What do Wineland visitors really want

Monday, 11 June, 2018
Dave March CWM
Tour guides reveal what wine tourists expect of our wineries

More than 5 million people visited Cape Town from overseas in 2017. Each major attraction, such as Table Mountain, and surely the Winelands, had over a million visitors. ‘Ninety-nine percent of tour operators in the Western Cape include wine tours in their itinerary, which has helped wine tourism in the province grow by 16% in the past year’ ( Wine & Food Tourism Study 2017). The study also found that wine tourists spend more than other visitors

With such numbers, from more than 40 countries, with a ‘high’ season lasting some nine months, it might be beneficial to consider what wine tourists actually want.

To get a ‘real’ picture I asked seven leading tour operators and correlated their replies.

The majority of winelands visitors come from the USA and UK, but there are increases in numbers from Brazil, Canada, Sweden and basically every other major country you can think of. Many are honeymoon couples, or retired or visiting as, ‘international wine aficionados curious about the SA wine industry or they are niche group tours focused on things like gourmet, culinary experiences’, says Brittany Hawkins of Explore Sideways.

So what do visitors want?

Small personalised tours, with customised itineraries, with knowledgeable guides, and a real welcome, Being well-received by a friendly, knowledgeable staff member who they can understand and interact with and who goes out of their way to make their visit memorable’, says Ligia de Coito of Wine Desk.

Personal interaction. Ligia; ‘visitors often mention their dislike for the ‘commercialised’ tasting rooms ie a bar counter with staff pouring wine behind the counter. They find it very impersonal’. Brittany; ‘the tasting room is the most crucial and controllable environment to showcase your wine and yet we find it is often the item most overlooked’. Antoinette Koch at Camino Tours says that visitors remember people, not wines.

Tasting room staff are key. They must be trained, must not read from a script, never pressure into purchasing, and tailor their tasting to the guests, not to their wine list. As Pamela McOnie from Cape Fusion Tours says, ‘often staff have “their spiel” and don’t stop to assess the clients.’ Training is vital, Pamela mentions how Pinotage Academy students staffing tasting rooms can ‘blow you away… have an amazing depth of wine knowledge and it adds hugely to the guests’ experience’.  Visitors say what makes their visit special is the people. Brittany; ‘Not all of our guests are wine experts but when they have a fantastic tasting room experience with passionate, knowledgeable and professional staff, it makes all the difference. Secondly, it's feeling special. Whether that means feeling like an insider or getting something that isn't offered to the public, that is a sure-fire way to build a long-lasting relationship with guests’

Cup-cake pairing won’t do it. Brittany; ‘travellers choose brands and experiences that align with their own personal interests…if wineries are going to offer experiences outside of wine tasting, it's important for them to be authentic to their "personality” ‘.

Visiting four wineries in a day seems about right, and around 75 minutes at each, always with an experience, cellar tours, vineyard tours, farm history, talks on organics or sustainability or meet the winemaker. Says Jim Hunneyball of African Invite Tours, ‘when this happens, my guests are almost guaranteed to buy wine’, and ‘My guests are after a learning experience so when that isn’t achieved, they would feel disappointed’. Antoinette agrees, ‘their expectation is high and the focus is on the EXPERIENCE’, this can be frustrating as visitors want to ‘see the vines, do a food pairing, put their hands in the soil or taste from a barrel. Normal wine tasting and spitting is “boring” these days’ (Antoinette), the problem is that this often means higher prices or difficult requests – such as a tour with the winemaker on a Saturday. Willem Swanepoel of TsibaTsiba says that, ‘some vineyards are really pushing the experiences offered’ and lists his horse riding, quad biking and Segway tours through vineyards as popular.  

It is not a booze cruise. Jim; ‘I and other guides avoid tasting rooms that are frequented by the hop-on and off shuttles’.

Do not underestimate your visitors. They notice lack of knowledge, uncaring staff, potential availability of the wines in their own country, a rehearsed speech. Says Kim Rabe of Boutique Winery Tours, ‘poor service doesn't go unnoticed by travellers and tour guides simply won't return with customers’. They also may not be novices, Jim recalls spending six days with a group from Sweden who didn’t bother with Table Mountain or Cape Point but only came for the wine, and another group from Norway who already knew the names of several winemakers. Kim; ‘one should also not underestimate how much wine tourists know about wine, even South African wine’. Return visitors can compare, however, and Kim points out that though most agree we still offer good value, many ‘comment on how prices have increased considerably’. Antoinette agrees, tour operators have seen tasting fees rise considerably, and this has to be passed on. It seems that many estates charge tour company visitors the same for tasting as ‘local’ visitors, yet the operator might visit twice a month rather than once a year.

Key is that many are returning visitors, some because of word of mouth. MEC Alan Winde says, ‘the success we are seeing is a result of the excellent service and unique experiences we offer, driving visitors to return for more.” Willem says,’ great prices and outstanding quality are winners time and again.’

A tourist’s innocent first visit can be the start of a beautiful friendship.