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Regional collaboration a must for wine and food tourism industry

The key to success for wineries, restaurant owners and tourism operators working in regional Australia is to be open minded about working with other businesses and lose the mentality that they are competitors.

This was the resounding message from the first Australian Wine and Food Tourism Conference, recently held in Adelaide by the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia in partnership with Tourism Australia and Restaurant & Catering Australia.

The message was aptly summarised by keynote speaker Alla Wolf Tasker of the Lake House in Daylesford who said any business working in wine tourism needed to think at a regional level and work towards creating more wealth and opportunity.

“When we first opened the Lake House 20 years ago, the Daylesford region was not an established tourist region. It didn’t take long for us to realise we couldn’t do it by ourselves and that if we wanted a long-term business, we needed to also promote the region to ensure other like-minded people and businesses came to the area,” Alla said.

“Our mentality has been that a larger pie provides a healthier slice for everyone. And that has proven to be the case in Daylesford. As the region has grown and more galleries, restaurants and shops have opened, we’ve been able to expand our offering and build new luxury accommodation.”

Mirroring these sentiments was Peter Sawrey, chairman of Wine Barossa, one of the best known Australian wine regions, drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. He said in spite of the difficulties faced when working with committees, the commitment of wineries in the Barossa to work together to brand the region had paid handsome dividends.

“Having a vision of where you want to be as a region is of fundamental importance and there need to be people driving the vision that have local knowledge, who understand the political environment and who have passion for the cause,” Peter said.

“It’s important to remember that collaboration is not just about working together, it’s also about putting your money into the pot and making it happen. In the Barossa we’ve found it is essential to have identifiable faces to lead the charge, for example people like Peter Lehmann who have the passion and the knowledge.”

With the majority of wine tourists still domestic, the importance of providing tourists with exceptional customers service was highlighted by many of the speakers.

Andrew McEvoy, Director Australasia at Tourism Australia said that finding the right tourists was still heavily dependent on word of mouth publicity.

“With more than 70% of tourists still domestic, a lot of the time people make their decisions on where to visit – what region and what to see when they get there – based on word of mouth,” Andrew explained.

“Once you get them in your winery, make sure they feel welcome not only in your winery but in the region at large. Give them advice about where to eat or galleries they can visit. If you play them forward and give them great service, it will come back to you.”

Gerald Ellis from Meadowbank Estate in Tasmania said he saw other cellar doors as partners not competitors.

“Wine tourists don’t want to visit one cellar door, they want to visit a number of cellar doors and also get some great food. I don’t want my cellar door to be the same as everyone else’s, but I see some of the other cellar doors as part of what we can collectively offer to tourists.”

Another speaker who has seen opportunities for collaboration is Mark Potter of Blessed Cheese in McLaren Vale. Mark is a cheesemaker who runs a café and retail outlet in the main street of McLaren Vale. He has recently developed a new tourism product where wine tourists purchase a hamper of cheese and other gourmet eats from his shop along with a map that points them to various cellar doors and suggests cheese and wine matching.

“Being open minded and creative is important. Tourists are looking for unique experiences and we’re the ones that have to develop and deliver those experience,” Mark said.

WFA Chief Executive Stephen Strachan said the conference was a major success, attracting 300 delegates from all over Australia and representing wine, food and tourism industries.

“One of the things we wanted to achieve with the conference was bringing together these three different yet complementary industries to discuss how they can work together,” Stephen said.

“We know that there are almost 2000 wineries in Australia competing for limited shelf space and we believe that wine and food tourism offers many of these small to medium wineries an opportunity to create a sustainable business.”

Helping wineries to make the most of their cellar doors is a major aim of the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia, who launched the ‘Wine Tourism Toolkit’ at the conference. The toolkit is an interactive CD providing practical information to winery operators looking to maximise the opportunities provided through wine tourism.

The CD is being provided free of charge to all Australian wineries during August and September.

For more information, please contact: Sally Raphael from Fuller Communications on (08) 8363 6811 or mobile 0408 084 031.

Copies of the conference presentations are available from the website www.wfa.org.au/awftc.

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