Food & Wine

A new future for wine tourism

Catalonia now has a nationwide plan to reform the sector and become a world destination for enotourism

'Enotourism is key for the wine related products and services we want to promote'
'We have tried to be really insistent because we truly believe in enotourism'

Offering local quality to satisfy a global demand is the main aim of the first promotion and development plan for enotourism, or wine tourism, in Catalonia. There is no argument about the importance of the county's wine making sector, but the Generalitat's tourist department, the Direcció General de Turisme, wants to turn the industry into a key draw for international tourists.

Passed at the end of last year by the Taula de l'Enoturisme -a body made up by the Agència Catalana de Turisme, the provincial councils, Incavi, wine growers and vendors, and the Catalan designations of origin (DO)- the plan “Enoturisme Catalunya” is specifically aimed at the global promotion of the country's wine producing sector in the three international markets in which Catalonia has official tourist centres: the Benelux area, Germany and the UK.

The programme, with a budget of 600,000 euros, includes such measures as signposting all of the designations of origin or the creation of enotourism awards. “If only it had been done earlier, but it is good news,” says Núria Sala, director of Enoturisme Penedès, which has been working in the local wine tourism sector since 2000. In all, there are some 590 wine companies in Catalonia, according to official figures.

Together with the initiative to promote enotourism abroad, the plan, which will begin to be implemented throughout 2015, also lays out a series of measures to improve the quality of the products and services of enotourism in order to create “experience packages”, which go beyond just wine cellar visits or wine tasting sessions. These measures come from a parallel marketing plan of the Direcció General de Turisme, headed by Marian Muro, one of the main driving forces behind the development of enotourism since she took up the post in 2011.

Activities and quality

“Enotourism has great potential and is a key element for the products we want to promote,” says Muro. “It contributes to the decentralisation of tourism, it provides territorial balance -in Catalonia there are 12 DO covering 358 municipalities, a third of the country's total- and it brings us a public of great added value,” she adds.

According to Muro, enotourism is currently well-placed to attract visitors on its own strengths, in the same way as the gastronomy sector does. However, to turn it into a first-rate global alternative, which is the aim of the tourism department, it will need to tap into the general tourist market. To do this, the idea is to forge alliances between the private and public sectors: “Right now not everything on offer in the country is ready for internationalisation,” adds Muro.

Thus, the employers' associations and tourist offices of the country's wine growing areas are working with the tourist department to help cellars, vendors and business people to create a collection of attractive and quality experiences to attract tourists:“If we know that hiking is popular in the Benelux countries, we have to be able to combine that with what we offer and target it at a potential public. Enotourism could be the main offer during a visit, or it could be a complementary activity, depending on the profile of the visitor. For long stays, you need complementary activities to make people stay longer, which is what interests us, even as part of beach holidays,” says Muro.

There are already different packages associated with the world of wine available on the net. The Costa Brava's Patronat de Turisme, for example, combines wine tasting sessions with cultural events or sailing trips. In Penedès, meanwhile, trips through vineyards in 4x4s or on Segways are possible. And in Priorat, there are tailored packages that offer, among other things, bridle path excursions combined with accommodation in rural guest houses.

“We set up our website a year ago and we are now pushing digital marketing. It has not be easy to get this far, but we have faith in enotourism,” says Isabel Vila, head of the enotourism consortium in Priorat, the only county in the country that boasts two DO: DO Montsant and DOQ Priorat.

Íngrid Casado, the head of marketing and promotion in the Patronat de Turisme Costa Brava Girona agrees: “We have spent a year preparing the cellars, establishing a minimum of quality, structuring visits and following-up visitors. We have been insistent because we truly believe in enotourism. It is a very attractive product for both Catalonia and the Girona area,” she says, adding that local companies are excited by the attention that the Generalitat is giving to the sector via the Taula de l'Enoturisme.

Filling gaps

In order to know what impact the promotion plan is having, the Direcció General de Turisme will install statistic counters as part of a pilot project in different DO cellars to provide more specific information about the profile of visitors and to check that the measures proposed by the Taula de l'Enoturisme are having the desired effect.

“We are sending a clear message to the sector to sign up for this product because we are on top of things. With that, it will be down to each area to put in the work,” says Muro.

