It should come as no surprise that Cape Town has been voted 2019’s best city in the world by more than 39 000 readers of The Telegraph. This city boasts multiple highly acclaimed wineries and popular tourist destinations, many of which have unfortunately suffered greatly due to the pandemic and government’s stop-and-go restrictions.
It’s estimated that wine tourism has lost more than R2.5 billion in revenue between March and July 2020, with the majority of these losses incurred at the tasting room, according to industry body Vinpro. South Africa’s wine tourism sector is crucial to sustaining the economy, and livelihoods of more than 36 000 people. But the latest announcement to ban the sale of alcohol in December – the busiest month for tourism – threatens to be the final nail in the coffin for many.
The tourism industry currently faces a supply crisis and a costly outlay for Covid-19 health and safety requirements, says Vinpro’s wine tourism manager Marisah Nieuwoudt. “The industry also faces an erosion of demand with the international market curtailed by travel restrictions and a domestic market that’s increasingly holidaying closer to home,” she says.
In the meantime, wineries remain hopeful. According to a global report by winetourism.com, wine tourism is expected to return to pre-Covid levels in 2022. But what does the road to recovery look like?
Managing director of Great Wine Capitals Global Network, Catherine Leparmentier, says the crisis has called into question the models of development and necessitates the reinvention of tourism. She believes the building blocks of a resilient tourism industry can be rooted in challenges such as supporting the revival of the tourism economy, reducing the environmental impact of transport linked to tourism, and diversification. Just recently Great Wine Capitals and The Porto Protocol Foundation partnered to promote the role of wine regions in the sustainable evolution of the industry.
Wine and tourism consultant, Xania van der Merwe, and tourism lecturer of Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Ilanza Perold, say the industry was founded on ‘the tourist’ and ‘the destination’ – but this has since evolved into ‘the experience’. Yes, there are innovations like virtual videos, but often the experience is still missing, according to them.
Times have changed, and travel bans dictate tourists’ movements. Xania and Ilanza agree it’s essential to revisit the definition of the tourist to consider the market, destination, and experience. Once this is determined, the following should be reviewed: Affordability; attractions and unique selling points; cleanliness, health and hygiene, safety and security, and compliance; business continuity; technology, and lastly your staff and your brand.
For Marisah, resilience is the capacity of a system to overcome change and recover its initial state. “To be resilient you need a baseline, but as an industry we should bounce forward.”
In contrast, business resilience includes the capacity of an organisation to adapt to a new environment and circumstances. “We advise wine tourism businesses to focus on serving the local market and to focus on Direct to the Consumer Wine Sales & Marketing,” says Marisah, adding that the industry has proven to be innovative. “The success of virtual tastings and home delivery food is inspiring and led a local winery like Creation Wines to win the global Best of Wine Tourism Award.”
Local is lekker
It’s crucial that wine routes build their brands, according to Marisah. “Start with locals and your identity, layer it with product and finally let those two elements drive your brand.” Marisah highlights the following elements for local engagement: segment your database to reveal local and inter-provincial customers, target social media advertising on these segments and create relevant packages.
According to Xania, marketing to the local market is vital and often neglected. “Many tourism establishments have offered reduced local specials as the seats and beds stayed empty this season, but what we need to keep in mind as an industry is the perception of value” she says. According to her, destination home is vital. “Larger brands may have their positioning established in the mind of their consumers, while smaller brands are still working hard to get on the map. With that said, we also need to acknowledge the different type of maps.”
Xania advises businesses to work with tourism organisations, cultivar associations, and group marketing platforms. “Within your defined market, work with the closest relevant tourism organisation, cultivar association or group marketing platform,” she adds.
In-home restaurants have gained popularity, and although group sizes are decreasing, it’s an opportunity to work with outdoor spaces, says Xania. She also advises wineries to invest in a suitable database management system linking your visitors, emails, social media traffic, and conversations.
Internationally, the pandemic has had an impact on spaces, the consumption of leisure and business tourism, and it’s hindered the growth of tourists, says Catherine. Big Seven Travel reports that “second cities” are becoming travel destinations. This is where hub areas are substituted for smaller cities and less crowded destinations.
Despite the challenging times, the pandemic has created opportunities for strengthening the domestic tourism offering, diversifying offers, slow wine tourism and digital experiences. Catherine believes these will continue beyond the crisis and must be considered an additional source of revenue, particularly during the off-peak season.
Catherine admires South African wine tourism stakeholders. The ban on selling wine has not stopped wineries from welcoming visitors, she says. “It’s remarkable that restaurants are open without serving wine. Well done for this resilience – a great example for the world.”
Although the pandemic caused havoc, it also highlighted the importance of communication, relationship building, and the ability to adapt. “The pandemic took our wine and tourists, but it cannot take away our attitude. We might be rivals, but when times are dark, we don’t like to see our competition suffer,” says Xania.
Marisah says now is the time to think about the type of tourism we want to attract in future. “This is an opportunity to design it sustainably and authentically. In destination marketing, place brands that lack substance are doomed to disappoint. This is truer than ever before.”