Wine festivals vs niche events

by | Dec 1, 2017 | Opinion

Traditional wine-marketing efforts have focused largely on the more sophisticated 40-plus age group which is the biggest wine consumer segment, so it makes strategic sense.

But more recently, the focus has shifted to the younger generation and a concerted effort has been made to develop this group’s interest in wine. It began with the wine industry’s realisation that they represent the next generation of consumers with the income and ability to buy wine. With this shift in strategy, an increasing number of festivals and special events have popped up to attract this younger audience and create the ideal environment to expand their knowledge of wine and influence their potential preferences for wine purchases and brand loyalty.

Recent research has shown that globally direct-to-consumer sales strategies are the future of wine trading. Studies in the American wine industry show that direct-to-consumer sales account for more than half the annual turnover for medium-sized producers. This strategy consists largely of a focus on aggressive sales through channels such as cellar door, wine and/or loyalty clubs, online shops and special events such as festivals.

Wine tourism is also becoming increasingly popular in wine-producing regions worldwide. In South Africa, marketers have limited access to empirical research on wine tourists and their character traits and behaviour, making it imperative that this deficiency is addressed. Visits to wine festivals make up an important component of wine tourism and knowing consumers’ reasons for attending a particular festival is critical when wine-producing regions wish to use them for promotion.

Wine festivals have already proven to be an effective instrument for reaching younger wine consumers and sparking their interest in wine. Better data would unlock even greater potential as festivals are the perfect platform to make contact with future markets and encourage wine tourism.

Wine festivals form part of the greater picture of wine tourism and a direct-to-consumer strategy. It’s important to keep in mind which element of wine tourism you’re dealing with when considering a wine festival and, even more importantly, to know wine consumers and understand what you wish to achieve by engaging them. It pays to remember that no two wine tourists are alike. A wine festival’s presentation and marketing should speak loudly and clearly to the specific market in its sights.

In my opinion Hemel-en-Aarde Winegrowers got this combination of presentation, marketing and identifying guests to their annual Pinot Noir Celebration spot on. The winegrowers wanted a platform where they could collectively and efficiently share specific vintages with members of the industry, casual visitors and international winemakers. A two-day festival provides ample opportunity for formal tastings, vineyard visits, intimate winegrower-hosted events and a spectacular food theatre evening. The average attendee to this annual sold-out event is classified as a connoisseur wine consumer and a member of the local and international wine industry. The format accommodates both peers interested in Hemel-en-Aarde’s terroir and wines and the connoisseur with a unique interest in luxury wine brands, collector sets, cellaring potential and winemaking practices.

Regardless of which aspect of wine tourism is being targeted, visitors should walk away with a memorable personal experience – something they can take with like a bottle of wine – but more importantly, an experience that leaves an unforgettable impression and makes them want to return. When this happens, wine festivals have an unmatched capacity to create brand ambassadors.

Tanja Fourie, general manager, Hemel-en-Aarde Winegrowers’ Association

 Why does a region need to have a festival? What is the impact of an event on a region? What do we want to achieve by having a festival? These are some of the questions we asked a few years ago when we decided to revisit the Breedekloof Wine Valley’s events and festivals and the impact they have on our region. We concluded we didn’t want a “big” festival with 8 000 – 12 000 people. Instead we wanted to focus on smaller niche events that truly showcased the Breedekloof Wine Valley, our culture, our heritage and our outstanding wines.

We decided that big events, which attract more than 10 000 visitors, don’t serve our purpose, which is to showcase our valley, that includes the Rawsonville, Slanghoek, Goudini and Breede River areas, as a top tourist destination with award-winning wines. We decided we want to give visitors an experience they’ll remember, something that’s authentic, reflects our values and epitomises the four pillars identified in the Breedekloof Wine Equity and defines the unique Breedekloof proposition, being slow ripening, sustainability, all about wine and family heritage.

We determined that more and more people are rejecting big, commercial festivals for a new breed of smaller events that showcase local food, drink and entertainment. In short, festivals and events are becoming an important element in the wine tourism industry and form a major part of our strategic destination marketing. They’re powerful travel motivators that help persuade visitors to explore regions “on the other side of the mountain” and provide the perfect opportunity for people to connect with our culture, heritage and people.

With the wine tourism industry and tourist market constantly changing and growing, competition among destinations is fierce. We realised the need to come up with new ideas such as the Breedekloof Makers and our Chenin Blanc project to attract more visitors and create constant media awareness.

We also developed a series of smaller niche festivals and special events that position the Breedekloof Wine Valley as a key player in national and regional wine tourism. With our Breedekloof Breathers we focus on specific events such as trail runs, mountain biking event such as Gravel & Grape, and triathlons, and link them with the wineries in the region to promote wine tourism in the valley. We also focus on themes, such as our dessert wines for our Soetes & Soup Festival, and have a few upcoming events that focus on Chenin Blanc and our Breedekloof Makers. By adopting this strategy we attract a variety of consumers and remain in the media limelight throughout the year.

Events and festivals are one of the fastest-growing forms of wine tourism and increasingly popular as a means to revitalise local economies, specifically from increased visitor spending and longer stays. We all compete for the same visitors and spending. This means that events have to offer something different by appealing to specific visitors and offering a specific reward in order to capture their attention.

In addition to the economic benefits, festivals and events help to expand the tourist season and overcome seasonality by lengthening our peak season and creating new tourist seasons in the traditional quieter winter months. This is one of the reasons why we decided to focus on various events throughout the year rather than traditional wine festivals. Trying to compete with events that take place closer to Cape Town is not sustainable. There are only 52 weekends in a year which makes it extremely difficult to select dates. By spreading smaller events throughout the year, hosting them becomes easier as you don’t need thousands of visitors to make them viable and financially sustainable.

Events play an important role in the development of the Breedekloof Wine Valley as a destination as they increase the awareness of our region and enhance the attraction of the area as a favourable tourist destination. Visitors are constantly made aware of the valley through the various advertising and social media campaigns. They are led to our website and social media platforms where they can find information on the events, accommodation facilities, restaurants and wineries. By using events to market the region, we’re creating a sustained awareness of the region as a weekend, wedding and conference destination.

Melody Botha, CEO, Breedekloof Wine & Tourism

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