For the moment, the involvement of all the wine producing areas is expected, even though there is also an awareness that there are still many other things to improve, as not all of these places are now tourist destinations. That is why, at the same time as the international promotion and the efforts to improve enotourist activities, wine growing areas are also internally working to make it easier for tourists to visit them at any point in the year.

In Penedès, for example, which so far has 195 wine producing companies associated with its local enotourism consortium, work is going ahead with local authorities as well as the private sector in the county of Garraf, to synchronise links with the coastal municipalities so that the activities available in the “interior” can be combined with beachside accommodation. Work is also underway so that coastal resorts can offer enotourism to visitors in the winter months. Another gap that needs filling in Penedès is a lack of sufficient public transport to connect the different activities on offer. Wine producers and vendors are often spaced far apart and it is difficult for visitors without their own cars to move around the county easily: “We are working to solve this,” says Sala of Enoturisme Penedès.

Despite the future potential that everyone sees in enotourism, the DO area are for the moment concentrating on sustainable development: “Priorat is not Penedès; we have no big companies. It is not an area for large buses. Most accommodation is in rural guest houses for a maximum of 15 people,” says Vilà. “Our public is made up of people who are already in the area and who take advantage of that to visit a cellar. The numbers who make a special trip to Girona to visit a cellar is low,” says Casado.

Offering a top tourist alternative on a global scale when each wine producing area has its own peculiarities is the challenge that the development of enotourism in Catalonia faces in the coming years.

Conversations with DO Cava

The Generalitat's tourism department, the Direcció General de Turisme, has “begun conversations” with the Cava DO (denominació d'origen) with the idea that the sector will join the wine tourism promotion and development plan and begin offering attractive, quality enotourism experiences for the cava sector. “It represents an important and very attractive offering,”says the department's director, Marian Muro, who rules out the possibility of any tension or rivalry between the various DO producers. “We are creating a constructive project. And the Taula d'Enoturisme is working with all the DO producers on a plan of joint action. For the moment, there is a good understanding among all parties,” Muro adds.

Last November, two trade fairs were run simultaneously in Barcelona, one for DO Cava and another for sparkling wines of the DO Penedès, which caused a certain amount of controversy in both sectors.

Standardised regulation

Along with the Direcció General de Turisme's development plan, the department of Territori i Sostenibilitat is working with the sector on urban regulations for enoturism to put an end to the administrative obstacles that hinder development of wine-related activities.

The plan, to be approved this autumn, will be executive in character and will supersede local regulations. The sector has been calling for such a measure for years.

It is hoped the plan will allow the development of hotels, retail, museums and restaurants in wine growing areas. While it is not the main aim, “it is not ruled out” allowing certain areas to modify the classification of land in order to develop it, says Josep Armengol, deputy director general of the Generalitat's urban planning department. The plan will also regulate the maximum occupancy and size of facilities.

The plan will be “flexible” and in its implementation will be tailored to the necessities of each area: “It has to be in balance with the surroundings. We do not want disproportionate tourist projects,” says Joan Carles Garcia, president of the Consell Comarcal del Priorat. In order to achieve this balance, the department of Territori i Sostenibilitat has decided to unite 135 areas in different municipalities around the country. The idea is that by 2016, when the plan will be definitively approved, the municipalities covered will share the same regulations. / a.g.

Wine producers welcome more promotion and unity

Wine producers and vendors have generally welcomed the Generalitat's decision to prioritise wine tourism with its own global promotion and development plan.

“The more players we have working on the promotion of the product, the better off we are. In my opinion, it is a very positive thing,” says Sandra Molas, head of enotourism at the Torres company, who adds that what is truly important at this stage is “everyone pulling in the same direction” in creating a tourist product that is competitive around the world.

Bodegues Torres has been offering wine tourism experiences for years –perhaps the most spectacular activity on offer is a helicopter trip over the company's estate. However, there are also smaller companies that have started to explore the area of wine tourism. One of them is the Parés Baltà cellar in Pacs del Penedès, in Alt Penedès, a family firm that specialises in producing organic and bio-dynamic wines.

“Right now, the most important thing is to get the message out to everyone that Penedès is a wine growing centre,”says Josep Cusiné, the cellar's co-director, and who is already working on a unique experience for couples to celebrate Saint Valentine's day: Vi,amor i xocolata.The activity includes a guided visit of the company's facilities and a wine tasting session that includes a variety of select chocolates as well as a free gift.

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