
* Wine Culture/Romance
* Architecture/Art
* Eco-tourism
* Health

Wine Bloggers can help in this regard in that they can expand their focus and reach to write about some of these amenities in your favorite wine region.