Adding to the flavour of wine tourism

THERE’S more being sold at WA’s vineyards than just mellow reds and crispy classic whites. There are cafés making lunch, visitors’ centres selling logo-laced caps, glasses and cheese boards, and even the occasional gallery – in short, anything and everything that might help attract tourists and wine lovers.

The WA wine industry has experienced phenomenal growth in the past four years, doubling production from 20,000 tonnes to almost 40,000 tonnes and it’s hoped wine tourism will follow suit.

Conservative estimates value the WA wine tourism industry at $25 million, and it’s hoped the push to promote tourism will help lift this figure to $250 million in the next decade.

While new vineyards seem to be springing up in our premier wine region, Margaret River, long-established wineries are extending, rebuilding and creating a myriad of tourist friendly facilities to cash in on the tourist dollar.

Evans and Tate plans to spend $1.5 million in the coming year upgrading its tourism facilities, while Xanadu has plans to open a new visitors’ centre, café, play-grounds, barbecues and even an art gallery by November this year.

The potential for growth in wine and food tourism has also sparked major interest on a political level, with the State Government planning to launch a strategy aimed at expanding the WA wine tourism market next month.

Xanadu marketing manager Kelly Renouf said vineyards in the Margaret River region had distinct advantages when it came to marketing themselves as tourist destinations simply because of all the other points of interests in the surrounding area.

“Margaret River has got so much more than other wine regions in Australia, there’s more than vines and vines and vines,” she said.

“You’ve got amazing beaches, fantastic surf, forests and you’ve got the caves as well.

“So Margaret River certainly is a tourist destination, and an exciting place to visit.

“I think with some of the eastern states regions, like the Hunter, it is difficult to pitch them to international visitors because that (vineyards) is all that is there, but because Margaret River has so much more to offer, we are really able to pitch it as a tourist destination.”

The Wine Makers Federation of Australia estimated total Australian wine tourism figures to be in the order of 5.3 million visits a year, with expenditure between $400 million and $500 million annually. That figure is expected to grow substantially, to about $1,100 million, by 2025.

And while WA wineries are increasing their investment to lure both domestic and international tourists, the allure of Margaret River itself is helping vineyards secure additional visits from non-wine oriented tourists.

“Tourists might not just go to Margaret River because it’s a wine region, but the fact that our wine region is there is an added bonus, and we are getting added exposure from those people,” Ms Renouf said.

“Everyone has the same aim, to really build Margaret River as a tourist destination. We’re all working together, feeding off one and other.

“The more people who come to the winery and take the wine away, the further your wine travels.”

Evans and Tate marketing manager James Clarke said invest-ment in facilities at vineyards also was made increasingly attractive from a public relations perspective because they represent the public face of the company.

“The vineyard is a significant part of the marketing because it really is the spiritual home of the company and that’s why it’s so important for us to invest in the facilities,” he said.

“It’s where you have corporate tastings, buyers, media and VIPs.”

Another attractive feature in the tourism stakes is the quality of wine being produced in WA. While WA produces only 2 per cent of the country’s wine, it makes around 20 per cent of Australia’s premium wine, as well as a higher proportion of super premium wine.

The high quality of wines coming out of this State not only generate sales for the vineyards, but also publicity for WA’s wine regions as potential tourism destinations on the international and domestic wine tourism maps.

Hitting the international tourism market may feature as a significant part of increased tourism and, moreover, tourism dollars. Tourism is, after all, WA’s largest non-resources based industry, generating about $4 billion a year and supporting 4,500 businesses.

According to Tourism Minister Clive Brown, WA is in a strong position to place itself as a world leading nature-based tourism destination, and wine and food fit well under that umbrella.

According to a Bureau of Tourism Research International Visitor Survey, 425,400 international tourists visited wineries during their stay in Australia in 1999. This is an increase of 70 per cent on winery visits in 1993.

Xanadu’s Kelly Renouf estimated that 20 per cent of the 6,000 weekly visitors to the Xanadu vineyard were from overseas, while Evans and Tate’s general manager of sales, Marion McKenzie, said only 5 to 10 per cent of their 4,000 weekly vineyard visitors were international tourists.

Cellar door sales represented a significant proportion of Xanadu’s sales, about 20 per cent. Along with their plans for expansion, Xanadu also hopes to extend its wine accessory range to include every-thing from books to children’s clothing – and not at bargain prices either, as Ms Renouf points out – only the best quality of everything will be sold at Xanadu.

Already you can find such items as local honey and olive oil, T-shirts and caps on sale at Evans and Tate, along with the wines.

The Swan Valley region also has rapidly asserted itself as both an international and domestic tourist destination, attracting 250,000 visitors a year.

The annual Spring in the Valley weekend generates an estimated $1 million and employs more than 300 people. Expansion also seems likely as more than $20 million worth of new wineries, restaurants and other developments are either under construction or being planned.

There are already over 200 wineries in WA with vines springing up everywhere from Wiluna to Geraldton to Broome.

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